By Stephanie Eslake, December 2020
It’s been a challenging year for music students. The closure of practice rooms, cancellation of live concerts, and changes to music lessons were just some of the side effects of COVID-19. Throughout 2020, young pianist Brian Luo maintained his optimism, telling himself: “Not many years are going to be as tough as this one!”
Despite these challenges, Brian achieved national acclaim during the pandemic when he was named winner of the 2020 Great Romantics Competition.
The award was open to soloists and ensembles, with musicians aged between 18-25 years old recognised through the Melbourne Recital Centre. The leading Elisabeth Murdoch Prize, which was awarded to Brian, included a cash prize of $4000 along with exciting performance and recording opportunities.
Proud of his winning entry, Brian also found meaning in “the fact that people enjoyed the music I played”.
“This is my ultimate goal and makes me the happiest,” Brian says.
Brian is a Melbourne-based, Adelaide-born pianist whose burgeoning concert career is filled with success after success. In 2012, he commenced a scholarship to study at the Elder Conservatorium; in 2015, he was offered a scholarship at London’s Purcell School, later picking up an additional scholarship from the British Government. As a consequence, Brian has played in recitals and participated in masterclasses in Australia and overseas.
His decision to enter the 2020 Great Romantics Competition was influenced by the support he received from family and friends, as well as Glenn Riddle – Brian’s tutor at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
“I saw this competition as an opportunity to show what I have worked on, and moreover, to share the music I love,” Brian says.
While periods of isolation may have provided Brian with adequate time to practice and prepare, it also meant finding inventive ways to do so.
“Unfortunately, due to the lockdown, I wasn’t able to gain access to my usual practice rooms – and thus, most of my practice took place on an electric piano!”
On that electric piano, Brian rehearsed the notes of Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan – a notoriously difficult piece composed in 1841 and drawing from the musical themes of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
“This piece needed a lot of work, and it was often difficult having enough time to practice my additional repertoire, and juggling my academic and music subjects,” Brian says.
The work embodied the spirit of the competition, which in its eleventh year continues to celebrate the performance of Romantic repertoire. It also marked the first-ever digital win of this award, as the usually live competition was presented to audiences through video recordings.
Adapting quickly to this new environment, Brian saw the competition’s digital setting as nothing “uncomfortable or out of the ordinary” during the pandemic year. It’s with this confidence that he pre-recorded his successful entry, which was adjudicated by Blair Harris, Leigh Harrold, and Carla Blackwood, and shown at the Online Concert Premiere on 6 December.
“I feel extremely privileged and thankful to have had the opportunity to have taken part in this prestigious competition. I believe that institutions such as the Melbourne Recital Centre are crucial in the music industry, and for aspiring young artists.”
Brian is preparing to use this opportunity to further his career in live performance as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease.
“I was delighted, and lucky enough to be offered a recital by the Peninsula Summer Music Festival, and I look forward to performing a full recital in front of an audience soon.”
Brian acknowledges his fellow competitors for their excellent performances at the 2020 Great Romantics Competition. Cellist Ji Woo Yoon won the Anne Kantor Encouragement Award, and pianist Calvin Abdiel won the Milan Kantor Encouragement Award.
The 2020 Great Romantics Competition was supported by Annamila Pty Ltd, Mrs Margaret S. Ross AM, and Dr Ian C. Ross.