It Takes Two with Alan Smith and Theonie Satzuki Wang
We sat down with Associate Concertmaster Alan Smith and winner of the 2020 Young Instrumentalist Prize, Theonie Satzuki Wang to talk victories, their journeys to playing violin and what’s next.
Theonie, congratulations on winning this year’s Young Instrumentalist Prize! What was it like playing in the Finalists’ Recital – were you nervous?
Thank you! I was extremely honoured to perform at the finals and it was such a wonderful opportunity. I was filled with both nerves and excitement. I was nervous when I was backstage with the other extremely talented finalists as I could hear them all practising hard. However, when I was on stage I just had adrenaline running through my body and I was so excited. It was a really great experience performing in front of an audience with family and friends.
And how did you find the audition process?
I found the audition process extremely smooth. I thought the staff members and adjudicators were really friendly and supportive. I had time to warm up beforehand which was really helpful.
What has it been like playing violin and undertaking school lessons from home during COVID-19 restrictions?
During quarantine, it has been quite a challenge fitting both school and violin practice. I found that there was a lot more work from school during COVID-19. Especially, because I am in Year 12 which was annoying because I thought I would have more time to practice.
When you’re not practising violin or at school, what do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I like to hang out with school friends, keep in contact with my Australian Youth Orchestra friends, and I really enjoy driving. I've learnt that having a balanced lifestyle between work and being social is really important. Although sacrifices will be made, at the end of the day all your hard work will eventually pay off.
What are your hopes for performing violin in the future?
I really enjoy performing in chamber orchestras and symphony orchestras. However, I also love the feeling when performing as a soloist. It is just a completely different feeling. For now, I am just going to take as many opportunities that come my way and perform as much as I possibly can.
Alan, can you tell us a little about the Young Instrumentalist Prize and why you think it is so important?
The Young Instrumentalist Prize was created in 1999 as a yearly competition for talented Queensland secondary school students. After an audition process, the top applicants are invited to play in the Finalists’ Recital, at which a panel of judges chooses the overall winner, who receives a cash prize and is offered a concerto engagement in a public concert with Queensland Symphony Orchestra. There are also cash awards and mentorship opportunities for all finalists.
I think this competition provides a wonderful opportunity – and a big goal to work towards – for young Queensland musicians. The chance to perform with a professional symphony orchestra and to interact closely with the musicians is incredibly rare, and provides valuable inspiration and experience for the future. A large part of our solo instrumental repertoire comprises concertos (works written for soloist and orchestra). For the purposes of study, exams, etc., the orchestral part is rewritten as a piano reduction, so being able to be surrounded by the full orchestra, and to hear the complete accompaniment with all its different timbres, created by expert musicians, is truly amazing.
You recently recorded a duet with this year’s Young Instrumentalist Prize winner, Theonie Wang – what do you think about Theonie as a violinist?
She is a talented violinist with a solid technique and good musicality. She is very responsive and easily takes new ideas on board. She was a joy to work with.
What was your own journey to playing violin in an orchestra like?
I began lessons here in Brisbane with John Curro and Elizabeth Morgan, before moving to Canberra, where I had my first orchestral experience as a member of the Canberra Youth Orchestra, where I discovered the joy of playing works such as Dvořák’s New World Symphony, and Finlandia, by Sibelius. My tertiary studies were in Adelaide with Beryl Kimber. During this time I had the opportunity to perform as a concerto soloist with the Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras and to play Saint-Saëns’ Habanera and Ravel’s Tzigane with the Adelaide Conservatorium symphony orchestra for my final honours concert. I also played as a casual member of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and led the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra.
I was awarded a DAAD scholarship for postgraduate study in Germany, where I had many wonderful experiences, but the most memorable of all was studying chamber music with the inspirational Amadeus Quartet. I also participated in many student and professional orchestras and chamber groups, and led the Rheinland Chamber Orchestra.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve only ever done three professional auditions in my life! Shortly after returning to Australia, I was awarded a rank and file violin job with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, followed by the Associate Concertmaster position, which I held until I moved to Brisbane.
What advice would you give to up and coming violinists?
Firstly, I would emphasise the importance of looking after your body. As a teacher at the Queensland Conservatorium, I see too many students who are already suffering injuries. It’s so important to warm up sensibly when you practise, and to seek help if you feel pain. The sooner you address a problem, the less likely it is to be career threatening.
(Non-COVID) life is so busy that it is sometimes difficult for school and tertiary students to find the time to attend concerts, but I would urge them to do so: the impact of a live performance provides so much inspiration and is an opportunity to absorb the playing styles relevant to different eras of music. If you don’t get out of your practice room and into the concert hall reasonably frequently, I guarantee you’ll struggle to bring the music to life! Record your own playing frequently and listen critically. Lastly, I would urge patience, realism and resilience, along with the obvious hard work.