You have won several competitions — can you describe your process of preparation and any tips or words of advice you might have for younger players who hope to accomplish the same?
As far as competitions, I think it’s essential to do the work and put in the research. You have to figure out what you want to communicate. For example, if I have to play Ride of the Valkyries, I think about the technical aspects, of course, but before all of that, I am thinking about being a powerful warrior goddess on a horse. I have to get into character! That’s what I did for the excerpts in the Mozart Requiem. I try to transport my listeners back in time. I want them to be able to smell the incense in the cathedral where they’re burying Mozart. It sounds a bit cheesy, but musicians at that high level really do inhabit a character. I love watching singers when they give recitals or performances. They come out as themselves, bow and then they immediately look down. They stand there in silence and look up like a totally different person, a character of the piece they’re performing. I want to be able to do that, too.
The other thing I like to think about in a competitive environment is honing in on what will help you stick out. I tell my students to choose something in an excerpt or piece as a moment they want the audience to remember. The audience will not remember the entire piece; they’ll remember those moments. Planning those moments is essential. Preparing for competitions requires lots of repetitions. Things like visualization and routines will help with the preparation process. Practice wearing the outfit you will wear to the competition, eat what you will eat the day of the audition, practice in hot or cold environments, and so on. When we make the process more recognizable, it helps the body relax. Once the fight or flight response kicks in, it is difficult to relax. I also prepare using what I call The Two Clicks Rule. Each excerpt has a set of musical default choices. I know the tempo, but I always practice the excerpt two clicks faster and two clicks slower. Or, I play the excerpt a bit louder, a bit softer, more aggressively, less aggressively; any of these things might come up in an audition.
I remember there was an excerpt for a piece that was split into octaves. I asked my teacher which one I should practice, and he told me to practice both. Both parts were very awkward and angular. So, I practised both parts equally. However, one of my competitors only practised one part. At the audition, the judges asked for one octave, which happened to be the one he did not practice. So, that was an advantage for me. As someone who sits in on auditions, I may ask the person to play something differently, even if I agreed 100% with their musical choices. This allows the people listening to see if the person can be versatile and change something in a moment.