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Calvin Abdiel performing at his concert tour

Con student celebrates winning streak with concert tour

31 March 2022

At just 20 years of age, Calvin Abdiel has cemented his reputation as one of the world’s finest pianists. In 2021, The Sydney Conservatorium of Music Honours student won Third Prize at The Sydney International Piano Competition, one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the world.

The youngest competitor at The Sydney, Calvin was also the first Australian to reach the grand finals of the competition in almost two decades. In addition to the overall third prize, his incredible performances earned him the Nancy Weir Best Australian Pianist prize, as well as the Elizabethan Theatre Trust Scholarship prize for overseas studies; a total of $37,000 in prize winnings.

Calvin’s winning streak continued over the following months; scooping up first prize in the $12,000 Kawai Piano Scholarship at the Sydney Eisteddfod in December 2021, and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Piano Concerto Competition in February 2022. Now, in celebration of his success at The Sydney, Calvin is embarking on a concert tour across NSW, ACT, and Victoria, including a date at the Conservatorium’s Verbrugghen Hall on 2nd April 2022.

Finding a musical mentor

Calvin Abdiel playing piano

Pianist and Sydney Conservatorium of Music Honours student Calvin Abdiel

It’s a full-circle moment for Calvin, who first commenced his studies at the Conservatorium High School a decade ago. It was during his high school years that Calvin began training with Natalia Ricci, Senior Lecturer at the Conservatorium’s Piano Unit. With Calvin continuing his studies at the Con as a Bachelor of Music (Performance) student, Natalia has gone on to become Calvin’s long-term teacher and mentor.

“Natalia has been a major influence in the development of my musicianship, piano technique, and also in creating a deeper understanding of the whole repertoire of classical music,” says Calvin. “Her comprehensive teaching approach encouraged me to thoroughly investigate the mysteries of tone production and the myriad possibilities of touch, colour, voicing, articulation, and especially pedal techniques.”

Nurturing a natural talent

For Natalia, it has been immensely rewarding to witness Calvin’s journey and nurture his prodigious talent. Having worked with Calvin for almost a decade, Natalia recognises the important responsibility she bears as a mentor.

"Such a role involves not only preparing and supporting the student in acquiring all the necessary skills of his craft, laying down a solid and lasting technical foundation and ensuring a thorough and rounded musical development, but extends well beyond that to include coaching and advising them in many aspects of their musical and personal growth and guiding them in balancing the demands of both life and their art," reflects Natalia.

"I feel very grateful to have travelled this path together with Calvin and to witness the emergence of a wonderful and compelling young artist on the brink of an international career," she says.

Having the opportunity to work closely with a supportive mentor like Natalia has been a transformative experience for Calvin, one he encourages future performance students to embrace.

“From my own experience, studying from an expert instrumental teacher will enable one to progress more quickly and satisfactorily at their instrument, to develop a strong technical foundation and a deeper insight into the music,” says Calvin.

The most important work begins in our mind before it reaches our fingers!”
Calvin Abdiel on the value of a broad musical knowledge

Calvin’s approach to performance has also been enriched by the opportunity to undertake masterclasses at the Con and overseas with acclaimed pianists such as Angela Hewitt, Jahja Ling, Boris Berman, Ferenc Rados, Denes Varjon, Justas Dvarionas and Michael Endres. He's also found inspiration in exploring the breadth of knowledge held by the Conservatorium, taking on a diverse mix of electives during his studies.

“It is important to broaden your musical perspective through the history and theoretical classes available at the Con,” he says. “I am currently taking the Advanced Conducting Subject under Stephen Mould and George Ellis, which has given me a different perspective in analysing and studying piano music for my future recitals.”

“Bach’s Preludes and Fugues will make more sense when you understand their harmonic and contrapuntal detail and logic, and you will perform Mozart’s sonatas better if you can decipher the music’s formal and phrase structure. The most important work begins in our mind before it reaches our fingers!”

Following his concert tour, Calvin will return to Verbrugghen Hall on 13 May 2022, to perform at the Chancellor's Concert with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Symphony Orchestra.

Interested in studying music performance? Visit the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to discover how.


Image credit: Huang Pham Productions

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