Chamber Works, Solos Or Concertos? Pianist Jayson Gillham Takes His Pick

Pianist Jayson Gillham
Pianist Jayson Gillham

Deborah Humble interviews London based Australian pianist and winner of the 2014 Montreal International Musical Competition ahead of his debut album launch and Australian tour. 

Australian concert pianist Jayson Gillham is the perfect example of a quiet achiever. Described by one English critic as possessing “a calm, unshowy keyboard style” these adjectives could equally be applied to the young pianist’s personality. His friendly, easy going manner and the humility with which Gillham goes about his music making does not, however, exclude the same critic from commenting on his “formidable and virtuosic technique.”

Next month Australian audiences have the opportunity to see both Gillham’s endearing personal qualities and his considerable musical talents on display as he tours our concert halls and recital venues.

Gillham will showcase the intimate nature of pianoforte repertoire by composers including Bach, Handel, Schumann and Chopin at Elizabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre, City Recital Hall in Sydney and at Brisbane’s Queensland Performing Arts Centre. He will also embrace the more theatrical and virtuosic symphonic repertoire with the Adelaide and Sydney Symphony Orchestras alongside world class musicians Vladimir Ashkenazy and Jeffery Tate. One work he will perform in this category is Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto, something Gillham played earlier this year with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a piece he will repeat in Melbourne at the Myer Music Bowl in February 2017.

So does Gillham prefer performing solo and chamber works or does he enjoy the backing of a large orchestra?

“I feel like a change every so often,” he says. “Interestingly, to play only concerto would not interest me artistically whereas I could be sustained playing only solo piano music. The repertoire is so unimaginably vast it could sustain many lifetimes of musical endeavour.”

Chamber music has played an important part of Gillham’s career to date and he has performed with the Jerusalem, Flinders, Carducci and Brentano string quartets just to name a few. “The camaraderie adds a warmth and humility to the music and it is a joy to make music with others in intimate settings,” he enthuses.

“However, there is something about the concerto format. It is so bold, so daring, so exhilarating. To play scintillating music with the backing of up to 100 musicians, working as a team, inspiring and challenging each other but ultimately knowing that they are doing all this for my benefit, that I am the star of the show and that the buck ultimately stops with me – it gets the adrenaline pumping. It requires more of an edge to the performance, more theatricality.”

After studying with Leah Horwitz and graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium in 2007 Gillham went straight to London and the Royal Academy of Music. A string of successes followed beginning in 2010 when he advanced further than any previous Australian in the Chopin International Music Competition, making it through to the finals. In 2012 he was the recipient of the Royal Overseas League Gold Medal, named Commonwealth Musician of the Year and was a finalist in the Leeds International Piano Competition. Worldwide recognition was guaranteed after he won the 2014 Montreal International Music Competition at only 27 years of age with a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4, instantly confirming his place in a new generation of world class concert pianists.

ABC Classics exclusively signed Gillham for three CD recordings and the launch of his first solo album will be in Australia just before the tour begins in October.

Gillham says that recordings will always be important from an artist’s point of view in terms of creating a portfolio and leaving a legacy. “The problem is the next day I already wish I’d played things differently! So in many ways I prefer live concerts. For me, more than anything else it is the audience that brings the music to life and makes me play better. My drive is always to communicate, to share a beautiful experience with the people.”

Nonetheless, Gillham’s soul has been poured into this first ABC recording and he says that he has tried to imagine that an audience is actually there and to reach out to them as directly as possible.

“I’ve tried to spark a conversation with them, to extend the hand of friendship and to communicate what I believe is so great and inspiring about this music.

The works I have chosen for this recital album are very close to my heart. I am a musician because I believe in the power of music; to heal, to connect us with our emotions, indeed to foster kindness and compassion. Music is my greatest teacher and its greatest lesson is empathy. It reaches us on a level deeper than language and conscious thought and that is perhaps why it touches us so profoundly.

While there is fear, violence, deception and suffering in the world, I see it as one of my duties to remind people of what beauty, goodness, joy and human achievement there is – how much there is that can be inspiring, exciting and cause for celebration.”

Welcoming Gillham back to his home country is more than cause for excitement and celebration. It is a chance for the Australian concert going public to show their appreciation of the passion and commitment this young musician has put into refining his art far from familiar shores.

“Coming back to Australia is wonderful,” enthuses Gillham. “I do love it and I hope I always will. All the cliches hold true; friendly people, better weather, a slower pace of life, wide open spaces and blue skies. I will always have that in the bottom of my heart as home.

Performing in the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Recital Centre is going to be amazing, an actual dream come true. I hope I acquit myself well.”

As someone who has been lucky enough to hear Gillham perform in both the UK and Italy I know his performances on this CD launch tour will be worth waiting for.

Toi toi toi Jayson, congratulations and welcome home.

Deborah Humble for SoundsLikeSydney©

dhBased in Hamburg, Germany, mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble is one of Australia’s most successful international artists.

Recent engagements have included Erda in Das Rheingold with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and in Siegfried at the Boston Symphony Hall, Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde in Mexico City, Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle in Melbourne, Elgar’s Sea Pictures at the Britannia in Bamberg Festival, 1st Maid in Elektra with the Hamburg State Opera, Parsifal with the City of Birmingham Symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in Singapore at the Esplanade Theatre, Mozart Requiem with the Queensland Symphony and concerts in Italy for the Linari Classic International Festival.  In 2017 she will appear with Opera Lille in The Flying Dutchman and sing Erda inSiegfried for the continuing Hong Kong Ring Cycle recorded for Naxos.

Ms Humble is a former member of the ensembles of Opera Australia and the Hamburg State Opera, where she had her international breakthrough in 2008 as Erda in a new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

In 2016 she is acting as a mentor for Melbourne’s Melba Trust Opera Program was adjudicator of  the City of Sydney Opera Scholarship alongside Margaret Baker Genovesi and Tahu Matheson. She has been included in the Who’s Who of Australian  Women since 2009 and is an ambassador for Worldwide Cancer Research.

Click here for more information on Jayson Gillham’s album Bach I Schubert I Chopin
For further concert dates and programmes please go to


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