A talented pianist is hoping to inspire more young musicians to follow in her footsteps after enjoying a meteoric rise to success since competing in a top Wales piano festival.
Lauren Zhang, who was crowned BBC Young Musician in 2018, is returning as one of the headline acts at this year’s International Piano Festival at Galeri Caernarfon – four years after winning second place at the festival’s Junior Solo Piano Competition in 2016.
The 18-year-old pianist, who was born in New Mexico in the US and moved to Birmingham in 2010, will appear in the festival’s penultimate Fiesta Concert at 7.45pm on Sunday, May 3.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s a huge honour to be invited back.
“I think the festival is a very warm and welcoming place and has helped me to gain confidence in performing. It’s definitely played a big role in my performing career to date. I would say the competition experience is really worth it and I would recommend any young musician to take part.
The festival, which is being opened by festival patron and legendary pianist John Lill CBE, will run from May 1 to 4 and is being organised by the Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) under the artistic direction of international pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones.
As well as a packed programme of musical entertainment, dozens of aspiring pianists from all over the world will compete in three prestigious contests; the Junior Solo Piano Competition, the Senior Solo Piano Competition and the Piano Accompaniment Competition.
Lauren, who now performs concerts all over the globe, has achieved huge success since 2016 when she was announced as a prize winner at the Festival.
“I had entered several international competitions before this one,” said Lauren, who studied the piano at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
“I’d also entered when I was nine or 10 too (in 2012). Obviously it was a very different experience going back to the competition a second time and being a little bit older. It was definitely more fulfilling.
“I had a great time and other people were really friendly. It was a friendly competition and I didn’t feel like it was terribly pressured.
“The Piano Festival has a really good audience. There are quite a lot of people watching the competition. It’s good for exposure and for the general experience of performing on a platform. When I was there, there was a senior competition final going on at the same time which was very inspiring. It was awesome talking to these competitors.”
Iwan Llewelyn Jones said Lauren’s presence at the 2020 festival was particularly special given her success in the Junior Competition in 2016.
“When Lauren came to the competition in 2016 she was only 14 years of age but was already demonstrating huge promise,” he said.
“Since then her career has taken off and especially so after her outstanding performance during the BBC Young Musician contest in 2018. Lauren is very talented but she works very hard and it is this and her sheer determination to succeed that singles her out as an exceptional young musician. That’s the most inspiring thing that she shows in everything she does.
“She does all the other things teenagers do, combining A-Levels with regular performances on the concert platform and liaising with her agent. It’s a very delicate operation but she seems to be holding everything together brilliantly.
“We are delighted that we have been part of this remarkable journey for Lauren and I cannot street the word journey enough.”
Iwan said contestants from over 20 countries had applied for this year’s competitions representing nearly every corner of the globe.
“We’ve had an excellent response to the competitions. We’ve had a really broad mix of ages, including lots of mature entries for the accompanists’ competition. It’s very heartening to see such interest. There are solo piano competitions for young pianists in Wales but the accompanist competition is a complete rarity.”
Lauren, who is planning to study at Harvard University in the US following her A- Levels, says her life completely changed after winning the BBC Young Musician competition.
“If you win that competition a lot of concert requests come in,” she said.
“We were overwhelmed. There’s a lot to do now and a lot to play and practice, it means I’m a lot busier than before.
“It’s just keeping to a schedule and just focusing on one thing at a time. Realistically, I’m just taking things as they come. A balance would be nice but school work is really, really important at this stage. To go to university you need to meet your offer. You cannot compromise that.”
Lauren’s advice to young musicians is to follow their passion wherever it takes them – but always remain fully prepared.
“You have to enjoy everything you do. Organisation and planning ahead is very important, you need to make sure you know what you’re going to be playing one or two years in the future so you can work on your pieces early on,” she said.
“It’s a very long path to mastery and clearly there’s so much work you need to put in and many, many years and decades of study and practice.
“For me, there’s still a long way to go in this industry. I try my best and am really thankful that people want to come and hear me, it’s an honour.”
This year’s festival boasts a packed programme, opening with the a celebrity recital given by John Lill at 7.45pm on Friday 1 May, followed by a Chamber Concert at 7.45pm on Saturday 2 May which includes Beethoven’s magnificent Archduke Trio, his Arrangements of Welsh folk songs and the world premiere of four new chamber compositions inspired by Beethoven, and based on Welsh folk songs, written by Pwyll ap Sion, Joseph Davies, Sarah Lianne Lewis and Bethan Morgan-Williams.
Tickets are on sale now. To book call the Galeri Box Office on: (+44) 01286 685 222 or visit: https://www.galericaernarfon.com/. For more information about the festival and to apply for competitions visit: https://www.pianofestival.co.uk/