The winner of the Freedman Classical Fellowship for 2014 is pianist Peter de Jager.
For his Freedman audition, pianist Peter de Jager played music by Medtner, Szymanowski, and Australian (born in England) composer Chris Dench.
Don’t really know those composers? That’s not surprising, most listeners would not. Nor would very many pianists be tempted to perform them. The music is formidably difficult to play although quite expressive and melodic. (Medtner was Russian and Szymanowski a Pole who lived under Russian rule.)
Although it ranges from Medtner’s late romanticism to Dench’s atonality, there was an interesting similarity of gesture, at least in the pieces Peter chose. He has formed a strong and admiring relationship with Dench, who writes possibly the most complex music of any Australian composer.
Peter de Jager played all of this very elaborate music with evident ease and accuracy – and with great expressivity. One of the judges, drawing on international experience, believes that at the age of 25, Peter already is playing at a level equal to others performing this type of repertoire.
Peter was born in Johannesberg in 1989 but moved with his family to Melbourne in 1991. From the age of eight he took piano lessons. His talent must have been recognised early because his teachers – Nehama Patkin, Stephen McIntyre and Rita Reichman – were among Melbourne’s best. He learned from Reichman at the Australian National Academy of Music beginning in 2005. At Melbourne Conservatorium, he also studied harpsichord for a year with Ann Morgan and beginning in 2011 studied composition with Julian Yu, Johanna Selleck, Stuart Greenbaum, and with Elliott Gyger, who was his nominator for the Freedman.
His professional activity is already very diverse and at a high level, with performances with MSO, recordings for the AMEB, membership of the new music ensemble Cathexis, performances as a cabaret pianist and work as MD for amateur music theatre. He has had compositions commissioned and performed by top ensembles Speak Percussion, Astra, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and a number of others. He was inaugural winner of the Australian International Chopin Competition. Internationally he has three times attended the Lucerne Festival, directed by Pierre Boulez. There is a vast amount more.
Freedman Fellowship candidates must devise a project that they would carry out if they win the prize money. Peter’s project involves preparation of a solo recital “that challenges myself and my audiences”, and to perform it here and overseas.
The recital will feature four works, “four pillars of the piano repertoire”, written, beginning from 1857, about 50 years apart. The composers are Alkan, Szymanowski, Barraqué and Dench. Peter will commission the Dench work as a part of the project, “a large scale sonata’ to be completed in 2015. He feels a special affinity for Dench’s music as well as Dench the person. Concerts will be given in Australia and in England with possibilities to be explored in France, Poland and Singapore.
Peter hopes to make a four part video series with performances of the four works and discussions of the composers and the situations from which each work arose. If possible this would be broadcast but if not, posted on YouTube.
Peter de Jager’s musical preferences are difficult – difficult to perform, difficult for inexperienced listeners to follow. But he gives a very convincing performance. Everything in the works can be heard clearly, including their emotional lives. The Freedman judges predict that this is an Australian performer who, properly presented, will make his mark internationally.
Peter de Jager auditioned and was interviewed, along with three other finalists: harpist Jessica Fotinos from Hamburg, baroque violinist Matthew Greco from The Hague and saxophonist Joshua Hyde from Paris. The judges were Benjamin Schwartz, Artistic Planner for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Mould, conductor and head of the Opera School at Sydney Conservatorium and Kathy Selby, pianist, chamber musician and entrepreneur.