“I just sprained my ankle quite badly, and it’s in plaster,” explains Australian-born pianist Jayson Gillham, 26, when asked if there is “anything else” he thinks we should know about him. “So I will probably be hobbling onstage with crutches!”
We don’t imagine that will slow him down much.
For Gillham, who is representing both Australia and the U.K. at the Cliburn, keeping up with a complicated life is, well…just life. He’s based in London, but plays recitals and concerts all over the U.K. and in Europe, and also manages to return home to Australia several times a year for a round of performances—including benefit concerts for a number of causes. He likes swimming, yoga, and “taking a nice walk along the Thames” when the weather is nice. And he’s learning to take advantage of London’s abundant cultural life.
“I like going to concerts, obviously,” he says. But, he says, he is also getting into “opera, theatre and art exhibitions. London has so much to offer.”
Originally a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium, Gillham completed a master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2009. He was named Commonwealth Musician of the Year in 2012 after winning the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition, and was a 2010 semifinalist at the International Chopin Piano Competition. He won sixth place at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2012, where his performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto was broadcast by BBC4.
Australian visitors to Fort Worth often seem to feel they have a lot in common with Texans. Does Gillham have any opinions on that?
“Well, I can’t say I know many Texans—yet!” he says sensibly. “But I think the similarity probably comes from the wide open spaces, good weather, blue skies and living off the land—all of which have cultivated [in both Australia and Texas] an outgoing, warm and friendly people.”
Both in Australia and the U.K., Gillham is involved with some intriguing environmental and social projects: one that began by drilling water wells in Tanzania, and another that sends at-risk children to spend time in the Scottish countryside.
“I think it’s important to give back in any way that I can,” he tells us. He isn’t always able to volunteer hands-on, but presents fundraising concerts that raise “significant amounts of money” for these efforts.
“The Hearts for Africa [Amani] project in Tanzania has flourished from its very earliest stage of drilling water wells, to agriculture, and then to construction of an orphanage and school. It’s amazing the difference this has made in thousands of people’s lives.”
Making music is also something he believes can change a child’s life.
“Music-making nurtures a child’s creativity and imagination, and helps them access and understand human emotions,” he says. “Playing in a group helps foster tolerance and understanding—and participating directly in the music-making process is better than just listening. One only has to look to Daniel Barenboim’s work with the East-West Divan Orchestra or to El Sistema in Venezuela to see the wonderful changes that can be brought about by music.”
Gillham enjoys “folk or folk-inspired” acoustic music; Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel are old favorites. And though he plays and loves works from across the piano repertoire (his competition pieces include Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and more), Gillham seems to have a soft spot for the romantic tradition.
“Everyone loves to be serenaded by a beautiful Chopin melody and to feel their heart melt,” he says.
And there’s just no arguing with that.
◊ Here’s a video of Jayson Gillham playing one “snippet” of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto at the Leeds competition in 2012:
Jayson Gillham's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
BACH Toccata in G Major, BWV 916
LIGETI Etudes II: Cordes à vide
LIGETI Etude VI: Automne à Varsovie
LIGETI Etude X: Der Zauberlehrling
CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, op. 58
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 21 in C Major, op. 53 (“Waldstein”)
LISZT Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
LISZT Spanish Rhapsody
CHOPIN Rondo in E-flat Major, op. 16
DEBUSSY From Etudes, Book Two
DEBUSSY Pour les degrés chromatiques
DEBUSSY Pour les arpèges composes
DEBUSSY Pour les accords
BRAHMS Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24
SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, op. 58
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.