Ashani Waidyatillake has won the 2018 Wallace National Junior Piano Competition.
The 14-year-old, who has previously performed a duet with world-acclaimed pianist Lang Lang, also won the award for the best performance of a classical sonata for her interpretation of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E flat.
The seven finalists each performed a 20-minute recital. Ashani also played pieces by Norton, Barber and Liszt. She also won $2500 in prize money.
This isn’t Ashani’s first victory in competitions. In 2016 she won the New Zealand Youth Competition and was the youngest finalist in the Ronisch Auckland Secondary Schools' Piano Competition.
And she’s been given a full scholarship from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music to attend the Curtis Summerfest in the US this month.
In 2017 Ashani told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan that music is her life.
She began piano at the early age of two and a half. She struggled to sit still, so her mum started to introduce her to different music lessons. “She found piano lessons were the only time I would sit still for the whole lesson,” Ashani explains. “I really stuck to piano.”
Ashani says she enjoys piano because it allows her to express herself through the notes. “I really think of stories when I play the piano,” she says. “It really takes me on a journey, and really helps the audience to be on a journey with me too.”
Ashani learns from some of the best in the industry, including Stephen De Pledge and Jian Liu, and also takes violin lessons, which compliments her understanding of music. “My teachers are role models for me. Through their love of music it greatens my love of music too.
She practices at least two to three hours per day, more in the build up to competitions. Her mum is always beside her, helping take notes and give advice.
Ashani is pretty good at keeping her nerves under wrap during competitions. “I’m nervous back stage, but when I go on stage… I think of the story rather than me being on the stage,” she says.
For someone who is so young, she is driven to have a career in music, both as a professional pianist and a music therapist.
She says it’s important to help the community and is regularly performing in retirement villages. “The atmosphere livens up… and they start clapping to my music,” she says. “I’m really happy to share my love of music.”
She loves all kinds of music, but her favourites are Bach, Mozart and Chopin. “I like Bach because it’s really easy to get immersed in the music… one piece you might feel really solemn, another piece you might feel happy and cheerful.
“I like Mozart because such a small piece can bring so much beauty. And I like Chopin because of the virtuosity.”
One day her goal is to play Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1. She says it makes her feel “warm”.