ROLLIN ZHAO (QLD)
Started at ANAM 2014
Rollin Zhao is Canberra born but raised in Brisbane, spending much of his childhood and schooling years there, and in 2011 he studied a Bachelor of Music at the University of Queensland. At the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), Rollin studies with Robin Wilson. Previous teachers include: Spiros Rantos, and Antoni Bonetti.
How did you choose your recital program?
It’s always been a process of discussing with my teacher what might be best for my development as a violinist: we will usually throw around a couple of things, and I will often go on a YouTube hunt for repertoire around this time.
Why have you chosen this repertoire?
I chose the Bartok sonata specifically for the challenge of playing something that is a different style to anything I have ever done before. The Bach on the other hand was something I had wanted to dig into for a long time having heard a recording of Milstein playing it a good nine years ago. The sheer breadth of emotions the piece takes you through is just astounding. Perhaps it was one of my earliest experiences of really feeling the music as a 13 year old listening to it. It certainly has made a lasting impression on me about how powerful music can be.
What are the challenges you face with your program?
I heard that the Bartok is seldom performed in Australia. With a work that may be unknown to the audience, it is a challenge to make it engaging for first-time listeners. We hear and experience music differently the second, 100th, and how ever many times we might hear it again. Since the performer, having spent long hours learning the piece prior, would thereby be coming back to the piece for the zillionth time, imagining how it must feel like listening to the finished product for the first time is impossible. With it being essentially a “premiere” of sorts, we also feel a responsibility in making it something we do want to come back to discover again. What can we do?
Is there any difference between how you chose this program compared to last year?
In terms of how and why, the general intention behind choosing any program has remained the same over the past few years, and that is to challenge myself with something new: to put my skills to use in a different and unfamiliar context. If there’s anything that’s changed, it’s actually discovering how different every single piece is, and how each new experience is genuinely unfamiliar with limitless things to discover when learning new music.
What have you found most challenging and satisfying when programming your recital?
Discovering the Bartok was something I found particularly challenging and satisfying. I came to the piece early December and so I had limited time to make most of my remaining lessons for the year. I studied it hard while we were performing at the Huntington Festival in Mudgee. Since I didn’t know the piece prior, I spent a lot of time listening to recordings with and without the score on the bus and between [rehearsal] calls. What I’ve found is that instead of getting sick of it, which sometimes happens after weeks of practicing the same thing over and over again, I’ve come to really enjoy the work simply for how much there is in the music to discover and appreciate, and as a result, it’s probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever played in my life.
What do you enjoy most about giving your ANAM recitals?
If there could be such a thing, it’s possible that performing itself could both be the thing I enjoy least and most. Performing itself often involves the extremes, the extra energy from the nerves of having only one chance of getting it right is an exhilarating feeling that you only get in such a scenario, but on the other hand, the stress can sometimes be quite extraordinary. It’s really very difficult to down a meal before a performance, which brings me onto the next question.
How do you prepare for performances?
It would have to come down to good nutrition and a good night’s rest. I’ve always loved my sleep, but nutrition is something I’ve only discovered recently as something that really makes me feel much more focused in performance. To know I have these two things in place beforehand makes me feel so much more comfortable walking out on stage.
What are you most looking forward to at ANAM this year?
I’m looking forward to working together peers and mentors throughout the year. The working environment here at ANAM is particularly inspiring; music-wise, I practice so much more, think about what I’m doing so much more, and work so much harder; but another thing I find amazing is that, being in such a communal and cooperative environment, I learn so much about myself as a person. I couldn’t imagine going into to the world without what I know now.