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Young Australian violinist Grace Clifford returns to play with the ASO for the first time since winning the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year Award in 2014. We asked how it feels to be performing with the ASO again…

“It is such a privilege to be able to work with the musicians of ASO again, this time with Sibelius. Playing the Beethoven Concerto with them in 2014 as part of the competition will always be one of the most special and memorable experiences I have had,” Grace said.

“I’m so lucky that my first time working with a professional orchestra was with such a supportive and invested group of musicians; it felt much more like large-scale chamber music than concerto for violin and orchestra – as I believe it should be.”

Grace has won a string of prestigious awards in the past few years. She uses her successes to push herself further and to learn about what it means to perform.

“Competitions provide an immovable deadline to work towards - one that can’t be procrastinated and one that is unforgiving to a last-minute increase in self-doubt or feelings of not being as prepared as one would like. This together with the demands to have a varied range of repertoire prepared make competitions very valuable learning experiences. I am lucky that I have never been pushed to approach competitions with an ‘outcome’ mentality; if positive, the results became absolutely insignificant to me immediately after the competition. I feel no sense of accomplishment or boost from results - only from the learning process to prepare and perform. I think it is wonderful to be a part of something that is never completed or learnt; music is inherently a lifelong lesson.”

Performing in competitions can be challenging but the key to being successful is how to overcome these challenges.

Grace explains: “Often I find it is almost a relief to be backstage preparing to walk on stage during a competition or concert; one somehow has to accept where their playing is at that moment and remember what a gift it is to be immersed in the world of music.

“I find it very challenging to spend hours alone in a practise room with a hyper-critical ear, and to then be forgiving and uninhibited when performing. I think it is important to remember that the ideals we hold as to the phrasing of a particular line – are only known to us - the audience has no means to compare how you sound to how you wish you sounded or have been trying to sound. This can be liberating in performance and allows you to focus not on trying (unsuccessfully) to enjoy your interpretation of the music, but on the music itself.”

Grace also stressed the importance of spending time just with the score when preparing for auditions or competitive events.

“I try to understand the structure of the work without being influenced and jaded by all of the traditions that have developed in the interpretation of the core violin repertoire. This is very artistically affirming and enables one to genuinely interpret, rather than to re-interpret,” she said.

“Psychologically, competitions can potentially place you into a negative place of comparison. I try to think of competitions as music festivals, or just as concerts. At the time I was participating in competitions in Australia, I was very fortunate to have an extraordinarily committed teacher in Dr Robin Wilson. His generosity with time and planning made invaluable learning experiences out of preparing for competitions.”

We asked Grace what advice she would give to other young string players looking to chase a similar dream.

“The great Joey Silverstein often mentioned that each and every time before taking his violin out of its case, he would ask himself what…and why – what he wanted he to achieve in that practise, and why he wanted to achieve it. And I think the why is particularly important to always keep in mind, both in solitary practise and in our approach to music within life as a whole.”

Grace will be sharing the stage with ASO Principal Conductor Nicholas Carter and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra when she performs Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in the Adelaide Town Hall this weekend.

Nicholas Carter describes Grace Clifford as one of the most extraordinary talents to emerge in Australia in the past couple of decades.

“When I heard the recording of her performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the ASO I said ‘this is a talent that really has to be promoted and supported’ and I was so keen for her to perform with me and the ASO.”

Grace described performing with the ASO in 2014 as a completely humbling experience.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the ASO and Nicholas Carter!” Grace said.

“And I know it will be humbling again in December.”

In 2014 Grace was named ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year after her peformance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in the final round of the competition. She also won Best Recital, Best Chamber Music Performance and the People’s Choice Award. Grace Clifford’s recent appearances include Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in this year’s Symphony in the Domain and Bruch’s Violin Concerto with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in July.

In 2013, Grace won the Kendall National Violin Competition, where she also received the Bach prize, Sonata prize and Audience prize. She was awarded the prize for Best Performance of an Australian Piece in the 2013 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Award. 

Grace Clifford won the 2013 Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and also received the John Hopkins Performance Fellowship and the Audience Choice Award. She was the winner of both the 2013 National MBSFM and the Fine Music 102.5 (NSW) Young Performer Awards. In February 2013, she toured Australia as the first Development Artist with the professional chamber ensemble Selby and Friends. In 2012, she was awarded 4th prize in the Junior Section of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in Beijing. 

Grace Clifford began learning the violin at 4½ with Katie Betts, completing the final Suzuki level at age ten. From 2009 to August 2014 she studied with Dr Robin Wilson in the  Sydney Conservatorium of Music Pre-College program. In June 2013, she was one of 10 students chosen to study with Professor Ana Chumachenco at the Kronberg Academy Masterclasses in Germany. She is currently studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where her teachers have included Ida Kavafian and the late Joseph Silverstein.

This article draws on research by ASO Publicist Kate Lees and written by Michelle Robins, Publications & Communications Coordinator, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Fantastic Symphony
Fri 02 & Sat 03 Dec 6.30pm
Adelaide Town Hall




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