Michael's mind full of Liszt

Australian national piano award performer stays up in bed running through piece note by note.

Michael Ierace is a quietly spoken young man with a lot on his mind. He is one of 11 finalists in this year's $60 000 Australian National Piano Award being played out at Shepparton's Eastbank Centre this week.

This means the Adelaide born musician spends several hours a day at the piano of his hosts, Ardmona orchardists Ross and Daphne Turnbull.

Michael finds it difficult to say exactly how many hours he spends practising because it is not all spent at the piano.

"They say on average four hours a day is the best," he said. "But there's a lot of mental preparation.''

To imprint thousands of musical notes, time . signatures and emotions on the mind in readiness for 45 minutes of condensed performance takes more than time at the piano. With no music in front of him, Michael has nothing but memory and passion to carry him through.

"You stay up in bed rurming through the piece note by note in your head," he said. 

"Every note has to do something - mean something - and has to exist in context with the whole piece. One of the pieces I'm playing tomorrow by Liszt is 16 minutes long. You can't stop, but you have to find places to breathe."

Michael was three years old when his father Aldo, a cabinet-maker and parttime musician, sat him down at a keyboard to teach him the notes of Mary Had a Little Lamb. 

"I only played it twice and he got it. I thought then, he had something special," Aldo said. 

After sailing through Suzuki music programs in his primary school years, Michael was accepted as a "single study" student into Adelaide University's Elder Conservatorium of Music at just 11 years old. 

He gained a scholarship in every year of undergraduate study, until he received the prestigious Elder Overseas Scholarship to further his studies in London.

For the past five years he has studied with Professor Andrew Ball at London's Royal College of Music and toured and won multiple awards in the United Kingdom, Italy, Malaysia and Australia.

In 2009, he made his professional debut with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. He is now an accompanist at theRCM. 

When he's not playing piano, Michael likes to play video games or table tennis or "just hang out with friends".

At 28 years old, he's not sure what the future holds - at the moment he's sharing a flat with a computer engineer in Bayswater, London.

"He's in IT, which means he earns more than I do. I would like to settle down sometime though,'' he said. 

But overlooking the Turnbulls' tranquil gardens at Findon House, his mind is focused on the frantic challenge of Liszt.

"I never get my hopes up. Once you get to a certain level it's up to the judge's personal taste. But I work better under pressure," he said.

Tonight, Michael plays his second award performance in front of the three judges. Tomorrow night he finds out if he is one of five semifinalists selected to play on Friday. The grand final is from 7.30 pm on Saturday.


As published in the Shepparton News on Wednesday, September 12, 2012.