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A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors
Birthplace: Dalby, Australia
Where he lives now: London
Early music memories: Gillham began piano lessons at age 4. "Early musical memories involve lots of driving with my family to get to Eisteddfods (competitions in the Welsh tradition) or other performance opportunities," he says by email. "Sometimes we drove for a whole day or even two days from home in southern Queensland to Sydney, Melbourne and other towns and cities across Eastern Australia, just so I could play my 10 or 15 minutes. My parents were completely selfless and sacrificed so much time and money to help nurture my talent, and for that I am forever grateful."
On straddling Australian roots with his current residence in England: "Being British (as well as Australian) is a great privilege...London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world," he says. "Living side by side with people from all over the world really causes me to be more aware of world issues and forces me to spend time formulating and reformulating my beliefs, values and political position on issues I would have previously thought of (in Australia) as 'someone else's problem.' "
Love for the Aussies: "Australians are so good at being open to new ideas, and they have a positive 'can-do' approach to life which I sometimes miss in Britain, which is full of traditions and precedents," he says. "Tradition can be good -- but not always."
What inspires him about a favorite composer, Chopin: "His writing is so pianistic -- it fits under the hand so intuitively," he says. "Also he is perhaps the most universal of composers -- his music appeals to almost everyone, no matter how limited or vast one's knowledge or experience of classical music."
When he is not playing the piano, he is ... Reading, swimming, practicing yoga or watching BBC documentaries. And eating his favorite food, an Australian classic, lamb roast. "Increasingly, I find that fields outside of classical music inform my playing more than studying piano playing," he says. "I like going to the theatre, art exhibitions, and I am slowly expanding my very limited sphere of knowledge through reading and exploring other languages. I am a complete novice at all of these things, but I enjoy them. I also want to go to the opera more often."
The first authentically Texan activity he plans on doing in Fort Worth? "Eat a steak!"
Favorite modern-day pianist: "A very difficult question, as it depends on what repertoire they are playing -- but at this moment I'll say my favorite all-round contemporary pianist is Murray Perahia."
If he could travel back in time, the composer he'd want to meet is ... Bach.
And he would ask ... "'Can I sit and listen while you improvise at the keyboard?' (in German of course)."
Cliburn dreams: "I'd love to come as close as I have done so far to doing justice to the music I'm going to perform, and in the process to reach the hearts and minds of the music lovers who will be watching and listening in the hall and around the world via the Internet," Gillham says. "If the jury also likes my playing, it is an added bonus."
-- Andrew Marton, Special to the Star-Telegram