In Conversation with Jennifer Hou

Don’t miss Jennifer’s interview on Breakfast with Simon Moore on Thursday 17 September at 8.05am.

Written by Mona Omar

What have you been up to since we saw you last in 2017?

So many exciting things have happened since we last saw each other! In 2018, I performed Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Steven Hillinger and the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Later that month, I also completed my music honours degree.  At the end of 2018, I spent a month in London, under the generous support of a Big Brother Movement Youth Music scholarship and renowned teachers Ian Jones and Helen Krizos. I also successfully auditioned for a Master of Music at The Royal Academy of Music, The Royal College of Music, The Royal Northern College of Music and Guildhall. In 2019, I completed my law degree. My penultimate and final year elective subjects took me to Zurich, Pune, and Beijing where I studied Law and Technology, Women, Gender and the Law, as   well as Chinese International Business and Economic Law respectively. At the beginning of this year, I went to the United States for a second round of master’s auditions.

You participated in and won a variety of awards and scholarships. What opportunities do you feel awards and scholarships provide young and emerging musicians?

Participating in competitions and scholarship events is incredibly important, as it provides young and emerging musicians with so many opportunities. Firstly, it provides performance experience in an encouraging environment. Playing for both your peers and for expert adjudicators means you not only gain experience performing in all sorts of different venues and learn to manage any bouts of performance anxiety, but you also receive constructive feedback which can improve your playing. Secondly, awards and scholarships can help realise musical endeavours. They can help fund personal development opportunities domestically and overseas, covering musical tuition fees for music festivals, masterclasses, auditions, or even a degree! My performance with The North Sydney Symphony Orchestra was directly linked to winning the 2017 Fine Music Young Virtuoso Award prize, and I will forever be incredibly appreciative of this opportunity. Furthermore, I would not have been able to undertake lessons and auditions in London without the support of a Big Brother Movement scholarship.

What repertoire do you most enjoy playing?

I love playing repertoire from the French Impressionist and Russian Romantic periods. It’s a life goal of mine to play through all the piano repertoire of Ravel, Debussy and Prokofiev. I also love playing Australian music. It’s always a delight to catch native birdsong in a melody or see and hear the evocation of rainforests or bushland. I think it’s incredibly important to champion local contemporary music, and we are lucky that the Australian soundscape is truly unique and special.

You studied both Music and Law at the University of New South Wales. Do you feel there are any challenges to developing a full-time career as a musician in classical music?

I still dream of becoming a concert pianist.  I took a very realistic approach, however, when deciding what to study at university and in forging my career goals. Only a select few end up on the big stage, and the journey requires many years of freelancing, financial instability, and tough competition. My pragmatic views led me to study two degrees. I thought it would be safe to have a stable back-up plan whilst still being immersed in my true passion. Whilst balancing two degrees was incredibly difficult, studying law has enabled me to think and write critically, skills which have proven useful in my legal and musical academic research. It has also revealed career opportunities at the intersection of music and law, such as in areas of copyright law, which I am particularly interested in.

What is next for you?

I am so pleased to have been offered a significant scholarship to study in the Master of Music program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I’m extremely excited to move abroad and join a community of extremely talented young musicians who will no doubt inspire me to create music and collaborate on an array of interesting projects. Although I am incredibly sad to part with my beloved piano teacher of ten years, Dr. Bernadette Harvey, who has imparted gems of wisdom to me, I’m excited to work with my new teachers at SFCM. I will hopefully be heading to San Francisco at the end of October, subject to the ever-changing realities of the pandemic. Until then, I will sit tight and keep doing what I love: playing the piano!

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