Hank Xiang 26 years from Sydney

I’ve always enjoyed classical music and when I got accepted into the Sydney Conservatorium many years ago, the prospect of doing music professionally suddenly became very plausible. With the support of my professor, and fellow students around me, I began to realise that this is the lifestyle that I want.

Hank Xiang

Do you still study & where – when will you finish? I study in the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory. I will finish in June next year (2019).

Are you a full-time professional musician?  Yes

Do you sometimes perform in an ensemble? Always. There is so much fantastic chamber repertoire, I’m always willing to play in an ensemble. 

What is so special about the piano and its music? I wouldn’t say the piano is so special; it would be unfair and arrogant to say that the instrument that I play is better and more special than another. But the piano certainly does have a universal and ‘convenient’ design which is useful for musicians of all types. There is also a huge amount of good repertoire for the piano.

What else can you play? I used to play the trumpet. We used to have a small jazz group several years ago.

Do you sing? Like all musicians, I can sing. But I don’t sing very well.

What are your hobbies and why are you passionate about them?

Since I was a boy, I enjoyed playing video games. I thought that it was just a childhood phase, but to this day, I still play them often during my down time. I think newer technology has opened up some impressive possibilities in this field, and there is an ever growing community of people who appreciate games now not only as mindless fun, but as works of art. After all, it is a creative output from a group of people. I’ve also met some interesting people and have bonded with close friends through these experiences.

I also make cocktails at home. The art of drink mixing has always appealed to me. The experience of sipping a well-made cocktail is something you can fully appreciate after you have tried to make one yourself. The intricate details on glass chilling, garnishes, creating crystal clear ice are all things you can start to get obsessed over. I find the entire process to be relaxing, and rewarding. It’s also very appreciated when you have company over.

Do you do a lot of travel?  Where have you been overseas in the past few years? Yes, I enjoy travelling. The past few years, I’ve been travelling mainly throughout Europe, since I spend a lot of my time in Russia.

What are your goals over the next two years? Not really a goal for the next two years, but more of an ever present goal. To play better, to become a better musician and to share what I have with others – teaching, concerts.

Who inspires you and why? My ex-professor Nina Seryogina, who passed away in September. She was an amazing woman in that she loved what she did, she was honest to her profession, and she always had tremendous energy, even after several hours of non-stop teaching. She didn’t do it for her ego, or for money, she just loved the process and she loved music.

Which musician inspires you any why?   I’ve always enjoyed that little anecdote from Van Cliburn, how he used to frequently practice at strange hours in the night, “You feel like you’re alone and the world’s asleep, and it’s very inspiring”. Unfortunately, my neighbours downstairs start knocking on the radiator if I start practising before noon.  

Which composer’s music do you love and why? Top five composers in no particular order Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Beethoven

Do you play sports? Occasionally, if I find friends who also want to play. I also go jogging just to keep in shape. It gets harder these days.

Name 4 of your favourite things to do to chill out/have fun: Play video games. Go for a walk (in Saint Petersburg, it’s especially nice since I live close to the centre). Watch a film or a documentary. Cook

What’s your idea of fashion/what do you prefer to wear? I don’t have any particular view on fashion, although I do have some general opinion of what is tasteful and what is not. I do however, have a thing for long coats. They’re a bit old fashioned but they just look so elegant!

What car do you drive  I don’t drive. I do bike a lot however – in Europe it’s a pretty standard form of personal transport. My bike has a horrible eye-burning fluoro-orange colour, but it was the only colour of that particular model for that year. Practicality over looks.

How do you relax and unwind from rehearsing? The pub is never a bad choice after a rehearsal.

How do you care for your back etc. (to stop injuries etc)? I don’t. I used to sleep on a hard mattress throughout my childhood and I think that has helped. I’ve never had any back problems.

Do you love the movies?  I appreciate good films, and I occasionally enjoy the mindless summer blockbusters.

List at least three bars / favourite spaces to hang out in Australia and why? I haven’t been going to bars in Sydney for a while, but from what I remember - There is a bar on the rooftop of the Intercontinental Hotel that is fabulous. Another bar on the second floor of The State Theatre.  O-bar on level 47 of Australian Square, it has a magnificent view and the building slowly rotates.

They all have great bartenders who are attentive to your drinks. They’re also on the pricey end so I wouldn’t classify them as a hang-out space for me but they are amazing experiences. Usually for Sydney conservatory musicians, the Paragon pub is the go-to place to hang out after a rehearsal.

What is your favourite alcoholic drink? The Last Word – equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, green chartreuse and lime juice. Idiot-proof to make so it tastes the same (depending on the gin) and amazing every time.

Blood and Sand – scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry heering and orange Juice. This one is a little bit more personal for me – I don’t agree with the official recipe of equal parts every ingredient. I prefer a little more scotch, less vermouth and cherry liqueur – not too sweet. It’s a bit harder to balance but I find it to be a unique and wonderful taste experience if done right.

Favourite meal / food / fruit and why? I love Thai cuisine and Mexican.

For home, I enjoy cooking a stew that a Slovakian roommate of mine showed me once. He calls it ‘goulash’ but I had a Hungarian teacher who is not so keen on such carefree use of the word ‘goulash’ so I’ll call it a stew. It had chicken, a lot of capsicum, tomatoes, plenty of herbs, mustard and beer, slow cooked for several hours.

What do you hope to get out of this Australian National Piano Award? Experience, new contacts and hopefully exposure.

How long have you been rehearsing for this event? Some of the repertoire which I will play has been with me for several years, and some are completely fresh. We always have music which we could play; we just need to adapt what we have to whatever concert or competition, in which we will participate.

How did you hear about the Australian National Piano Award? It’s a pretty well-known competition in Australia.