We caught up with Andrea Lam and Penelope Mills to hear about their preparations for their upcoming performances at with the Australian Youth Orchestra!

Black and white photograph of pianist Andrea Lam.

Andrea Lam

How would you describe your typical day?

As a classical musician, there’s no such thing as a typical day! I love being a pianist because there’s such a variety of music and ensembles to work on. Right now, I’m preparing for this amazing concerto (Ravel Concerto in G) and some other concertos, and repertoire for some solo recitals coming up; I have a regular piano trio (Claremont Trio) and we rehearse frequently, and I have a concert with the clarinettist Anthony McGill, and collaborations with other instrumentalists coming up too. I’m also editing a recent recording with cellist Matt Haimovitz of a new piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, so my typical day is juggling this repertoire with rehearsals and performances – it’s never dull! In addition to music, I have a wonderful, almost 3-year-old son and a very sweet dog, so hanging out with them is also a big part of my typical day.

What attracted you to New York?

I went to study at Yale as soon as I finished high school because I wanted to study with Boris Berman who teaches there. After I graduated, I studied in New York. New York is a lot – it can be a difficult place to live, but it’s also a very fun playground. At any given time, there are amazing concerts going on, delicious food to eat, wonderful walks in parks or fun neighbourhoods, great people watching, and so on… But, one of the perks of being a musician is that we get to travel. And, as amazing and stimulating as New York is, I need to get out of it sometimes! Over the past couple of months, I have been to some stunningly beautiful places in Montana, Florida, and California. And I am very, very excited about coming back to Australia and am very thankful to have the opportunity to leave New York once in a while and explore other places. I’m always especially happy to come home to Australia.

Do you have any top tips when it comes to practice?

Hmm… that’s a tough one. The way that I practice continually evolves. Nowadays, I have to be fairly efficient with my practice time. After the learning of notes, I consciously focus on different parts of the piece. Colour, structure, contour, emotion, rhythm, harmony, etc. Recently, I’ve worked with a lot of composers and found it helpful to remember that all the pieces we play started from someone creating it on a blank canvas. So, things all printed very officially in black and white are to be taken very seriously, but also, it’s fun to imagine different ways the piece could have evolved – different possibilities of harmony, structure, colour, figurations, etc.

Everybody always remembers their first piano teacher. What was yours like?

I have had some wonderful piano teachers and continue to have strong relationships with many of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have great memories of my first piano teacher…! I was 4 or 5 and my parents took me to a local teacher. I have cloudy memories of a dark room and playing on an upright in the corner of the room. At some point, I remember she slapped the back of my hand for something, which was a little traumatic for me! Since then, I have had very supportive teachers who have become like family – and all of whom didn’t slap my hand!

Do you have a favourite piano concerto?

I love the Chopin concertos, Shostakovich concertos, Beethoven concertos, Mozart concertos, and of course, the Ravel concertos!

Are you looking forward to playing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G?

I am so excited to play Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with the AYO. I love this piece .The colours and timbres in the piano and orchestra are gorgeous and super fun to play with. It really is such a collaborative work and I’m so looking forward to exploring it with the AYO. The second movement is some of the most beautiful music I have heard or played. Every time I hear it or play it, the sheer beauty is overwhelming.

Black and White picture of soprano Penelope Mills

Penelope Mills

What sparked your interest in opera?

I grew up surrounded by music, and singing has always been part of who I am. My love of opera began in my last year at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney when a friend played me a recording of Lensky’s aria from Tchaikovksy’s Eugene Onegin. It took my breath away. I also love the idea that in opera and oratorio, there will be something new for me to learn for the rest of my life.

Could you tell us a little about what are you working on at the moment?

Other than preparing for the wondrous Mahler 4, I am learning a new symphony by the Turkish composer Can Attila to be premiered in a world peace concert with the Sydney Symphony. I’m also learning Handel’s great oratorio Saul, which I am singing with the Sydney Philharmonia in the Opera House.

Do you have an all-time favourite piece of music?

Mostly, my favourite music is what ever I am working on at the moment, so I am very happy to say for now it is definitely Mahler 4!

What are your thoughts on Mahler’s fourth symphony?

Mahler Symphony No.4 is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. I have performed it a few times before and it is an immense joy to sing. Each time I sing it, I am striving to serve Mahler as best I could, to deliver the 4th movement in the way he wanted – it’s an eternal goal of mine! Following the 3rd movement – some of the most perfect music we will ever hear – is humbling and I just hope we as a group, can share a glimpse of heaven as Mahler intended.

What advice would you give to an aspiring soprano?

I have much to be thankful for – singing Mahler out the front of an orchestra is truly one of the most thrilling experiences and I treasure every moment. My biggest tip to young singers is not a glamorous one – just practise and work hard. Always take every performance seriously – prepare and study, as you never know where it will lead. The wonderful maestro Richard Gill once said to me “Just sing!” and after all the work, I think it’s great advice.

Besides music, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I have a busy teaching studio and my husband, and I have a three year old daughter. So when I’m not singing Mahler or teaching, I’m singing nursery rhymes, doing glitter craft and playing hide and seek.