BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Gabi Sultana has performed for royalty.
The pianist, who most enjoys playing music of the modern era, grew up in Malta and is now based in Belgium. In 2011 she was invited to perform for Malta’s president, and four years later for the king and queen of Belgium.
This month, she’ll grace the Australian stage in a performance with the Canberra Youth Orchestra.
Gabi brings her talent and skills obtained through European studies, where she has received qualifications from conservatoriums in Ghent, The Hague, Malta, and London.
Though she’s toured Europe, United States, and Asia, Gabi is no stranger to Australia. She first performed in 2015 at the Canberra International Music Festival in a collaboration with Ensemble Offspring, later joining the group for the Peninsula Summer Music Festival in 2016.
This year – the CYO’s 50th anniversary – Gabi will perform the Australian premiere of a Philip Glass work at Llewellyn Hall. We get to know her ahead of the show.
Tell us about you! What inspired you to take music seriously?
Music has always been a big part of my life, from a very young age. I think I knew I wanted to be a pianist from the age of around 11. But being from a small island, this was not very easy to achieve. I left Malta at 17 to further my studies in The Hague, Netherlands and after seven years I moved to Ghent, which I love and call my second home. I’m also very much into electronic music, from experimental, ambient, to more underground electronic music.
You focus on works written post-1950. Why the interest in music of the modern era?
As far back as I can remember, I always loved the more contemporary works. I was somehow drawn to this era and absolutely adore this genre. I find it’s the music where I feel most at ease and can express myself to the fullest.
With CYO, you’re set to perform the Australian premiere of Philip Glass’ Tirol Concerto. What does this mean to you – to have the responsibility of presenting works by such a renowned composer to listeners for the first time?
I am honoured and humbled to share this experience with the first-time listeners of this piece. And getting to perform with the CYO conducted by Leonard Weiss is truly exciting!
What moves you about the music of Philip Glass?
Good question. I believe he is one of the few composers who really grasps the idea of playing with emotions through repetition. Some earlier works can put you in a trance and almost meditative state; while his later works are very visual and somehow connect to all walks of life. His timing and sudden endings to his works give a sense of hope and faith that everything will be ok!
Glass works can often be considered minimalist – but this doesn’t mean they are simplistic or without challenges for the performer. How do you prepare yourself for the mental and physical stamina required of Glass?
Glass works require a tremendous amount of concentration. Although technically they are not too difficult, they require a certain stamina so as not to hurt oneself while playing these works.
While practicing any Glass works, I make sure to stop after every 20 minutes for a short break to give my arms some proper rest.
In your musical past leading up to this concert, you’ve performed for royalty – the king and queen of Belgium – and in the Presidential Palace of Malta. What did these extraordinary experiences feel like to you, and what did you learn from them?
I am very lucky and truly grateful to have been able to perform for anyone who has been to any of my performances. Playing for royalty is amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which I will cherish always.
What advice would you give to young musicians looking to reach a level of success similar to yours, in such a short time?
Love what you do, work hard, and remember to always be grateful for doing what you do.
Gabi will perform with the CYO at Llewellyn Hall this June 24 – tickets online. She visits Australia through the Arts Council Malta’s Cultural Export Fund.
Featured image: Nicky Scicluna.