Pianist Hoang Pham, musical success story at 27

From Vietnam to Australia and all around the world, talented musician Hoang Pham has become an international success in his own right. Jessica-Anne Lyons has a chat with the Melbourne-based pianist about how he hit the right notes to get where he is today.

Hoang Pham RESIZED

Melbourne-based Vietnamese musician had a chat with Jessica Anne-Lyons about his career. Image supplied.

As we continually grow, many of us feel as if we are still deciding on what we want to do with our lives but for acclaimed solo pianist Hoang Pham, there were never any questions.

Born in Vietnam to a musical family, Hoang says that from an early age there were no doubts that music was the career path for him.

“My dad happened to be a guitarist and for his generation in Vietnam growing up, you weren’t a man if you didn’t do something artistic,” Hoang says.

“The piano just came naturally to me and I had no other choice but to pursue music because no other avenue allowed me to express myself as fully.”

The freelance work here is the best it can be and Australia has a very supportive audience base where people will actually turn up to support independent presentations.”

But even with musical notes flowing through his blood, the piano wasn’t the first instrument Hoang learned to play. When asked about how the piano came into the picture, he laughs at the memory.

“I started off playing the drums after my father gave me a rock CD as a child and I would literally belt the crap out of that kit until one day it actually exploded,” he fondly recalls.

“From there I got onto the keyboard and eventually the piano when I was about three and a half years old.”

Hoang Pham having a chat to the audience in attendance at the New Zealand International Piano Festival. Image: Lewis Eady

Hoang Pham having a chat to the audience in attendance at the New Zealand International Piano Festival. Image: Lewis Eady

As refugees, Hoang and his parents fled Vietnam to Australia when he was between three and six months old and Melbourne has been his home ever since. After growing up within the Vietnamese community in Ascot Vale and attending Wesley College on a scholarship, Hoang says that going back to Vietnam was never an option.

“Even just from a musical point of view, to do classical music you need to be in a country like Australia or another fairly well-developed country with culture.”

“The freelance work here is the best it can be and Australia has a very supportive audience base where people will actually turn up to support independent presentations.”

“The true test of how healthy the musical scene is what’s happening with young musicians aged between 20 and 35 and if they able to follow their passions, earn money, are able to teach, or if the majority of them are forced into other jobs.”

So is Australia the place to be for students looking to pursue a career in music?

“Definitely. You can pursue it anywhere else – I studied for six years in New York and had a year in London – but in Australia, you can really earn a living just playing an instrument without working another job.”

At only 27-years-old, Hoang’s achievements impressively reflect that of an accomplished musician – his live performances of Chopin, Bach, Liszt and Paderewski have been commercially released on the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Master Performers CD series.

Hoang has also played his way around the world, gracing stages with performances in England, the United States, France and New Zealand.

After taking a gap year after completing his VCE, he completed his Master of Music degree at the Manhattan School of Music, but he didn’t feel that studying music – in an academic sense at least – would be the most prosperous part of his career.

“It’s because musicians are educated to be musicians; they’re not educated to make money and that’s a pity because I think both need to go hand in hand.”

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Hoang performing at the New Zealand International Piano Festival. Photo: Lewis Eady

One thing that Hoang is very passionate about is helping young musicians realize that to be successful – with any profession as well – you have to develop business skills, which he admits isn’t something you can learn when studying music.

“If you’re really passionate about playing – and you’re particularly stubborn – become your own independent presenter, sell your own tickets, do your own publicity in order to establish yourself so you can have success that you can control,” he says.

“There’s a great quote that comes to mind and that is ‘If I stop, I rust,’ and that is exactly what happens if you stop actively promoting yourself and doing the things that are necessary to push your career towards the next level.”

“When I was younger, I’d play concerts for free because I didn’t know what my talents could be worth and I think many young musicians do the same, not realising that there’s a different way to do things.”

I always tell people that the first step to becoming creatively successful is to copy something you love and once you can achieve that, then you start personalizing it.”

Like many other creative careers, a formal education in the field isn’t always necessary. Hoang admits that he learned much more about his music from the cities he’s visited and the concerts he’s heard than from school.

“I was inspired by seeing great artists perform and when you see something that you love or something that inspires you, you just want to be that person,” he says.

“I always tell people that the first step to becoming creatively successful is to copy something you love and once you can achieve that, then you start personalizing it.”

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Photo: Lewis Eady

But as successful as Hoang is, he confesses that even he still gets stage fright.

“It happens every time, but you just have to deal with it and while it never goes away, it’s something you learn to accept.”

Hoang has just returned from London and already has another competition around the corner this October.

He is one of 12 finalists in the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards taking place October 4 to October 12. Hoang admits that practicing for hours on end is not his strategy when preparing for a contest.

“I never really practice for more than two hours a day because it’s not the hours of practice that makes a difference,” he says.

“It’s the intensity of the expression, the intellect and the soul-searching that happens, which is that something ‘extra’ that people talk about when they describe what they like about this musician as opposed to that musician.”

“A really special performance captures an audience in a very mysterious way that we can’t even really describe, but we just know it when we hear it.”

Hoang will be performing at the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards which is a free event that’s open to the public. Can’t make it to the concerts? Tune in to ABC Classic FM to listen to the finalists’ performances live from wherever you are.

The ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards will take place at the Iwaki Auditorium
 (ABC Southbank Centre, 
Melbourne, 3000). The final Concerto concert with the three top finalists will take place at Melbourne Town Hall (100 Swanston St, Melbourne, 3000). It will take place between October 4 through to October 12.

For more information about the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards, please visit Symphony Services International’s official website.

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