About Marcus Barker
Marcus has worked in the arts sector for over 20 years in Australia, the UK and the Republic of Ireland with a number of leading companies and venues. Marcus is Chief Executive of The Sydney International Piano Competition. Marcus has a strong wealth of knowledge when it comes to operating within the arts sectors, which has seen him in leadership roles across Australia and around the world.
How has the competition grown and changed since its inception, and what changes do you foresee in the future?
The Sydney International Piano Competition (The Sydney) has always been a leader and change maker, right from the very first edition of the competition in 1977. It was less than 12 months after the inaugural competition that it was admitted to the World Federation of International Music Competitions, not an easy task, but the inspiration and success of the event gave it the credibility on the international stage.
The competition has taken bold steps in 2015, when the competition was reinvigorated with new leadership and management and continues to this day to be a game changing event, and event that other competitions global look to see what we are doing and to take/borrow initiatives to better their own events. Again in 2020 The Sydney was forced to look at its operations and find solutions when the world shut down due to the pandemic, and even in the face of adversity the competition found its way to innovate and lead giving those young pianists around the world the chance to compete even when the Australian borders were closed. Who knows what the future will bring, but The Sydney will be ready to tackle what comes its way.
As the Chief Executive of the Sydney International Piano Competition, what do you think audiences can expect from the competition (and the competitors) this year?
Audiences will expect what they have always had, a world class competition right on their doorstep in Sydney. The 32 competitors this year have been selected from 250 applications from all corners of the globe and all are feverishly working away and preparing for what could be a life-changing opportunity should they take home the first prize.
As in previous competitions the standard is exceptional and the musical tests that each competitor must navigate to progress through the various stages of the competition are tough, purposely orchestrated to achieve a result of the finest talent becoming the newest ambassador for this almost 50 year old institution.
What unique features or aspects of the competition set it apart from other international piano competitions?
The mere fact that this competition is as far away from home for many on the other side of the world makes The Sydney one of the most interesting competitions for competitors and audiences alike.
It is the only competition of its kind in the southern hemisphere and with over $200,000 in cash prizes makes it one of the richest events on the planet for the piano. Of course everyone enjoys the beautiful acoustics of the Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for the Preliminary and Semi Final rounds, but the majesty, splendour and grandeur of the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House, playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is something no other competition in the world can boast. Integrity and transparency is important to the international respect of this event, something that is in place to ensure that fairness and equity prevails.
Can you discuss the role of the competition in promoting classical music and piano performance in Australia and around the world?
Opportunity abounds for the piano as an instrument and one that had a place in many homes across Australia less than a century ago, being at the heart of the family home. Over the years, modernisation and an ever-expanding range of entertainment options outside the home have seen the piano, while still part of the home, not necessarily at the centre anymore.
The Sydney fosters a true love of the piano through the exemplary competition that it runs once every three years. A competition that runs for almost three weeks is broadcast to Australians in the cities and the bush via radio, and since 2015 via the free to air online streaming. This allows all Australians the opportunity to be part of this event even if they may not be able to be in Sydney for the live event. The live stream of the competition reaches beyond the shores of this country and it freely available to anyone anywhere in the world to watch live or on-demand in a time zone that suits them.
Tell us a little about the extraordinary panel of jurors involved with the competition this year.
This year’s jury consists of seven extraordinary artists forging successful careers as performance artists and managers. They represent the corners of the globe and will provide an even-tempered approach to the important judging of each competitor’s performance.
They will be listening for nuances that perhaps you could never imagine existed, to be able to split hairs between the exceptional artistry that will be on stage this July to determine the one competitor most worthy of being awarded the first prize. They will have their job cut out for them, but they have been assembled because of their skill and expertise, and that all important integrity and respect from their peers.
Prepared by Hugh Raine