Sofya Gulyak has become the first woman to win the Leeds International Piano Competition. In the final in Leeds Town Hall on Saturday, the 29-year-old Russian impressed the judges, including competition founder Dame Fanny Waterman and former Beaux Arts Trio pianist Menahem Pressler, with her performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
Each of the six finalists, who emerged from an initial field of 68, performed a concerto accompanied by the Hallé orchestra under Sir Mark Elder.
‘I can’t believe that I’m the first woman to win,’ Gulyak tells BBC Music Magazine, ‘but I’m happy just to be in such great company of former winners. Men, women, it’s not important – we’ll all musicians.’
‘Leeds has such a great history. I didn’t really expect anything as you never know what can happen in a competition. I knew that the level of many of the participants was very high.’
Competitions have been a regular part of Gulyak’s career to date but, she says, now that she’s enjoyed such a high profile win, she’ll call a halt to them. Not so Brahms, however: ‘He is my favourite composer. His music is so deep and full of emotion and has fantastic structure. He was very young when he wrote his First Concerto, but it is so monumental – he had so many things to say.
‘I had no doubt when I worked out my programme for the competition that it would contain the concerto. Partly, because it is so fresh compared to other concertos – it’s not one I’ve been playing it for years.’
For her victory, Gulyak wins the Princess Mary Gold Medal, £15,000 and the offer of high profile engagements with leading orchestras. The other finalists, in finishing order, were Alexej Gorlatch (Ukraine), Alessandro Taverna (Italy), David Kadouch (France), Rachel Cheung (China), Jianing Kong (China).