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Earlier this month, clarinet player Lloyd Van’t Hoff from Brisbane, won the prestigious 2015 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Award, playing Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch at Federation Concert Hall in Hobart.
As the dust settles from his career-making win, Lloyd admitted to SoundsLikeSydney what he thought of his performance on the night of the finals. “To be honest, I thought I played really terribly – I was really disappointed, so it was literally a shock to win so when Christopher Lawrence who was presenting for the ABC, announced my name, I froze!”
Now 24, Lloyd was 11 when he began learning music. “I was living in Charters Towers which is a mining town in North Queensland and there isn’t much there in terms of musical resources, but I wanted to join the school band and that year, all that was available was the tenor saxophone – so I started on that, played it for a year and really loved it” he recounts.
“I loved how loud it was” he laughs. “It was confrontingly noisy. I was just a little bit too small for the instrument so after that first year the opportunity arose to learn a smaller instrument – the clarinet. It was much more comfortable – I could get all my fingers around the keys and so I learned both instruments through school.”
A few years later, when Lloyd was 14 and continuing to play both clarinet and tenor saxophone, his family left Charters Towers for Brisbane with Lloyd’s tertiary education in mind. It was a pivotal moment in his career. “I was fortunate enough to start learning from an excellent clarinet teacher and that was Paul Dean. I played for him and he must have thought something nice of me” says Lloyd self-effacingly. “He didn’t teach much privately but I was able to learn from him for three years even before I went to University.”
Faced with having to choose between studying the tenor saxophone or the clarinet at University, Lloyd opted for the clarinet and continued to learn from Paul Dean for another two years after he entered the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. “Then Paul moved to the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in Melbourne as its Artistic Director and I was fortunate enough to learn from his teacher, Floyd Williams for two years, after which I ended up following Paul to ANAM where I spent three incredible years playing music everyday and learning so much” recalls Lloyd.
Graduating with Honours from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 2011 and winning the Postgraduate Award, Lloyd completed an ANAM Fellowship as a founding member of the Arcadia Wind Quintet formed in 2013 from students at ANAM and winning the prestigious Director’s Prize. In 2013 Lloyd travelled to Europe as Principal Clarinet with the Australian Youth Orchestra on their tour with Christoph Eschenbach and Joshua Bell and that year, was awarded the AYO Accenture Australia Scholarship.
Since 1944, the Young Performers Award has been the glittering prize, aspired to by Australia’s emerging musicians. Its alumni include pianist Simon Tedeschi, percussionists Claire Edwardes and Alison Eddington, violinist Sophie Rowell and oboist Diana Doherty. In its 71 year history, Lloyd is only the 10th clarinettist to feature in the finals or to win the competition.*
Importantly, the YPA is not only about winning. The process of preparing and competing and the role it plays in communicating music are critical elements of the venture, as affirmed by Lloyd. “Because I grew up in a fairly remote place, one of the first times I heard a clarinet was on ABC TV and it was Richard Haynes the YPA winner in 2003. I remember watching that and thinking how cool it was and every year since then I’d always try and tune in to the YPA broadcast. It was one of my first musical memories. Looking at previous winners – to be regarded amongst them is really an honour.”
Finding himself with a honed repertoire after a recital at ANAM in 2014, Lloyd’s instincts told him the time was right to enter the YPA competition. “It’s something I always wanted to do, the timing was good and I had nothing to lose. You could almost pick the favourites – like horse racing” chuckles Lloyd. ” It was really hard to compete because I felt everyone was my friend and 9 out of the 12 finalists were from ANAM. ”
Of Philippine and Dutch extraction, Lloyd’s paternal grandfather was a tenor and his paternal grandmother, a concert pianist, both of whom led professional careers in Holland. Lloyd was not pushed into a career in music but acknowledges that his parents were always supportive of what he chose to do. He nominates German clarinet virtuoso Sabine Meyer as a favourite performer. “It’s hard when you get to a level where music is all you do, and you’re exposed to so much that the wow factor sadly becomes more rare – something has to be incredibly exceptional to impress. Sabine Meyer is someone I listened to from the start. I recently saw her performance and she definitely had that wow factor.”
Lloyd is also an avid supporter of both contemporary and Australian music, recently playing with new music ensembles Eighth Blackbird and Bang on a Can, as well as working with contemporary Australian composers. Asked if he has a favourite style of music, Lloyd pulls up in his tracks, searching for an answer. “It’s all fun. Asking a musician this” he says “is like asking if you have a favourite child. Music is music for me. What I like to listen to also depends on the mood I’m in. I find myself listening to a lot of music by Brahms and Sibelius – his almost raw nationalistic approach to music. Recently I’ve really been enjoying the music of Ravel as well. For a performing musician of our time” he says, “there should not be a distinction amongst genres of music. Aesthetically there are obvious differences which are difficult to avoid, but I’m passionate about all styles and genres. If music is stuck in tradition, it might not have a future and that would be very boring.”
In the wake of his award, Lloyd is continuing to perform as a freelance musician and to focus on developing the Arcadia Wind Quintet. “Musica Viva has taken us under their wing in a new programme they’ve started called FutureMakers. It’s bridging the gap between being a highly qualified student coming out of study and becoming a professional musician. We’re learning lots of things and this will continue for another 2 years. We’re lucky to be given this opportunity – it’s a lot of work but very rewarding, and it’s really important to keep learning, which I miss as a freelancer.”
The immediate future for Lloyd is about planning for everything he wants to do. He has found an “incredible” teacher overseas, he says, adding that “it’s tricky to go away for a year or two. So it’s about picking and choosing the right times to do summer schools or relatively short courses. I’d love to continue learning and being inspired. Next year is shaping up, in terms of the quintet and my own solo career. Lots of big things will be happening!” he promises.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
*Clarinetists who have won/been finalists in the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards since 1944:
Donald Westlake, 1953/ Barbara Hoad, 1955/ Phillip Miechel, 1963/ Ian Morgan, 1967/ Alan Vivian, 1975/ Deborah de Graaff, 1983/ Elowyn Leonard, 1994/ Philip Arkinstall, 1997/ Richard Haynes, 2003.