Lukáš Vondrácek looks back on his 2016 Competition experience

In May 2016, Lukáš Vondrácek won the Queen Elisabeth Competition for Piano after a masterly rendering of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto. Everyone remembers the magical atmosphere during his performance, the audience listening with bated breath, and then bouncing up for a thunderous standing ovation. Five years later, he looks back on this life-changing victory.

Can you share with us your memories of your participation in the Queen Elisabeth Competition Piano 2016?

My Queen Elisabeth Competition experience was intense and unforgettable. Taking part in such a legendary contest was truly special and walking away with the First Prize was a dream come true. I loved the warmth and hospitality of the Belgian people and drew lots of energy and inspiration from the Brussels audience.

Coming from a country where - despite the rich cultural traditions - the political elites show little to no interest in the arts, the sight of Queen Mathilde attending since the early rounds was heartening indeed. I was later invited to the Royal Palace and spent a lovely evening there with the Royal couple and their children sharing music and many stories. Belgium is very close to my heart and I love returning there and reliving those beautiful memories.

How did you feel when you advanced from one round to the other?

It was a mixture of emotions. Relief, exhaustion, stress, anticipation, excitement. I told myself to treat the entire competition experience in a rather ‘casual’ way. The focus was there of course, but on stage I simply wanted to make great music and share those special moments with the audience without worrying too much about the jury and their tastes or judgement.

How did you experience your stay at the Music Chapel?

I loved my time at the Chapel. Above all the evenings with a glass of whiskey which we sneaked in and the camaraderie among the finalists. Artists need time away from ‘civilisation’ to be alone with their thoughts and draw inspiration from silence and nature. That is one of the reasons I loved the Chapel and its peaceful environment.

How did you feel when you won the Competition?

I felt happy but also emotionally spent. I was very proud to be the first Czech to ever win such major piano competition and greatly honoured to be among the legendary winners, many of whom were my idols growing up and dreaming of becoming an artist. I also knew that perfecting my craft, searching for new ways of expression, creating beauty, and immersing oneself in the arts is a lifelong process and the journey is only getting started.

How did your First Prize in the Competition influence your life and career?

The competition is world famous, and the win opened many new doors for me. I got a lot busier, traveling the world and trying to make it a better place through music. What more can one ask for?

Five years later, how do you look back on winning First Prize at the Competition? What makes this Competition stands out from the other ones?

I look back with tremendous gratitude. My time at the Competition helped me become a more confident and freer musician. What separates the Queen Elisabeth Competition from other competitions is the incredibly rich history and tradition, dedication of its organisers, the unique Chapel experience, and the unmistakable aura of the entire event.

How did you experience the very unusual last year?

It has been a tough and sad year in many ways. Music is an essential part of my life and being unable to share it with others makes me rather sad. But better days lie ahead, I’m sure. I also tried to make the most of the miserable situation, spending four months on the beautiful island of Bali, surfing, hiking and staying away from the piano.

Did the 4 months without piano have an influence on your playing, or on your relationship to the piano?

To answer your question- I must say I didn’t miss the piano very much during those four months. It was a rare opportunity to disconnect and focus on just being Lukas - rather than the globetrotting pianist - and I loved it. As far as practicing, I’m convinced that much of the work can be done away from the instrument, the importance of mental practice can’t be overstated. Music is always alive in my mind, no matter what or where I might be, and the relationship evolves naturally.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future (after corona)?

My hopes and aspirations have not changed. I simply want to touch people’s hearts with the music I play and introduce them to the fascinating world of the arts and piano performance. I have a few exciting concerts coming up this summer, debuts with the Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic among others.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all my Belgian friends and followers of the Competition good health and a beautiful summer!

Lukas has some exciting concerts ahead:

  • On July 17th, Lukas reconnects with Marin Alsop, the conductor of his final performance at the 2016 Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition. They will perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the famous Ravinia Festival.
  • Then he goes on to the Hollywodd Bowl in Los Angeles for his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on July 22nd.
  • In October, he returns to the USA for another concert with Marin Alsop, this time with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Relive the performances of Cello 2022
The Competition's CD's
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