Dublin hits right note with young Danish pianist

Gustav Piekut sees Dublin International Piano Competition as a personal challenge

Young people from around the world come to Ireland for the Dublin International Piano Competition in the RDS. Video: Daniel O'Connor


Gustav Piekut normally practises piano between four and six hours a day. However, when he’s preparing for a competition he’ll play for eight hours a day, repeatedly going over his repertoire.

The Danish musician (19) had already made it through the first round of the 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition when we met and was waiting anxiously to hear the results for the second round. He discovered on Thursday he had made it through to the semi-finals, which are on this weekend at the National Concert Hall.

“It’s not my first time doing an international competition but it’s definitely my first time doing an adult competition. So even though it’s only at the second round now, you’re in this constant state of nerves before you play.”

Sixty-three competitors from 18 countries took part in this year’s triennial Dublin event, competing for the chance to play debut recitals in some of the world’s top classical music venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall in London. The winner of the first prize also receives €15,000.


Piekut, who has played piano since the age of six, is studying music in Berlin – a city he calls the cultural centre of Europe. “There is such a variety of music and especially classical music, but also of people. It’s extremely international.”

He finds reassurance in the knowledge his family and friends are watching his performances in Dublin through the online live-streaming of the competition. He also says playing to a live audience makes him feel more comfortable and relaxed.

“It makes a huge difference that there’s an actual audience in the hall who come to listen to the music as a concert and not so much to scrutinise everything you do. The worst thing is to play in auditions where there is only a jury.”

Local families

Participants in the competition stay with local families for the duration of their time in Dublin. Piekut is living with a family near Herbert Park, which is within easy walking distance from the RDS in Ballsbridge where the first two rounds of the competition took place.

“They could just put us in a hotel but that wouldn’t really introduce us to the culture in any way. I’ve learned a lot about Ireland and it really is the most friendly, open country I’ve ever been to.”

Piekut sees the Dublin piano competition as a personal challenge and a means of developing his skills as a pianist. “It’s important that you have your own idea of what you want to be and what you want to do. Of course you should be inspired by other pianists but you should not try to emulate anybody.”


The competitors must prepare four musical programmes to see them through the various stages of the contest. Piekut played a piece by Chopin in the first round and has decided to play two more pieces by the Polish composer in the semi-final.

“Chopin is one of my absolute favourites, but also is the most difficult to play. It’s very subtle music, I have always a feeling of walking on thin ice when I play Chopin.”

Seán Rooney (21) from Mayobridge, near Newry, was one of two Irish contestants who made it to the second round of the competition. He describes life as a professional musician as “precarious” and admits he becomes very nervous before a performance.

“I try not to be fazed by all the other players. I know they’re very good but that doesn’t have anything to do with my own playing.

“I think it must be more nerve-racking for the people who are watching, like your family, because they feel out of control. When you’re actually in it yourself, you can’t let yourself be overcome by nerves and you just have to get on with it.”