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Where words fail, music speaks

Catherine Carter

“Where words fail, music speaks,” says Hans Christian Anderson.

And so, it is ironic that I try to capture in words the remarkable ability of pianist Gabi Sultana.

Gabi, who will be performing with the Canberra Youth Orchestra in its 50-year anniversary concert series at Llewellyn Hall on Saturday 24 June, has been described as “a demon of energy”, but one with “impeccable articulation”. She reaches into the piano, one journalist acclaims, “as if pulling the music out in long strands, her arms extended downwards into the keyboard”.

Specialising in works composed from 1950 to today, Gabi has been responsible for bringing many adventurous compositions into the spotlight. She’s performed extensively in Europe, the United States, Japan and, of course, Australia. She’s played at Carnegie Hall in New York City and for the President of Malta in his palace.

For this second concert of the Canberra Youth Orchestra series, Gabi will be performing the Australian premiere of Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, a contemporary piece by American composer Philip Glass.

You don’t need to be a regular concert goer to recognise Glass’ work. He’s composed countless film scores, including Kundun, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, The Hours, Notes on a Scandal and the acclaimed Qatsi trilogy. His music has been used in Grand Theft Auto and worked alongside Leonard Cohen on an adaptation of Cohen’s poetry collection Book of Longing. Glass’s compositional influence has been felt with musicians such as Mike Oldfield and bands such as Tangerine Dream and Talking Heads.

Credit: Nicky Scicluna

Credit: Nicky Scicluna

Gabi describes Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra as “Mozart meets Glass” and says it is a “wonderful showcase of his more classical side without losing his infamous Glass touch; and for classical music lovers, this is a perfect example of how contemporary music can be just as moving as the more classical works”.

Gabi, who hails from the island of Malta and currently lives in Belgium, is an internationally acclaimed soloist and chamber musician. She says her musical journey began as a young girl, and she fell in love with contemporary music at the age of 10.

“I didn’t like playing anything romantic. But I was intrigued whenever I came across a contemporary piece. It could have been the most experimental, atonal piece and I was probably one of the very few children who loved it.

“My piano teacher in Malta always supported this and made sure I was able to choose compositions I loved as exam pieces.”

Gabi first visited Canberra in 2015, when she was invited to perform at the Canberra International Music Festival under the artistic direction of Roland Peelman. She delighted in the opportunity to perform for “such a warm audience” and to meet and play with musicians with whom she “just clicked”.

Gabi’s advice to Canberra’s musicians is simple. “Love what you do, work hard and follow your passion. The rest will fall into place. And most importantly, have fun while doing it!”

And to all those parents who despair at their child’s negligence when it comes to practice, take heart. Gabi says she would regularly abscond from her piano lessons before the age of eight “because I never wanted to practice”.

CYO will also present Mahler’s colossal Symphony No. 1, Titan, marking 100 years since its composition. Acclaimed as one of the highlights of orchestral repertoire, and undoubtedly one of the most striking symphonies of the past century, the full power of CYO will be shown in this brilliant work. Without a doubt, concert-goers are in for a treat.

the essentials 

What: The Canberra Youth Orchestra featuring Gabi Sultana
When: Saturday 24 June from 7.30pm
Where: Llewellyn Hall, ANU, Acton
Tickets: From $12
Purchase tickets and find more information here:


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author