Montville cellist defies critics and war

MONTVILLE-born cellist Sam Lucas has endured setbacks and politicised pressure to achieve his life-long goal to perform at the world’s most prestigious cello competition – the Tchaikovsky International Cello Competition – in Russia. 
      Sam was one of just 25 cellists out of  741 entrants globally to qualify for the career-defining competition. He is the only qualifier from Australia, and from the Southern Hemisphere.

His entry was somewhat hamstrung from the start – he was unable to bring his beautiful 270-year-old cello, which he has played exclusively for the past two-and-a-half years, forcing him to revert to his backup student’s cello just days before competition began.

Sam also endured pressure and criticism for his decision to compete due to Russia’s global political position and its war with Ukraine.

“I’ve learned to disassociate the competition from what’s happening at the moment in the world, whether it’s war or politics or sport, anything that’s going on,” Sam said from St Petersburg, after his first-round performance.

“It’s a competition that has a legacy for many decades now, since the 50s, and hopefully it’s going to continue going on for the next 100 years as well, and maybe 200 years more if all goes well.

“In order to help the classical music scene survive in all parts of the world, especially the most prestigious competition ever, it requires participants and support. I don’t want to see this competition die, and I’m not here for political reasons,”

Performing at the Tchaikovsky International Cello Competition has been the subject of many years of dinnertime conversions between Sam, his parents Ian and Lee Lucas, and twin sister Meg.

“I might have been 15 or something when I started looking into the history of the competition and all the absolute best players in the world, at least in the last few decades, that have all won the competition and continued to do well,” Lucas said.

“When I got the email of confirmation that I was allowed to come, yeah, I think I was very nervous but incredibly excited; nervous considering what’s happening at the moment but super honoured at the same time.” Lucas said ‘The Tchaikovsky’ was among the two classical music competitions most revered by classical musicians – the other is the Queen Elisabeth* International Cello Competition in Belgium, at which Lucas was a finalist last June.

Understandably, Lucas’ qualification for ‘The Tchaikovsky’ has dominated the thoughts this week of his parents in Montville.

“Over the years there’s been this great excitement, that it was THE competition to get into, and Sam always talked about it as a kid, and then as a teenager, and then when he got serious with his music in recent years,” Sam’s mother Lee said about her son’s dream.

His father Ian added: “To be invited sort of sets your standard without you even having to actually play an instrument, because if you are deemed good enough to play at ‘the Tchaikovsky’ then it’s automatically an indication of your standard.

“It’s the tier one of the tier one competitions; most people who are invited in the top 24 or 25 in that particular year, use it as a catalyst for a big ongoing career, so it’s a wonderful start.”

Unfortunately, due to insurance guidelines, Lucas’ priceless loaned cello, handcrafted by Italian craftsman Nicolo Gagliano in the early-1700s, could not make the trip with him to Russia.

“I had to travel to a different city, Bonn, to organise my Russia visa and then go back the day after to collect it – both days included six hour’s worth of travelling and administration – so I had no preparation on the replacement cello at all; my only real preparation on this cello was when I arrived in Russia, which was cutting it very thin.”

Having faced that hurdle, he said his round one performance (Wednesday June 21, 4am, Queensland time) went well.

“I’m thankful to be here, I’m loving the city – St Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen so far, actually it’s super beautiful, so I’m very thankful to be here.”

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