Young Syrian pianist wins prestigious award

Norah Sande Award winners and organisers at The Birley Centre in Eastbourne
Norah Sande Award winners and organisers at The Birley Centre in Eastbourne

The Norah Sande Award, an international piano competition held annually in Eastbourne, was won this month by Syria’s leading young pianist Riyad Nicolas.

Riyad graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music in 2011 and has been delighting international audiences and competition adjudicators since then.

Riyad Nicolas - winners of the 2013 Norah Sande Award

Riyad Nicolas - winners of the 2013 Norah Sande Award

He received a cheque for £3,000 and the opportunity to perform in a recital later in the year.

The final stages of the competition were held in the purpose-built concert hall at the Birley Centre, Eastbourne College.

Fourteen semi-finalists performed 20-minute programmes before a prestigious adjudication panel of Timothy Barratt, Richard Deering (chairman) and Ruth Gerald - all keyboard exponents of international repute.

Three were chosen to perform a full recital programme incorporating classical, romantic and contemporray pieces the following day.

Riyad Nicolas (right) was born in Aleppo, Syria. His exceptional talent was recognised and at nine years old he won the Best Piano Student Prize of the Syrian Arab Republic in both 1998 and 1999.

In 2005 he was chosen to take part in the London International Piano Competition where he won an Educational Award. The same year he was awarded two scholarships to study with Sulamita Aronovsky at The Purcell School and continued working with her at the Royal Academy of Music. Riyad played Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major, Chopin’s Ballade No 4 and Legeti’s Fanfares in the final round of the 2013 Norhan Sande Award.

Gamal Knamis was named runner up and received a cheque for £1,000 while Thao Le Thanh was third and won £500.

Gamal studied under John Barstow MBE for eight years at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and has performed in many prestigious venues, including the Wigmore and Steinway Halls.

Thao Le Thanh was born in Vietnam but moved to Poland at an early age and won many prestigious awards.

She is currently on the Independent Study programme at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. She has been awarded a Founders Scholarship and a Henry Wood House bursary.

The Norah Sande Award continues to interest the very top young pianists on the cusp of an international performing career.

Applications were high in both quantity and quality which enabled the organisers to put on an outstanding second round and final enjoyed by the audience now loyal to the annual award.

Awards artistic director Spencer Freeman said, “Feedback from competititors and audience is the Birley Centre is one of the finest new concerts halls in the region.” Details of the 2014 award and entry form wil soon be available at

The award has been enabled by a substantial bequest from the late Norah Sande, in memory of her grandmother Alice Mary Caffen. The Norah Sande Award is a charity administered by the Trustees of the Eastbourne Music and Arts Festival.

Main picture: Stephen Lloyd MP, adjudicators Timothy Barratt, Ruth Gerald and Richard Deering, Eastbourne Borough Council’s assistant Deputy Mayoress and Deputy Mayoress, winner Riyad Nicolas, 3rd Thao le Thanh, 2nd Gamal Khamis, award Director Spencer Freeman.