The winner of the 2012 Sydney International Piano Competition recounts his journey, round by gruelling round.

Avan Yu:The first thing I thought when I flew into Sydney was that the crisp, bright weather reminded me of the fall in Vancouver. But there wasn’t a great deal of time for reflection, as I was whisked away first to my accommodations, then to test the pianos for Stage One. I was relieved to discover that all three pianos were excellent, but I was most comfortable with the Steinway.

My first real shock came when I went to hear the first performer of Stage One: I was just amazed at the size of the audience in the Seymour Centre. This is very special, I thought. It’s also very encouraging for performers, because I’ve been to competitions where the judges are sitting in the first row; you’re constantly aware of them and they don’t clap after you’ve finished playing – which is intimidating. In this competition, the judges are at the back and they blend in with the audience so you forget about them. Almost.

Normally for the first round of a competition, you wouldn’t get hundreds of...