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Student story

Stephen Watson

20 July 2023

"For me, the best thing about studying at UC is the quality of the tuition..."


Bachelor of Music

Bachelor of Music with Honours

Master of Music

Juris Doctor Candidate, Melbourne Law School, Australia

Stephen is one of the youngest students to have graduated from UC’s School of Music, completing his undergraduate degree at the age of just 18. Having been home-schooled, he started his degree on a part-time basis when he was 15 years old, taking first-year piano performance and music theory courses.

Now in his twenties, Stephen holds a Master of Music degree with Distinction, supervised by Dr. Jian Liu, as well as a degree from the Hochschule für Musik Detmold, one of Germany’s finest music institutions, where he studied with Prof. Alfredo Perl and received a grade of 1.1 (where 1.0 is the highest possible grade).

Stephen was awarded a Study Scholarship for Foreign Graduates in the Field of Music, funded by the Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst, as well as the highly regarded William Georgetti Scholarship, awarded by a panel including New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Governor-General, and Chief Justice.

"I have been passionate about classical music and, in particular the piano, from an early age," he says. "I believe that music is an important force in our culture. It is much more than entertainment — it has the power to affect people’s mood, behaviour, and ultimately their lives, for better or worse."

Stephen is a regular concert performer, and his passion for the piano has seen him perform as a soloist and accompanist many times, including accompanying notable violinist Professor Natalia Lomeiko and performing for the former President of Poland, Bogdan Borusewicz — an event held at UC’s School of Music.

He has also appeared playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. Stephen is especially attracted to the Romantic repertoire, particularly Chopin and Liszt, and has performed many of these masterpieces to critical acclaim.

Having an exceptional academic record which saw him achieve six prizes and thirteen scholarships, Stephen is also a Fellow of the Royal School of Music, and received the respective Diploma with Distinction. Now acclaimed as one of New Zealand’s outstanding young pianists, Stephen is appreciative of his time at UC, where he was inspired by the teaching.

"For me, the best thing about studying at UC is the quality of the tuition and in particular being able to study with Prof. Michael Endres, who is an outstanding pianist and teacher. He is one of the reasons I chose to study at UC.

"I am also grateful for the arrangements UC made for me to undertake my master’s degree after Professor Endres left to teach in Norway."

Although studies take up much of his time, Stephen also enjoys playing table tennis and tennis, having won his age group at the Marlborough Junior Open — a Tennis New Zealand two-star event. He has also had success in chess, including national age group title, the under 16 prize at the Queenstown International Junior Chess Classic, and a second placing in the Under 20 South Island Junior Chess Championship when he was just 11 years old. Other interests include hiking, kayaking and languages: Stephen speaks fluent German and has studied French.

A committed Christian, he is also involved in his church community and regularly plays the organ for church services.

Stephen says that putting in long hours is important to success in music, and advises other students to "practise diligently, enjoy it, and realise at the same time that there is a world outside of music, a world which can give art tremendous inspiration and purpose".

"I am very thankful to my wonderful parents for all their support, for home-schooling me and enabling me to spend more time practising and studying music. This is what made it possible for me to enter university at an early age."

Stephen’s path to music was foreshadowed by his older brother Jeremy, who also studied piano with Prof. Michael Endres at the UC’s School of Music. Stephen describes him as "an excellent, intelligent musician and a particularly brilliant interpreter of Gabriel Faure’s music. Jeremy was always willing to listen to my playing and tell me how to improve."

Stephen is currently studying towards a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree at Melbourne Law School, having received the Sir Zelman Cowan Scholarship — the Law School’s most prestigious scholarship.

Despite now studying law, Stephen makes time for music-making and hopes to continue to perform regularly.

Stephen adds: "Music is a language unlike any other. It has the power to express the inexpressible. As Johann Sebastian Bach wrote: 'The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.'"

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