Renowned pianist succumbs to cancer

The late concert pianist Dr Marilyn Meier-Kapavale.
The late concert pianist Dr Marilyn Meier-Kapavale.

The day before she died, Marilyn Meier-Kapavale called to her dad as he left her hospital room and said: ‘‘Don’t forget [the kids’] piano lessons’’.

It was a typical reminder from the mum, who despite her illness, found energy to keep tabs on her three children then being cared for by their grandfather.

In hindsight, her last words to Hermann Meier last week were a poignant farewell.

‘‘She put her hand up and said don’t forget and I thought okay, okay, then she died at 2am [last] Friday,’’ Mr Meier said yesterday. ‘‘It feels so empty now.’’

Dr Meier-Kapavale, an international concert pianist and University of Wollongong guest lecturer, succumbed to a rare form of liver cancer after a 12-month battle. She was 48.

Born in Camden, she was one of two daughters of Mr Meier and his Tongan wife, the late Alisi Uimui-ki-Ha’ano Heimuli.

First tinkling the ivories at age four, it wasn’t long before Dr Meier-Kapavale was labelled a child prodigy.

By 15, she was in the United States studying with Bela Siki at the College-Conservatory at the University of Cincinnati. Then it was the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.

Professor Bela Siki described the Australian as ‘‘one of the most talented pianists of her generation’’.

Completing her doctoral studies at the University of Wollongong, Dr Meier-Kapavale was always in demand as a performer, piano competition adjudicator and teacher.

She was a soloist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, ABC symphony orchestras, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and performed in Japan, Europe, the United States and across the South Pacific.

In 1990, she raised $15,000 to bring a classical music tour to Tonga. King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV awarded her the Silver Jubilee Medal for services to music in Tonga.

Back home she mingled with Bob Hawke, Slim Dusty and Dawn Fraser, to name a few.

‘‘Marilyn came runner-up in 1989 as the Young Australian of the Year,’’ her dad recalled. ‘‘She was beaten by Duncan Armstrong; that’s pretty good for a piano player.’’

But success didn’t change the humble musician.

‘‘She was never put on a pedestal. We weren’t those parents who push their children. She was the one pushing us with her music,’’ he said. ‘‘Her music is wonderful. I’ll have it forever.’’

When diagnosed with cancer, Dr Meier-Kapavale was head of keyboard at the University of Southern Queensland.

‘‘She was doing chemo with remarkable results until this February when she moved back home,’’ Mr Meier said.

Just a few weeks ago she visited Wollongong.

‘‘I took Marilyn down to the beach. We sat while the kiddies were playing, there was nice surf, the air blowing all over her. We were going to be doing a lot more of that.’’

Dr Meier-Kapavale is survived by her children - Marie-Luise, 12, Grace, 10, and nine-year-old Beni. Her funeral will be held at Camden Uniting Church at 10am on Tuesday.