Yeoman of the Month October 2016 – Emily Sun

I first got to witness the transformative power of music from a very early age. My father, a Chinese migrant, an accomplished composer and conductor, founded the East-West Philharmonic Orchestra in the 80s to help other migrant musicians establish and settle themselves in Australia. He ran a successful music school, as well as obtaining a Masters of Music and PhD – so it comes as no surprise that my sister and I were encouraged to take music lessons.

For me, it was the violin and piano – my sister played the cello and piano. Initially, I learnt little songs from the Suzuki books, later progressing to giving small concerts on the violin and piano. At the age of 12, I won a music scholarship to an independent Sydney girls’ school.

At MLC School, I was in the right place at the right time and I unwittingly became one of the main features in the longest running documentary in Australian cinema history Mrs Carey’s Concert which culminated in a concerto performance at the Sydney Opera House. Looking back, it was this period of my teenage life which made me certain I wanted to pursue a musical career, thanks largely to the training and guidance from my former teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Dr Robin Wilson.

The life of a musician is a tricky one – how do you find the balance between practising hours and hours a day to hone your technique, but also not lock yourself out from the rest of the world? I think if you don’t give yourself the time to experience all the wonderful and dreadful parts of life to discover who you really are, it is impossible to connect with the audiences and the composers who have gone through the same highs and lows. There is only so much you can do in a practice room! I believe this is the biggest lesson I learnt from my current teacher at the Royal College of Music, Professor Itzhak Rashkovsky, who is always demanding more of my ‘personality’ in every performance.

One of the best things about being a musician is the collaboration. I love chamber music in any shape or size, and I am so fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly inspiring musicians. It is fascinating how much I learn from playing with and observing these other instrumentalists – I see how much a pianist obsesses over how to create a ‘legato’ line and realise I shouldn’t take my bow for granted. I recognise the natural breathing pattern of a singer and try to apply it to my own phrase. I’m inspired by the warm tone of a cellist and try to emulate their sound. In the end, you’re in it together, and it’s one of the best feelings to share those musical moments on stage with friends.

I moved from Sydney to London when I was 19 – a long way from home. But this musical journey so far has been incredibly fruitful – I have had the chance to perform in amazing venues such as Wigmore Hall and Cadogan Hall, and opportunities to play in masterclasses for world-class musicians such as Pinchas Zukerman and Maxim Vengerov. However, none of this would have been possible without the support of the Royal College of Music, where I am currently the Dasha Shenkman Scholar, as well as various foundations and individuals who do everything they can to support young emerging artists. Behind every musician and every performance, there is a network of people working tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all possible.

I am very thankful to have had a very lucky year in which I won the Gold Medal at the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition, the Musicians’ Company Maisie Lewis Award and was selected for the Tillett Trust Young Artists’ Platform. For me, the most important thing to come out of the success is the opportunity for more performances where I can share my music, my story and my father’s legacy to as many people as possible.

You can find out more about Emily Sun at emilysunviolin.com.