My BBC journey

Violinist Esther Yoo on how the BBC New Generation Artists scheme has broadened her horizons.

My BBC journey
Esther Yoo

The Eurostar train from Brussels to London seems to be the ideal place to write this blog. I have made this journey from home to what I now call my second home multiple times ever since becoming a BBC New Generation Artist in 2014. Each trip is filled with excitement as it brings me closer to a concert with one of the BBC Orchestras, a recording for BBC Radio3 or playing chamber music with fellow NGAs.

When I first found out I was chosen to be an NGA two years ago, it felt like there suddenly were so many opportunities to look forward to and it gave me faith in our industry to know that there was a scheme that supported and believed in aspiring young musicians. The NGA also gave me a new sense of identity and belonging. Being a young artist can leave one feeling vulnerable at times, even though I have been very fortunate to have a fantastic team supporting me, and being welcomed into the BBC family gave so much strength and motivation to my then twenty-year-old self. When people ask me what I enjoy most about the NGA scheme, I instinctively mention two points: the musical experiences and the people.

Over my career thus far, I have never played as much repertoire in a year as I did since becoming an NGA. One of the major challenges is that we are not allowed to repeat any piece during our two years in the scheme, meaning that each programme has to be planned very thoughtfully and learning new pieces often has to be done very quickly! Along with the spurt in my repertoire list, I feel like my understanding of being a recording artist has been fast forwarded by several years. I’ve always felt that recording in a studio is a unique art in itself; it requires physical stamina, mental strength and tremendous inspiration in order to make the piece sound musically alive even without an audience in the room, especially when you have to repeat it several times or record it in sections.

Esther Yoo performing at the BBC Proms, 2016

When I joined the scheme I had very little experience with recording, and honestly, it was a process that confused me at times. Why was it that what I wanted to convey and what I heard at my ear, didn’t always seem to come through on the microphones? I’m sure there is a whole science behind this but as I am not the right person to delve into intricate acoustic formulas, the best way for me to solve this mystery was by experimenting myself. When I first went into a recording studio, I thought that everything had to be planned out and that if I played exactly the way I prepared, the outcome would be what I imagined it would be. However, I quickly learned that my musical intentions didn’t always come through on the microphones the way I wished them to and I had to quickly adapt and find new solutions on the spot in order to make my expressions come to life. Now, my perception of recording has changed drastically and multiple experiences recording in studios and live concerts have made me feel much more comfortable with the process. Two years ago, I never would have imagined coming to this conclusion but, ironically, I feel that my recording experiences have brought me even more freedom as a musician. They have developed my skills to adapt, to create spontaneously, to be innovative and, most importantly, to come closer to what every musician’s task is: to find my own sound.

Along with developing me as a musician, being an NGA has also brought me immense joy through the opportunities to meet a great number of talented professionals ranging from producers, presenters, conductors, various BBC orchestras and of course, fellow NGAs. It felt good to know that I was a part of the class of 2014 along with five other musicians/ensembles but the significance was heightened once I actually met and worked with NGAs from my year as well as past NGA alumni. Particular friendships that have brought me so much personal joy as well as musical fulfillment are those with pianist Zhang Zuo (ZZ) and cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan. I am grateful to the BBC for putting us together for a trio recording in May 2015 because since then, ZZ and I have had a successful recital tour together, including my Wigmore Hall debut earlier this year, the three of us formed the Z.E.N. Trio, and we are looking forward to releasing a trio album in the future. 

A BBC family. Left to right: Alpesh Chauhan (conductor), Matilda Lloyd (trumpeter), Esther Yoo (violinist), DJ Mr Switch outside the Royal Albert Hall

I will always feel privileged to be part of the BBC family as it has allowed me to experience fantastic musical moments while creating life-long memories with wonderful and extremely gifted friends.  

Esther Yoo makes her US debut this autumn, starting with a performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra on 30 September.


  • Article Type: | Blog |
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