Artist interview: Emily Sun
Australian violinist Emily Sun won the Royal Over-Seas League Competition earlier this year. She tells Elinor Cooper about how her career has been shaped by her global experience
When did you start playing the violin?
I started playing when I was four. My dad was a composer and conductor, and my mum was a violinist, so she started me off when I was a kid. I had this tiny, tiny toy violin! For our family it was something just fun to start with. I don’t think that they actually had any big ambition for me when I started – they just thought it was good for kids to learn an instrument.
So when did the ambition kick in?
I was in this documentary called Mrs Carey’s Concert which followed my high school as we prepared to put on a concert in the Sydney Opera House. I was the soloist in the concert. I played a Bruch concerto and I thought ‘Oh, this is amazing. This is really what I want to do.’ I mean, I had always liked playing, but I think that that was an experience that really changed my mind.
I went to the Sydney Conservertoire of Music for a year before I moved to London. Australia is a great place for music but it’s just a little bit far from everything. While I was young I just wanted to experience what it was like in Europe and in the UK, where there is a lot more going on.
What’s happened to your career once you got to the UK?
It’s always different when you get to a new place. You need some time to settle and some time to figure out where you stand, because there’s a different space for everyone in the music industry. It took me a couple of years just to find my footing and to figure out what the scene is. The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) is a great platform for that because it puts your name out there. It’s been a really lucky year for me because I was also made a Tillett Trust Young Artist, and won the Musicians' Company Maisie Lewis Award, which means I’ll have two Wigmore Hall recitals (as prizes) next year.
Do you think there is a difference in how music is taught in Australia and the UK?
I think there is. There’s a really high level of teaching in Australia, but because we’re so far away we don’t know what our level is in the world. There are always a lot of great musicians coming out of Australia and we expect to be the worst. So, when I came to London I was expecting to be the worst ever and slowly climb my way up, but it actually isn’t like that. It is a very high level. It’s just that we’re not very closely connected to what is happening outside Australia.
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I feel very accepted in the UK as an Australian. I always feel very comfortable, and a closeness with British people.
Why do you think you won the Royal Over-Seas League Competition?
I was up against a singer, a pianist and a saxophonist. It is always hard in a multi-instrument competition to judge between instruments – it’s different repertoire, different technique, different everything. But I think what they are looking for in the end is your personality. That’s why we practise: to get technically secure enough so that you can express yourself and show who you are. That’s why this year has been really good. I feel comfortable enough in my playing to just be free when I’m performing.
The best thing about winning the ROSL Competition is the performance opportunities. I’m going to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August and there are concerts every day in the ROSL house on Princes Street. These are called 'Bach at Breakfast', 'Mozart at Teatime'… that sort of thing. It’s just really nice for people at the Festival to wake up and have some soothing Bach. But I’m also playing Grieg and Gershwin, so it’s a whole variety of violin repertoire.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m involved in an artist diploma at the Royal College of Music, so I’ll be staying in the UK for at least another two years, hopefully longer. The ROSL Competition prize is such a great platform to get more known in the UK. I’m hoping to just keep performing and pursuing this freelance solo career in the UK.
Emily Sun will be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Royal Overseas League's 'Music and More' programme.