Spotlight on Leia Zhu

What first made you want to learn the violin?

My journey to learning the violin started when I was very young. My parents are huge classical music fans, and I have always listened to classical music on the radio at home or in the car with them.

I began and relentlessly pestering my parents to get me a violin, until they gave me a toy violin. That was not enough for me, and soon I had a real violin, which my grandma bought for me, and that’s how my musical journey with the violin began 13 years ago!

You’re performing in two of our residencies, Leicester and Canterbury. This is also the first time you’ve played with us. What do you do to prepare for a solo performance with a new orchestra?

I am thrilled about my upcoming performances with the Philharmonia! One of the most captivating aspects of collaborative music-making is that each and every orchestra has a unique interpretation, turning every musical piece into an entirely fresh experience for the soloist.

For me, this is the true magic of music — the ability to breathe new life into timeless compositions with each encounter with a different orchestra. It’s a privilege to learn and grow alongside these exceptional musicians, and I can’t wait to experience this through my performances in Leicester and Canterbury!

In The Lark Ascending, the solo violin soars above the orchestra, evoking the calm and rural bliss of the English countryside. Do you associate these feelings with a particular place?

Growing up in Northumberland, I have been spoiled by the beauty of the countryside, a tapestry of rolling hills, lush meadows, and rugged coastline. The Lark Ascending often transports me back home. For me, The Lark Ascending is not just a piece of music: it’s a journey through the heart of tranquility, where the solo violin becomes the embodiment of nature’s grace and serenity. It’s a reminder that music has the incredible power to transport us to the places we hold dear and to connect us with the landscapes that have shaped our lives.

The Lark Ascending is one of the best loved pieces in the violin repertoire. Do you have any fond memories of the piece?

The challenging days of the COVID-19 lockdown. brought unprecedented times of isolation, and for 18 months, I found myself without the opportunity to play alongside fellow musicians. During this solitude, I decided to explore new repertoire and this was one of the pieces I endeavoured to learn.

What struck me most about this piece was its striking contrast against the lockdown’s constraints. The Lark Ascending is a vivid representation of freedom and boundless energy; its soaring cadenzas at the beginning and end of the composition feel like a liberating musical escape, a refreshing breeze amidst a stagnant environment.

For me, the piece became a symbol of resilience, a reminder that even in the face of adversity, music possesses the transformative power to elevate our spirits and transport us to new emotional heights. It became a beacon of hope during trying times, a source of inspiration, and a profound connection to the world of art.

Apart from being a violinist, you’re also a student at school. Do you have a favourite subject?

I gravitate towards the humanities subjects, such as English, History, and modern foreign languages (German and French). They shape me into a more culturally aware and multifaceted artist and enable me to navigate the world with a broader perspective.

Do you have a favourite piece of music?

My favourite pieces of music tend to be ones I’m currently engrossed in and learning. There’s a certain magic in immersing myself in a piece, feeling its nuances and emotive depth on a personal level.

When it comes to composers who have consistently left me enraptured, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky stand out. Their compositions possess an unparalleled vigour and a profound ability to convey raw human emotions.

What piece of advice would you give to aspiring young musicians?

“Never give up, and dare to be different.”

It’s easy to be disheartened when a piece doesn’t sound quite right or a performance falls short of your expectations; after all, challenges and setbacks are an integral part of the journey. Every note you play, every piece you master, and every performance you give is a stepping stone towards becoming the musician you aspire to be!

As a musician, your distinct voice is your most precious asset Don’t be afraid to experiment and explore uncharted territories. It’s your authenticity and willingness to be different that will leave a lasting imprint on the musical world.

So, to all aspiring young musicians, remember that while the road may be laden with obstacles, your love for music will be your guiding light on an extraordinary artistic journey!

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