Emily Su in the 2017 Sydney Eisteddfod. Photo: WinkiPoP Media
Violinist Emily Su brought both maturity and confidence to her performance in the Sydney Eisteddfod Alf & Pearl Pollard Memorial Awards for Performance Excellence in 2017 earning her third place. She recently spoke to Sydney Eisteddfod about how she was first introduced to violin and what she is hoping to achieve next.
Why do you love playing the violin?
To me, music is a form of expression, and it really lets me convey emotions and stories to my audiences. At times when the emotions incorporated in a piece do not match how I am feeling at the time, I really enjoy the acting behind it. The best performances for me are when I can almost feel a tangible connection to the audience, and I can send emotions through that link – and I can almost “tug on their heartstrings” as the saying goes. These performances, when I can feel the connection, are what draw me to music, and especially such an expressive instrument as the violin.
What inspired you to start playing the violin?
I was very young when I began violin – 3 years old – so my memory of starting to learn and perform comes in pieces of emotions and stories. However, I have heard many stories of when I was young. My father used to play the violin, and apparently I used to take his violin and just play around with it. I seemed to really like music so I was allowed to play a bit on the piano while I was 2 years old, and when I was 3, I began learning violin through The Suzuki Method.
You chose to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, 3rd Movement, tell us about this piece.
This movement is the exciting conclusion to an exquisite violin concerto by the famous composer Tchaikovsky. I see it as a fiery and sparkling ending to an amazing work incorporating so many different emotions that correspond to Tchaikovsky’s difficult life. I have performed the first movement with orchestra and played the heart-wrenching second movement, and I think performing this movement was a lovely way to wrap up the wonderful experience of learning Tchaikovsky for the first time.
Which other performers do you most like to listen to, and why?
I really admire the technical brilliance and accuracy of Itzhak Perlman – his abilities are just amazing. However, to glean new ideas for interpretation, I prefer listening to performers like David Oistrakh, who has such interesting interpretations for many different pieces.
Overall though, my preferences change with different repertoire, and I like to listen to a wide range of performances, even by the same performers if I can find recordings, because each performance is different, and even if some aspects would not suit my playing, it is still interesting to hear many different ideas.
What have you learnt from your Sydney Eisteddfod experience?
Being part of Sydney Eisteddfod has taught me so much, not only about the practical aspects of performance, but also helped me develop other skills relevant to life in general through the preparation for performance.
Most competitions only cater to high school aged students and above, so throughout primary school, finding quality competition opportunities proved quite difficult. However, with the help of Sydney Eisteddfod, I was able to practice competing, and develop skills that continue to be useful in every day life as well as in other demanding competitions.
Sydney Eisteddfod has events that range from more informal, better for developing competition and performance skills, right up to more formal and widely respected events such as the NSW Doctors’ Orchestra Instrumental Scholarship, which I hope to enter soon in the future. Such a range means that Sydney Eisteddfod caters for all abilities and ages, which helped me so much throughout my early years of violin playing, and continues to help me today.
What would you tell someone that was thinking about entering Sydney Eisteddfod?
Seize every performance and competition opportunity you can find. Sydney Eisteddfod is the most notable eisteddfod in Sydney, perhaps even in all of Australia. There aren’t many opportunities as valuable and of such high quality as Sydney Eisteddfod, especially for younger students, so make the most of your access to such a wonderful opportunity, and try your absolute best, because this is when you’ll make the most improvement, regardless of the results.
Remember, everyone says this, and it might sound cliché – it did to me for a long time – but the results are not the most important part. If you’ve worked hard, of course it’s nice to be rewarded, but learning a piece that may seem daunting and feel like a bit of a stretch is the most rewarding experience. When my teacher told me I was playing Tchaikovsky next, I was excited, but also nervous – all I heard before that was how difficult a concerto it was. However, after preparing it for competition, I could actually see my improvement, which felt amazing, and really mentally prepared me to take on any challenges, both music related and otherwise.
What do you hope to achieve next?
For now, I want to focus on learning and performing as much varied repertoire as I can - the next concerto I’ll learn soon is the Sibelius, which I have been dreaming of learning for years! I am also hoping to find a full size violin that suits my playing style, as the violin I am playing on now is about the same size as a 7/8th violin.
In terms of achievement, I just want to find as many performance and competition opportunities, hopefully extending towards international interactions and performances, to broaden my experience of the world, and share my stories with as many people as possible.