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Artist on Artist: Leia Zhu Talks to Samir Savant

Having already played many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, and been appointed artist-in-residence by the London Mozart Players, she makes her debut performance at St George’s this season. Ahead of her highly anticipated concert in October, St George’s CEO Samir Savant caught up with Leia to find out more.

” These experiences can have a truly lifelong effect and that’s something I love promoting.”

Samir Savant: From what age did you know you wanted to be a violinist and how did you get started?

Leia Zhu: For me, the violin has always been a part of my life—ever since I was conscious of what was going on around me. My parents say they are not musicians but we always had music so I was always listening when I was young—since I was a baby—and I loved the sound of the violin and asked my parents if I could try it. Eventually I was given a violin by my Grandma—a very small one (!)—and I started on that. I loved playing and I always wanted to play for people. If no one wanted to listen to me, I’d stack all my toys on a chair and start playing for them!

SS: A captive audience! In your forthcoming season you’re very busy with all your performing work—what are you particularly excited about?

LZ: I do have a lot of exciting concerts this season including performing with the Philharmonic Orchestra twice this season and also at the Lord Mayor’s charity event later on this year for the veterans of the army. I’ll also be touring with my old friends, the Festival Strings Lucerne, in Italy. I first travelled abroad was when I was six years old to tour in Spain with nine concerts in nine cities and that was one of the first times I could see the big wide world—I thought to myself that this is the life I want! Since then, I’ve never been back, so I’m excited to go back for the first time in eleven years!

But, of course, the highlight is going to be performing at St George’s Bristol! I think it’s so exciting that I’m going to be there for the 200th birthday and it’s such a privilege to be associated with such a long-standing institution. I can’t wait!

SS: I’m sure you’ll enjoy our wonderful acoustics! Do you know Bristol at all?

LZ: No, in fact, this is going to be my first time in Bristol which is even more exciting!

SS: Well, we’re really excited to have you here. Regarding your longer-term goals—obviously you’re still at school—but you must have plans and particular milestones you’re looking to achieve in the coming years. What is the long-term plan?

Leia Zhu standing with violin
Leia Zhu sitting with violin

LZ: For me, something that I’m always very passionate about is to bring classical music to the wider audience. There’s not really any particular concert stage or platform that I aspire to be on. I’ve travelled to over twenty countries now and played with so many people.

For me, every single concert is an opportunity to share my music to more people because you never know if there are members of the audience for whom it may be there first time attending a classical music concert and that they’ve had the opportunity to experience this kind of music live. My passion is to share it with as many people as I can and to make as many people as I can fall in love with it in the same way as I love it.

SS: And I know that you’re going to be working with young musicians here in Bristol in a school context—so thank you so much in advance! I hope they’ll be inspired by you but equally, that you’ll be inspired by them. It’s a symbiotic relationship, isn’t it?

LZ: Exactly. As Patron of the Harrison Parrot Foundation and Artist in Residence for the London Mozart Players, I’m really passionate to promote providing young children with access to classical music. These experiences can have a truly life-long effect and that’s something that I love promoting. So, it’s really exciting for me to go to the schools here in Bristol as well!

SS: Just on the London Mozart Players—you mentioned you’re artist in residence—what is it that you particularly enjoy about that?

LZ: I definitely enjoy the education outreach projects and the opportunity to bring new music to a lot of new audiences. The orchestra are also a fantastic group of musicians and I love performing with them, discussing music with them, and exploring new music together with them. They really help me to develop as a musician—it’s a very multi-faceted role—on stage, off stage and bringing music to a wider audience through their outreach projects.

SS: Coming back to your concert here at St George’s, is there a particular movement, moment or theme within the programme you’re looking forward to?

LZ: I’m really excited for all the pieces in the programme. I carefully selected a wide range of music from different composers including some very well-known pieces, for instance Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and some relatively less-played like Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No 1. I love bringing a variety of music to the audience and look forward to bringing the audience on a special journey.