ARIA nominee Emily Sun and WA Symphony Orchestra bring Beethoven Violin Concerto to Albany and Perth

Headshot of David Cusworth
David CusworthThe West Australian
Emily Sun.
Camera IconEmily Sun. Credit: Opera Omnia Patrick Allen

ARIA-nominated violinist Emily Sun will play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with WA Symphony Orchestra this month in Albany then Perth, capping a big year of regional touring for WASO.

It’s a whirlwind visit that echoes Sun’s stellar rise over the past decade.

She started studying violin aged of four with her Chinese émigré composer father Daniel Yi Sun, she first appeared as a soloist at Sydney Opera House aged 15, and in 2011 entered London’s Royal College of Music where she is now a professor.

In 2018 she won the ABC Young Performer of the Year and in 2021 was nominated for an ARIA for her debut album, Nocturnes, with pianist Andrea Lam.

She now divides her time between Australia and London, from where she spoke to The West ahead of her tour.

Emily Sun.
Camera IconEmily Sun. Credit: Benjamim Ealovega

“It works out to be about half-half, which is great, there’s no complaints from my end,” she says of the time commitment, which this year includes acting as artist in association with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

“I’m really pleased with that because my family’s still in Sydney, and I have a very special connection with Australian audiences. The trip back home is one of the most important things in my calendar, every year.”

Perth audiences had a glimpse of her luminous talent last year, with Russian-Ukrainian conductor Vasily Petrenko in her Perth Concert Hall-WA debut.

“That was the first time I had played in Perth, in front of the orchestra, and I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I was chuffed to come back again the following year, I thought I’d have to wait a bit but I’m really happy to re-unite again with the orchestra.”

Emily Sun.
Camera IconEmily Sun. Credit: Benjamim Ealovega

If Perth is different to Sydney and London, Albany has another dimension which Sun is keen to embrace.

“I think regional audiences are such an important part of the Australian musical landscape,” she says.

“It’s a huge responsibility but more importantly it just brings a lot of joy to everyone across Australia.

“That’s why something like the ABC is so important because it reaches everyone in the country, no matter where you are, and so live music, live performances there are equally important.

“I just feel really thrilled and honoured to be able to have the chance actually to go and connect with the Albany audiences, a place which I haven’t been before. I think it will be a really exciting performance.

“I have some friends who play in WASO and they told me it’s really beautiful, great beaches, I’ll have a great time. It’s very cold and grey here (in London) so I’m looking forward to sunlight!”

Sun won the ABC Young Performer Award playing the Beethoven concerto; a scintillating rendition caught on YouTube, full of silvery high harmonics and rhapsodic melody she now draws from the 1760 Nicolo Gagliano violin she plays.

“It’s really one of the most monumental violin concertos,” she says. “They say there are four great German concertos [Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Bruch], and Beethoven is for sure, let’s say, king.

Emily Sun.
Camera IconEmily Sun. Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

“There’s no denying Beethoven’s genius, and that is really reflected in this work. Not in a highbrow kind of way but in a way where, if you really look at what’s being played, let’s say just in the violin solo, it’s really just a series of scales and arpeggios. That’s actually all it is.

“But somehow, looking past that, he’s able to craft this incredible tapestry of harmony, for sure, but melody. That amazing lyricism, that’s what shows his genius. Out of a very simple model he creates something so breathtaking.

“That’s also the biggest challenge to perform this work; how do you make it not sound like scales and arpeggios, how do you really bring out the essence of the music, despite the technical challenges?

“Because ever since you pick up the violin what you do is practise the scales and the arpeggios, but then how is it you’re creating some of the most incredible music out of that? So I think that’s what I love, that every time I come back to it, it poses a new challenge.

“The first performance was apparently, on record, a bit of a flop, but it was revived again by [19th century virtuoso] Joachim, conducted by Mendelssohn.

“You see the legacy, the history of that work, that’s incredible. To be able to still play it now, in 2023, knowing the history of it, it’s like a living piece of history.”

Beethoven wrote only one violin concerto, compared with five for piano and nine symphonies.

Emily Sun.
Camera IconEmily Sun. Credit: Opera Omnia Patrick Allen

“Yes he only had one, but thank God we have this one!” Sun says.

That other composers only wrote one, and stopped at nine symphonies, is a historical puzzle.

“Maybe it was a curse,” she laughs.

Sun made her Opera House debut playing the Bruch concerto, which invites an interesting comparison.

“By the time we get to Bruch it’s more of a fully fledged Romanticism, whereas with Beethoven there is some restraint shown,” she says.

“Not to say that it’s any less passionate, not at all, you just have to show it in a different way. It’s a different language, they are using a different language but still show the same depth of emotion.

“So yes, the Bruch is also immensely popular, again one of the Big Four, also Big Three, with Brahms. It’s incomparable, between the two, in terms of what they are portraying, what the music is saying. As a performer you’ve got to give your entire being to it, otherwise it doesn’t come alive.”

Looking back on a meteoric career, Sun reflects on what she would tell her younger self.

Emily Sun.
Camera IconEmily Sun. Credit: Benjamim Ealovega

“I think about this a lot, especially in my role as a professor now, how to advise younger players who are working very hard,” she says. “I think ultimately it’s to never forget the power of music especially in today’s world, there’s so much noise and so much distraction, to not forget how important it is, how important the message is, and really what it can do for the people everywhere around the world.

“I think if you don’t forget that, then it gives real meaning every day when you pick up your instrument, whatever instrument it is, and you’re practising. Often you’re wondering what it’s for; so that’s what it’s for. It’s for the people, it’s for humanity, that’s what I would tell myself, to keep going.

“Because it’s all worth it, not for yourself, but for everyone.”

Emily Sun and WASO Perform the Greats — Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Dvorak’s Symphony No.7 — at Albany Entertainment Centre on November 10, at 7.30pm, and November 11, at 2pm.

Emily Sun and WASO return to Perth Concert Hall on November 17 and 18 with Anna’s Clyne’s This Midnight Hour, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and Schumann’s Symphony No.1 Spring.


Asher Fisch conducts WA Symphony Orchestra at Albany Entertainment Centre.
Camera IconAsher Fisch conducts WA Symphony Orchestra at Albany Entertainment Centre. Credit: Supplied

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