What inspired you establish your own festival?
Music has always been the centre of my life – I started learning the violin when I was four years old in Beijing. Growing up as a young musician myself, I always felt most alive when I was with other musicians. After moving to the UK as a teenager, I became a member of the National Youth Orchestra. I couldn’t speak much English at the time, so I struggled to have conversations with many of my peers, however I enjoyed just being in that environment and making music with lots of other young people. I think that is what music is about – bringing people together and sharing stories through music.
I think those experiences I had when I was younger have inspired my career choices, and of course the New Talent Festival having come about. I really wanted to get like-minded people under the same roof. I felt that a festival was the best way to bring everyone together, regardless of their age, nationality, or experience.
Tell us more about what people can expect from the New Talent Festival.
We’re now in our sixth year, and I’d say this year’s festival is going to be particularly special as we’ll be holding it in-person for the first time since the pandemic, plus it will be taking place at the Royal Academy of Music. For anyone who can’t travel to London we will have a separate online version as well.
The festival is open to musicians of all abilities, from the ages of 4 to 18, and we have bursaries available to support with entry fees. It is centred around a competition which has an expert judging panel comprised of professors from the Academy and other top schools and colleges. Everyone who enters the competition will get constructive feedback from the jury, so it’s a brilliant opportunity to learn from musicians at the top of the profession. It’s important to add that the competition isn’t just about deciding who is the best. It’s a chance for young musicians to showcase their hard work, love of music and to feel rewarded in their music-making.
Alongside the competition, there will be a programme of educational elements with workshops and panel talks. Attendees can learn about topics such as how to practice efficiently, leadership and teamwork in music, and sound production.
It’s important that the festival remains current, so I keep an eye on trends to see how that might affect us as musicians. These days young people have a completely different set of challenges compared to even five years ago. We’re constantly seeing technological revolutions, such as the emergence of ChatGPT, so one of the discussion panels this year will be how we think AI will change how we practice and make music.
What advice do you have for anyone entering the competition?
As with any performance, it’s important to be well-prepared so that you can enjoy the occasion. A few nerves are normal, and they can even be helpful. Make sure you choose repertoire that you are confident with, and which best demonstrates your abilities. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and we want to get the best out of people.
Be open to learning as well! You will get to meet and talk with lots of other young musicians and our jury panel. I think it’s fascinating to see how people can play the same piece or instrument in a different way, and it’s a really good way to learn.
What have you learnt in the process of creating this festival?
When I first started the festival back in 2018, my jury panel at the time said to me ‘these things take time to build, so don’t be put off if you only get five people to start with.’ We ended up with 50 people in that first year, and since then we’ve welcomed over 1000 young musicians from 35 countries.
We have a very small team, so I have had to teach myself a lot. Up until last year I managed our website and social media. I had to learn how to build a website from scratch, which certainly isn’t something I had studied at university. Now it’s something I really enjoy, and I’ve even helped my friends build websites for their own businesses.
While I used to get frustrated when things didn’t quite work as planned, I now use everything as an opportunity to improve for the next year. We’re a very young festival compared to some of the others out there, but the good things about being young is that we’re extremely flexible and we can quickly adapt.
You grew up in China, before moving to the UK to study as a teenager. Tell me more about that transition.
While I was at school in Beijing, we had someone from Millfield School visit to find music scholars and I was asked to perform for them. I remember being amazed by pictures of the school. It was a long way to travel at that age and it was obviously a big decision for my family. I’m so happy I came here however – I had such a fantastic time and was given a huge amount of support and musical opportunity.
When I started at the Academy I learnt Erhu, a Chinese instrument, as my second study. People always thought I learnt in China, but no – it was in the UK! I try to combine a programme of traditional Western music, with some Chinese music in my recitals and concerts because it feels important to bring in some of my own story and culture to my music-making.
It would be amazing to one day incorporate different musical cultures into the festival. This year we have someone from Syria attending and last year we had a musician who played the Indian Flute. There is so much we can explore in the future!
Do you have a message for graduating students as they prepare to embark on their careers?
Be open and brave. As classical musicians, we tend to follow rules very well, however it is okay to be politely disruptive. Don’t let other people tell you that you aren’t good enough. Everyone has their story to tell, and your story is worth listening to, so find your own voice and give it 100%.
For more information about the New Talent Festival visit their website.