Joo Yeon Sir, violinist

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?

It was my parents and their love for classical music that first introduced to classical music. I remember being surrounded by my dad’s extensive LP and CD collections of different genres, having some Mozart quartets or old classic pop playing on his stereo in the background, and being amazed by my loving amateur pianist mum’s hands moving across the piano keys. When I was given the chance to have my first piano lessons, followed by violin lessons a few years later, music became my favourite hobby and everything happened naturally from then onwards.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Everyone involved in my music making (my musician friends as well as my family) helped shape my musical life, but most importantly, it’s my long time teacher and mentor Dr. Felix Andrievsky (to whom I have been an Assistant in recent years), who inspired me the most. We have known each other since I was 14, which is wonderful. He has seen me grow up, through the ups and downs, and he is the one who told me, “There is no point to perform, other than to enjoy it fully!”

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenges have been to not lose trust in myself and nurturing my love for performing no matter what. As with a lot of fellow musicians, I too grew up in a competitive environment, but realised that a musician’s life isn’t just about winning a competition, and it asks for so much more and far beyond, to share and engage with audience.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

All recordings I have been a part of have been really special – the two recital recordings for Rubicon Classics with my duo partner Irina Andrievsky are really close to our hearts. During our latest CD recording sessions, I felt that we got so engulfed by the music as if we would at our concerts. Another memorable CD project was with Sir Karl Jenkins for Deutsche Grammophon when we recorded it at the Abbey Road Studios – such a historical and dream space – and I will always remember my sheer excitement and its unique atmosphere.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I want to be able to play all kinds of the violin repertoire, whether it is a concerto with an orchestra, duos (sonatas/recital programmes) or as a solo violinist. It’s my big ambition, and I am a firm believer that the broader your repertoire spectrum, the wider understanding you have for your instrument. We violinists are so lucky to have such an array of repertoire to learn throughout our lives (perhaps not as much as pianists). I have this wish to get to know the works I haven’t yet encountered, and to revisit my old-time favourites. I like channeling a total badass vibe when playing Paganini, and some other days, I am swept away by Brahms’ multi-layers of emotions.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

This depends on which concerts are planned for the seasons, and for recitals, I especially enjoy discussing this with my duo partner. You have the freedom to be more creative and I like incorporating different projects such as my Beethoven Sonatas with 10 different pianists, or my recent Lichfield Festival Artist Residency last summer featuring 24 Paganini Caprices. This season I am performing 7 different concertos ranging from Bruch to Barber, so I definitely enjoy the big scope of repertoire, and being inspired by different composers.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I am fascinated by how concert venues add to the element of a concert experience, and I enjoy discovering a new venue. Wigmore Hall is such a wonderful place with a beautiful acoustic, and I also have great memories of performing in big halls such as Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Manchester Bridgewater Hall and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. All that said though, the rapport with the audience is what makes a particular concert stand out for me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I grew up being inspired by Kyung-Wha Chung, Sarah Chang, Maxim Vengerov and Anne Sophie Mutter. I grew up listening to their CDs countless times, and of course finally seeing them live in concerts. Their playing are so individual and have such unique personalities that engage with their audiences. I also adore jazz musicians for their freedom of improvisation and expression –qualities to which I definitely aspire.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There is always something by which  I remember each concert – whether it’s as silly as the concert dress/shoes I was wearing, or the repertoire I was playing or with whom I was on stage. For me, the Cardiff Millennium Centre concert with Sir Karl Jenkins, Bryn Terfel, Elin Manahan Thomas, Catrin Finch and Sinfonia Cymru is definitely one of my most memorable concert experiences. The evening was in memory of the Aberfan disaster, and I was amazed by how much Karl’s music meant to everyone involved, including the audience, some of whom had been directly affected by the disaster. It really brought everyone together (in tears) and I was so proud to be a part of such an evening.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I don’t think I can define success as such – it has definitely changed over the years. For now, it means to continue what I love the most (performing concerts), playing the repertoire I adore, to have someone to play for, and for people to want to listen to my music-making.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I strongly believe that you have to want to be a musician – you personally have to be so passionate as that is what is driving you on. It’s also important to surround yourself with people who support you, and of course to always want yourself to be better a musician each day.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I wish I had an answer to that, but I suppose that’s the exciting thing. I am happy to see where life takes me.

Engaging younger audiences has been a passion of mine in recent years, through my work with a Norfolk based organisation called Classical Music Rocks. It makes me incredibly happy to see so many raised hands asking schools for violin lessons afterwards.

Teaching is also another new recent dimension to my musical life, with involvements with Royal College of Music Junior Department, and with Purcell School to teach young violinists – a new development that is happening as we speak. I find all this very exciting, which I am sure will also feed into my performances and to my future self in 10 years’ time.

Described by Strad Magazine as “exuberant… seductive… with bravura and oodles of personality” Korean-born British violinist Joo Yeon Sir is winner of the prestigious Arts Club Karl Jenkins Classical Music Award, in association with Classic FM, and the Royal College of Music’s President’s Award. She has performed at the Royal Albert Hall with Sir Karl Jenkins and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Manchester Bridgewater Hall, Fairfield Halls and at St. James’s Palace for HRH The Prince of Wales. She regularly appears on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.

Her repertoire is striking and diverse. She has played concertos by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Barber, Dvorak, Sibelius, Walton, Bruch and Brahms; other concerto repertoire includes Haydn, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and a particular interest in 20th century works – Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Korngold, Elgar, Britten, Schnittke, Khachaturian and Shostakovich. In recital, she is equally at home in solo violin repertoire (Bach, Ysaye, Kreisler and Paganini) as she is in close collaboration with piano or guitar (the latter as one half of the Snowden-Sir Duo). Her collaboration with Sir Karl Jenkins has already resulted in two works especially written for her unique sound and personality – Lament for the Valley (which became part of his choral work Cantata Memoria) and Chatterbox! (originally for violin/piano, but now also orchestrated for violin/string orchestra).

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(Artist photo by Diana Roberts)

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