With applications open for the 2021 Bach Competition, we sat down with violinist Leon Fei, the 2020 winner of the Richard Mills Prize. We found out about musical motivations, magical violins and what it’s like to play to an audience of 13,000 people.
When did you start playing the violin and why this instrument?
I started playing the violin when I was five. Once, at a get-together, one of my family friends played the violin for us and I immediately fell in love with it. As a five-year-old, I thought it was just so cool how beautiful music could be played through such a fascinating piece of wood, as if it was bestowed with magic.
What was it like to win the 2020 Bach Competition?
Firstly, winning the Bach Competition has always been one of my biggest goals and it was such an honour to receive the prestigious prize. Additionally, as most of us would have felt, last year was not a particularly memorable year. So, this special achievement felt like a ray of sunshine, as it showed me that my efforts and hard work had really paid off and it encouraged me to keep working harder and get through the tough moments during practice.
Besides the Bach Competition, what has been your performance highlight so far?
In 2019, I performed in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl Concert with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It was such an exciting experience, and I do not think I will ever forget the feeling of playing in front of an audience of over 13,000!
What is your favourite Bach piece to play?
For solo Bach, it would have to be the first two movements of sonata number one in G minor. However, for instrumental works, I would have to say that the Brandenburg concertos are my favourite works to play. It is just incredible how all the instruments exchange in such exciting dialogue yet form such a harmonious whole.
What do you enjoy about performing Bach?
I just love the fact that Bach needs to be captivating in its simplicity even though as performers we must understand the complexities of the harmony, voicing and structure. It can be so rewarding once you understand his language and have achieved this curious balance. I can only wish to know what Bach was thinking when writing his music!
What piece are you working on now? And what do you like about it?
I am currently learning the Sibelius violin concerto in D minor. Now I know why it is considered one of the four greatest violin concertos. Not to mention the wide range of technique and tremendous virtuosity required in this concerto, it is just such unique writing – nothing else sounds like Sibelius! And once you learn more about Sibelius himself, playing it only becomes so much more interesting!
What do you like to do outside of practicing music?
Besides being a music lover, I am also an avid swimmer and fencer. But this year I am most looking forward to hanging out with my mates and just having a good time together as we didn’t get much time to do that last year.
What are your musical aspirations for the future?
I just wish that, by becoming a great musician, I can encourage and inspire more people to love and appreciate classical music as well as the performers themselves because we are all working very hard to become better musicians.
Any advice for 2021 Bach Competition applicants?
For any competition it is the experience and the hard work you put in that is the most rewarding part. This is especially the case for competitions that have set repertoire requirements, because they force you to hone in your knowledge on a particular period or composer, which in turn helps you learn so much more about them. So, whether you win, or even whether you get into the finals, just know that this whole experience is completely worth it!
Applications for the 2021 Bach Competition close on Wednesday 21 April. Click here for more information.