Every once in a while, a phenomenal talent appears in our midst. Rising star, 15 year old Anna Da Silva Chen, is a fantastic example, winning the 2011 Kendall National Violin Competition amidst tough competition. You can witness Anna’s unbelievable talent and dedication at the Kendall School of Arts on March 18.
Hi Anna. Tell us about yourself…
I’m 15 years old. I was born in Sydney, and later I moved to Wollongong (when I was 6). My parents are of different nationalities; my father is Chinese, and my mother is Portuguese. I have a younger brother who is 7. I enjoy playing the violin greatly, and I also enjoy sports and art.
How did you first get started playing the violin?
I started learning the violin and piano at the age of 8, after participating in Childhood Music Education classes at the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music. A few months later, I had a desire to play violin more than the piano, because of how enjoyable it was to play and how beautiful it sounded.
My first violin teacher, Sarah Hindson, encouraged me to perform to audiences at the very beginning of my learning period, and I remember performing in monthly concerts at the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music. The concerts were named Saturday at the Con. My father also supported my playing greatly; he loves music for the violin and had bought sheet music for many pieces by Bach, Paganini and Sarasate when I was showing significant signs of improvement. I also looked up to great violinists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Jascha Heifetz.
I believe you study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. What do you most enjoy about attending school there?
In fact, I go there every Saturday for the Open Academy Rising Stars. It’s such a great program; I’m able to meet a lot of new, wonderful people and be surrounded by exceptional musicians. I’ve made many great friends studying there. It provides a worthwhile learning experience, with music skills classes, advanced seminars and chamber group tutoring.
I started studying at Sydney Distance Education High School, which is schooling at home in Year 8, since travelling to Sydney twice a week for lessons can be time draining. I can manage my time more flexibly now, and the curriculum is great.
Congratulations on your recent win in the Kendall National Violin Competition. How did you find out about the competition – and is this the first time you’ve competed in this particular event?
Thank you! I had known about the competition since I was around 10 or 11 … and I’ve always been aware of competitions like these, of course, as it gives me an opportunity to have a great experience and enjoy myself.
It was the second time I competed in it, and I’d like to take this chance to thank my teacher Mr Robin Wilson; I owe a great deal to his dedicated teaching.
What was involved with you performing in the competition?
I had first submitted an audition CD, and I am not completely sure how many other people did. But in the last stage I prepared a recital program that lasted around 45 minutes, which consisted of the Adagio and Presto from the Sonata No. 1 in G Minor by Bach, Sonata No. 1 by Saint-Saens, Abinu Malkenu by an Australian composer Mirrie Hill, and Tzigane by Ravel.
In the semi-finals I competed against 7 violinists, and in the finals, 3. Of course, it was very nerve wracking, but just the opportunity to perform to a supportive audience was fantastic. I had a wonderful time in Kendall.
As a result of your win, you’ll be playing as a part of a recital tour. What are the towns and dates you’ll be playing?
I’ll be playing on Saturday 17 March in Nambucca, Sunday 18March in the Kendall School of Arts and Wednesday 21 March in the Manors of Mosman, Sydney. I’m very much looking forward to this.
You have a long list of awards and competition wins under your belt for someone so young. What are some of the other awards you’ve won that make you proud?
• I won the 2MBS-FM and National MBS-FM Young Performers Award in last November; it was a different experience though, because you perform to the audience under the studio sound recording circumstances.
• The National Youth Concerto Competition is always something I’ll be proud of winning. I just really enjoyed it, which was the important thing. The orchestra was so lovely to play with, and the people there were very passionate and supportive.
• Participating in the string finals of last year’s ABC Young Performers Award is another wonderful experience I had. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra was exceptional, and the ability to play with them was otherworldly.
• Another memorable event was the KPO NSW Secondary Schools Concerto Competition, where I had won the junior section and The Alf & Pearl Memorial Award for Performance Excellence in the Sydney Eisteddfod.
• I have been accepted for participating in The Menuhin International Violin Competition in April this year in Beijing, and I’m extremely excited.
What is your favourite piece of music to play (or a few favourites) – and why do you like them so much?
I have a few favourites: Tzigane by Ravel, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens, Poeme by Chausson, and Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D, to name a few …
But at the top of my list is Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B Minor. It differs from other great Violin Concertos by Mendelssohn or Bruch, which gives you an instant feeling of attachment. In fact, when I first heard Elgar’s Violin Concerto, it grabbed me, leaving me with an indescribable sensation and making me want know more about the monstrous work. Later, I found that Elgar had dedicated the concerto to Fritz Kreisler and that it carries a Spanish inscription of: ‘Here is enshrined the soul of …’ The soul of one of Elgar’s good female friends, perhaps. The complexity of the composition is blended with a sea of emotion and wonderful lyrical themes. The thick texture of Elgar’s orchestration brings out suspense and the rhapsodic mood, which raises the indefinite wonder of how it would end and why …
This is a part of why I love the work. I strongly recommend others to listen to it. My all-time favourite recording is the one played by Yehudi Menuhin in 1937 when he was 16 – the orchestra conducted by Elgar himself.
What is the most challenging piece of music you’ve ever played?
As mentioned before, I would say Elgar’s Violin Concerto. I’m learning it at the moment, and it requires a very deep understanding musically and great technique. It is also very long – most probably the longest concerto written for the violin yet.
How many hours a week do you spend practising the violin?
Altogether in a week, about 20 – 25 hours … Some days more; some less.
Is it hard balancing school work, performing, friends, family and other hobbies?
I don’t find it extremely hard any more, thanks to Distance Education. It’s all about balance, priority and managing time effectively. Things are a little tighter at the moment, because of auditions for more competitions, but it’s enjoyable and I like having goals to achieve. I’ve made a lot of friends through playing the violin, so I’m really grateful for that.
What is your dream … what would you like to do when you finish studying?
I would love to be a professional soloist, which is my first choice. But I’d also like to be a chamber musician, orchestra player or teacher – anything involving music!
The Kendall National Violin Competition 2012 winner’s recital with Anna Da Silva Chen and piano accompanist Jeanell Carrigan will be held on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at Kendall School of Arts at 2pm. Tickets are available through Mavis Barnes on 6559 4339.
Interview by Jo Atkins.