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Like many elite violinists, Emily Sun first picked up the instrument when she was a toddler. But there was no rigorous practice regime: in fact, she was left largely to her own devices. “When I was three, my parents bought me a little violin, just for fun, and I loved it,” she recalls. “I would learn a song every day. It just felt very natural to me.”

That organic beginning might explain why Sun is often referred to as a “natural” musician. In those early days, she was not pressured to play perfectly or practise endlessly - although she did practise, with dedication, every day. She also benefited, she says, from being part of a family that, quite simply, loved music.

“My dad passed away when I was four, but he was a composer, and today his work is in the Australian Music Centre,” she says.

“My mum was a Suzuki violin teacher and my sister played music, too. The main reason I wanted to be involved is because they all seemed to enjoy it so much.”

Today, from her base in London – where she teaches at the prestigious Royal College of Music – Sun continues to build a reputation as a violinist whose playing is both virtuosic and full of personality. She has won fans across continents, playing at a slew of top venues including Wigmore Hall and Seoul Arts Center and has performed for the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace.

Next up: a return trip to Australia, during which she will perform Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the MSO in Melbourne and Geelong, and present a masterclass for students at the Australian National Academy of Music. She will also perform a Mozart concerto with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

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These days, she might perform across the globe, but Sun wasn’t always so comfortable in the spotlight. When she was a teen, a film crew documented her time as a talented but rebellious senior student in the popular film Mrs Carey’s Concert.

That experience seemed to bring her out of her shell. By 2018, she was both an exceptional musical interpreter and a charismatic performer, which led to her winning the ABC’s Young Performer of the Year award.

Soon after, her debut album for ABC Classic, Nocturnes, was nominated for an ARIA. And this year, she signed a general † management deal with prestigious UK firm Percius. (Cinque Artist Management continues to represent her in Australasia.)

Sun says her early experiences in Europe have helped her cultivate quick thinking. Renowned teachers Itzhak Rashkovsky (at the Royal College of Music in London) and Augustin Dumay (at Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Belgium) pushed her to always be ready.

“The pace in London is just much faster,” she explains. “If you’re playing with an orchestra, you have to be really fast: you have to be ready to play a concerto with one rehearsal on the day.”

Pandemic notwithstanding, Sun says travelling between the UK and Australia for professional and personal engagements has become as normal as tuning her instrument.

There’s always something special about stepping off the plane in her hometown of Sydney, though.

“It feels like I’m being given a giant hug,” she says. “I feel so comfortable in Australia. I think any Aussie who’s spent time away will relate to that feeling.”

Sun says she is thrilled to be working with the MSO again after performing Matthew Hindson’s Concerto for Violin in the Orchestra’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl series in 2020 (just before COVID hit), raising funds for bushfire victims. She also she feels aligned with two of the company’s top priorities: education and regional touring.

“Musica Viva came to my primary school and I remember it fondly,” she says. During high school, she saw Richard Gill AO’s Discovery Program and was involved in development activities with the Sydney Symphony and Australian Chamber Orchestras.

“You can practise for a thousand hours on your own but nothing is worth more than an hour’s rehearsal with an orchestra and conductor all working together.”

Sun’s own masterclass will offer artistic and technical learnings for violinists but also provide insights and behind-the-scenes information for students who aspire to international careers.

Then it’s onto the concerts in Melbourne and Geelong. The program, conducted by Benjamin Northey, features not only the concerto by Korngold but also Miriam Hyde’s nostalgic Village Fair and Antonín Dvořák’s cheerful Eighth Symphony.

“I’m particularly looking forward to playing for Geelong because, while I love our capital cities, it’s exciting to play outside of them, too,” Sun says. “I know how important and transformative watching a live performance can be, so it’s terrific that orchestras tour regionally so that every child in Australia gets to experience great classical music live, no matter where they live.

“Growing up in Sydney, a lot of these things were on my doorstep. But every child in Australia should be afforded those same opportunities.”

Sun’s official website and media appearances depict her as calm, charismatic and confident – all of which is accurate. However, she admits that certain stretches of her career to date have tested her relaxed Aussie character.

“When you’re working towards an elite level – especially while you’re studying and taking part in very tough competitions – it can be very easy to forget what it is you’re actually doing it for,” she admits. “I see that happening quite a bit in younger players now, and I’ve had to be mindful of it myself. Trying to achieve impossibly high standards, or even perfection, is a prevalent thing in classical music, and you can lose sight of your original motivation.”

For Sun, that original motivation was to share the music she loved with as many people as possible. “For me, the real satisfaction is giving to the audience,” she says. “Being generous with the music you play and sharing that unreservedly with audiences is what it’s all about. And I think it’s those things, more than anything else, that teach you to be a true musician.”

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Emily Sun performs with the MSO, under conductor Benjamin Northey, on Thursday 15 September at Melbourne Town Hall and Friday 16 September at Costa Hall, Geelong

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