While most teens dream of their next TikTok video game or dance purchase, Leia Zhu spends her spare time rehearsing for performances with a top London orchestra.
The 14-year-old violinist, from Newcastle, is the youngest artist in residence the London Mozart Players have ever recruited with leading orchestras tending to fill the position with more mature musicians.
Zhu reveals her secret to success as a busy teenager exercises her mind between classes, before trying out her new ideas when she gets the chance to pick up her instrument.
âI just have to use all my free time,â she said. âAt residential school, they literally plan every second for the students. So by the time you go to bed, you’re just mentally exhausted and you really want to get it, so finding more time to practice is actually quite difficult.
âA lot of my practice is also done mentally. You don’t have to just sit there or just sit there practicing the notes; I often imagine the music in my mind, and I think of new ways. in my mind, then I go back to the music and try it out on my instrument to see if it’s actually as good as it sounded in my head. “
Zhu, a student from St Edward’s Oxford, whose alumni include Laurence Olivier and Emilia Clarke, has make-up sessions with her teachers to make sure she doesn’t miss a thing on her trip around the world.
Her classmates benefit from her success by receiving souvenirs and snacks from the countries in which she has performed.
So far, Zhu, who is fluent in Chinese and English and is also learning German and French, has performed at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow, at the Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic in the German capital and at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Life as a full-time college student and music prodigy makes Zhu feel like he has “two lives in one.”
She added: “I feel a bit like a spy: a normal schoolgirl at one point, then also a violinist traveling the world.”
Despite being a young musician, Zhu does not feel obligated to play only the music of the great classical composers.
âPeople always treat me like an equal,â she said. “Even though my first international tour was when I was six, in Spain the conductor and the orchestra members treated me like I was their equal and that really inspired me. to keep making music.
“Even though I’m young I don’t feel pressured to play only classical composers, it’s more important for me to find music that I really connect with and that makes me emotional on the inside.”
After begging her parents to buy her a violin at the age of three, Zhu was delighted when her grandmother delivered one on a visit from China.
Her first achievement was when she managed to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – a proud moment that made her feel like she had ‘taken over the world’.
She said: âAt first I played a toy violin, but then we tried to find a real violin. Since none of my family is a musician, we didn’t know which size to choose, so it was pretty fun being in a music store and just tried out the different violins. Eventually I got to the 32nd violin which was really small and then I started playing it. “
Having now moved beyond nursery rhymes, Zhu will perform the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 Saturday with the London Mozart Players at Croydon’s Fairfields Hall.
Zhu hopes to inspire young audiences to engage in classical music and uses his YouTube channel “The Violin Girl”, with nearly 10,000 subscribers, to talk to his peers.
Through the LMP’s educational outreach programs, Zhu hopes the orchestra can “inspire other children to learn classical music as well, or just listen and love it as much as we do.”
Julia Desbruslais, Managing Director of LMP, said: âThere is such pressure on talented youngsters these days, and we intend to support Leia in this crucial time to make her feel at home with LMP. . “