BMW Classics: Leia Zhu on Saint-Saëns and performing with the LSO for the first time

This year's BMW Classics will have many firsts: the first time our open-air concert has returned to Trafalgar Square since 2019; the first time Ayanna Witter-Johnson's lockdown piece DreamCity will be performed by LSO East London Academy Musicians; and the first time violinist Leia Zhu performs with the London Symphony Orchestra. Ahead of Sunday's concert, we speak to Leia on what she is looking forward to on the day, and her favourite thing about Saint Saëns' music. 

Fourteen-year-old British violinist Leia Zhu has performed with prestigious ensembles and orchestras across the globe, including Festival Strings Lucerne, Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra and the National Orchestra of Belgium. Sunday's BMW Classics will be her first performance with the London Symphony Orchestra.

What are you most looking forward to about BMW Classics?

I am so excited about this concert for so many reasons. This will be the first of many: my first time performing in an open-air concert in London, arguably the capital of classical music; first time performing with London Symphony Orchestra – I would’ve never dreamt that 10 years after my first public performance at the age of 4, I would have the privilege to perform with one of the best orchestras in the world; the first time meeting the members of the East London Academy and my first collaboration with Sir Simon Rattle. Do I need to say more about him? Of course not, what an honour. I can't imagine a better way to spend a summer evening than to be included in such an amazing event and to bring live music to a massive crowd in Trafalgar Square whilst live-streaming to the world at the same time.


What is your favourite thing about Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso?

It is such a delightful piece to play – I love the huge contrasts between the reflective melody in the introduction, the fireworks in the rondo and the sweet lyrical themes which appear throughout the piece and the wild array of techniques it displays from huge leaps, ebullient passages to brilliant arpeggios.

The fun part is that even for those who are not so familiar with classical music, you can notice the distinct Spanish folk music elements and references made throughout the piece. This is because Saint-Saëns, the French composer who wrote it, dedicated it to the Spanish violinist Sarasate to showcase his dazzling virtuosity, whilst also reflecting Sarasate's heritage in this music. An interesting fun fact is when Sarasate met Saint-Saëns, he was only 15, yet despite his young age, Sarasate was extremely talented and audacious. He approached Saint-Saëns hoping that Saint-Saëns would compose something for him to play and four years later, this piece was born and premiered.


Why should someone come and listen to BMW Classics?

It has been such a difficult year for everyone with lockdowns and travel restrictions, but now it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of the summer weather, spend time outdoors in the heart of London and have a splendid time socialising with other people, making new friends and bonding with one another. It will be a great chance to experience live music again and to be part of this amazing musical party. I am so excited to be part of the BMW Classics and looking forward to seeing you on 15 August!


Leia Zhu invites you to BMW Classics Sunday 15 August: 

Join us on the day in Trafalgar Square or tune into the livestream on our YouTube channel:

Sun 15 Aug 2021 6.30pm–8pm
Trafalgar Square, London
Dvořák Slavonic Dances Op 46, Nos 1 & 3
Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo capriccioso
Ayanna Witter-Johnson DreamCity *
Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker – Ballet: Act II

Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Leia Zhu violin
London Symphony Orchestra
LSO East London Academy Young Musicians *

FREE ENTRY – take your place from 5pm for a 6.30pm start


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