Bridget O’Donnell



At the end of 2016, my mentor and violin teacher Andrew Haveron (Concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony) encouraged me to go to to the U.K to find inspiration in the rich classical music scene in London. Specifically, he recommended a number of teachers at prestigious schools that I should play to and audition for and so from this, I began putting into motion a trip that I would undertake in December of 2017 to apply to three of the biggest music schools in the world. In the lead up to the auditions, I was flooded with concerts as an Sydney Symphony Fellow but regardless, managed to find 4 hours every day to dedicate to the repertoire, technique and audition preparation for my London auditions. I got in contact with a select range of teachers and asked for consultation lessons and then started to find concerts that I could attend in London, to see the best of the best in action.

My first stop was in Manchester where I was auditioning for the Royal Northern College of Music and staying in a wonderful AirBnB close to the school. Here I had lessons with two teachers: Catherine Yates and Yuri Torchinsky. Both of these teachers had huge careers both as orchestral leaders and chamber musicians and both offered a lot of insight into the orchestral job scene in the UK as well as practical advice on two of the pieces I had prepared as part of my audition repertoire, the Mozart G Major Violin concerto and some Paganini. I found this time in Manchester useful as I was able to catch up with some friends of mine from high school and youth orchestra’s in Sydney who had already done this move to Manchester and had been studying there. These were the cellists Jack Baileyand Waynee Kwong as well as violinists Kana Ohashi. From our discussions, I was able to confirm my feelings on Manchester after 3 days there, that it wasn’t the place for me. I didn’t enjoy the energy of the city and felt as thought RNCM wouldn’t offer a great enough challenge in terms of the teaching level. All three Aussies all seriously encouraged me to try and be in London no matter what. Although I was successful at my audition, receiving an offer of placement and scholarship in the same day, I did not feel confident that I had found the right place to start my next chapter yet.

At about this time I started to feel a little unsettled as to whether studying again was the right step to be taking and began second guessing the trip entirely, but after speaking to one of my dearest friends and fellow Australians, Benjamin Mellefont (Principal clarinet of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic), I knew it was just a matter of connecting with the right teacher for me. So after Manchester, I headed to London where I would be for the next few weeks.

Because of the support of the BBM Youth Support Award I was able to stay in a wonderful AirBnB in Brixton (South London) with two fantastic hosts who went above and beyond to make my stay comfortable. This was really great for me as I was able to focus on my audition preparation, get a good nights sleep and not worry about disturbing friends who I would have had to crash on their couches, with my practice. It got me into a prime position to be playing at my peak and putting my best foot forward for my audition. I was excited to be able to go and watch some of the best orchestra’s in the world while I was in London: the Philharmonia Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and also the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. One of the stand out concerts for me was an all Sibelius program put on by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of notable conductor and composer – Essa-Pekka Salonen. This concert was innovative in its use of lighting production, guiding the listener through the journey of the music with artistically suggestive mood lighting. This concert was the cataylst in helping me decide that London is where I must spend the next chapter of my career, as the wealth of knowledge and artistic innovation is huge at the moment there. Without a doubt, orchestral innovation and engagement with audiences is on a different level in the U.K and this is a scene that I would love to immerse myself in, to learn as much as possible from and then to bring back to Australia once I feel I am able to make impactful change.

The next few weeks in London consisted predominantly of lessons with teachers and having my head down and working towards my Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music auditions which were a week apart. I had a wonderful lesson with a teacher named Rodney Friend who was suggested to me by Jo Cole, the Head of Strings at RAM. This lesson really become more of a mentorship session in which we discussed how to manage ones self in the chaotic yet exciting scene of music in London. Rodney, now semiretired worked as a concertmaster of all the great London orchestra’s and as well in New York at the peak of his career. His biggest advice was to take on all challenges, align myself with people of not only high musical ability but also of strong moral grounding.

I was also able to go and watch one of my life long favourite orchestra’s, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. This concert was particularly moving for me as I am so familiar with the sound of this orchestra, having grown up listening to their CD’s made under legend Sir Neville Mariner. I was fortunate enough to meet some of the members of this famed group earlier last year through my mentor Andrew Haveron, when they visited Sydney on tour and so after this concert was able to catch up with them and discuss their decision to use an arrangement of the Debussy string quartet by ACO’s director, Richard Tognetti!

The few days before my Royal Academy audition, I played to So-Ock Kim. Ms Kim had been recommended to me by many friends and colleagues in Sydney and London as a teacher who could truly be a good match for my intentions. I was able to meet her at her home and spend two hours pulling apart my audition repertoire and discussing what we would work on in my playing, should I be successful in my audition and want to learn from her. I have never had a lesson where I have been so musically inspired, technically pushed and had the paradigms of how I perceive and create music stretched beyond my wildest dreams. It was immediately after this lesson that I knew I had to learn from her. Later I found out that it is mandatory for her students to participate in musicians yoga and meditation classes with her every week, and also discovered that her recent graduates all hold major leadership positions in elite London orchestra’s. At my Royal Academy audition, I felt calm, confident and with just the right amount of nervous energy to channel my focus and play my absolute best. After an intense first round to a small panel, my accompanist (whom i’d had the luxury of being able to rehearse with prior to the day!) had so much confidence in my performance and was sure I’d be on track to getting through to the next round. Shortly after an interview with the head of Postgraduate studies, I went into another panel, this time with the head of school, head of strings and head of violin. This was where I believe I played my best – confidently and happily.

After playing, I had another interview with this panel and at the end of this, they offered my a position at the school, a major scholarship and the use of an instrument on loan for two years from RAM’s violin collection. They also suggested I play to other teachers I hadn’t yet considered and encouraged me to have more lessons with So-Ock too. On the back of this, I couldn’t have been happier. Although I was still interested to see with RCM would be like, I felt so ready to begin at RAM and stoked with my teacher, who the next day confirmed she would take me in to her studio. In the next week I played to the famous London teachers, Ani Schnarch and Itzhak Rashkovsky. Both of whom and interesting approaches to their pedagogy and insightful things to say, but neither of them could compare to my experience with Ms. Kim. At my audition, I felt confident again and well rested and played my best. I was happy to to say that again I was offered a position and scholarship at the end of my panel interview, and was also given helpful advice from the head of strings at RCM about applying for additional scholarship funding from different trusts for international students, information which has proved to be very valuable in making my Masters funding more attainable.

Shortly after my RCM audition, I was called by the manger of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields who invited me to embark on a three week tour throughout the UK and Germany, on the back of meeting some of the violinists after the concert I had attended at Kings Place and chatting very briefly with them about my auditions in London. After a quick chat, they decided that I should do some work to swing me into deciding to move to London (even though I had already decided!). So, I headed to Ireland to get a visa and then was able to start working with them in January and gave performances under the directorship of Joshua Bell in London (Cadogan Hall), Dublin, Edinburgh, Bristol, Nottingham, Birmingham, Friedrichshafen and Munich. Not only did I not expect this in the least, but it has now set me up to begin professional work while I take on study in London, a huge advantage to have by having one foot in the door already. Without the ability to go to all these concerts and make connections, I am sure this opportunity would not have come about and for that, I am so grateful to have had the financial support of the BBM Youth Support Award.

I am excited to say that I have accepted a Master of Arts scholarship position at the Royal Academy of Music to start in September 2018 in the studio of So-Ock Kim. I am tremendously excited and still buzzing to know that I will be immersed in the musical culture of a city that is so vibrant and happening. I will also be working and touring with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields when I begin studying, an opportunity that not many people have and I cannot even begin to describe how influential and shaping those experiences will be down the track.

I am beyond grateful to the BBM team for all of the support both financially but also emotionally for enabling this entire experience to come about. Before this trip, I was worried about how I would afford to have lessons and how without those connections, I would not be able to put my best self forward in auditions, and was thinking I wouldn’t be able to attend all the concerts I so desperately wanted to see. This trip was made completely able by the Youth Support Award for Music and has been the first step in a very big next chapter that has opened up to me. I would never have dreamt this trip to turn out the way it did, but when a door opens, you have to go through it, or someone else will, and because I could, I did!

With all my thanks,

Bridget O’Donnell



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