RNCM Deputy Director of Percussion
Chetham's Marimba/Solo Percussion Teacher
Le Yu has travelled the world as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher. He has collaborated with Keiko Abe, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Ian Wright, Simone Rebello, Eric Sammut and Michael Burritt. In 2016, Le was the soloist for the World Percussion Group and was made an Honorary Associate Artist of the RNCM. Born in China, Le began his percussion studies aged 14 at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music High School with Professor YaGuang Liu. In 2007 he commenced his studies at the RNCM with a full scholarship and in 2012 earned his Master of Music with Distinction and Bachelor of Music with Honours. In 2013 July Le received the RNCM’s first International Artist Diploma in Solo Percussion. His studies were sponsored by Yamaha.
Since 2010, Le has been an endorser and performing artist of Encore Mallets Inc. which made his signature mallets in 2015. He is also a Yamaha Artist and a Sabian Artist.
Why did you take up percussion and how old were you?
It was Chinese New Year TV gala, after a 4 hour show the only thing I could remember were two kids playing the drum kit.
I started learning percussion when I was 14 years old.
Who was your first teacher and where did you start?
My first teacher was Prof. Yaguang Liu from Xi’an Conservatory of Music in China. Sadly soon after I left China, he passed away!
Drum kit was definitely the one I wanted to start off! But, my teacher ask me to start with snare drum, and I remember only playing rudiments and exercises in the first year.
What instruments/resources did you have?
I was very lucky after I saw the TV gala, my dad bought me a drum kit the next day, you can tell he was more enthusiastic than me, my family always wanted me to be a musician, as back in their generation it was very difficult and unaffordable to learn music.
Do you have any advice for young percussionists during this stage of education?
Be interested, listen to the advice you have, and the foundation part is crucial before you go beyond.
With your knowledge and experience, what performance opportunities would you suggest for young percussionists to engage with?
In my early years I always thought I wanted to be a soloist, but gradually when I experienced orchestras or ensembles, I found it is so interesting, and I have participated Orchestra Festivals in Asia, Europe, and America. So never limit yourself to just one thing, and try different opportunities especially in that age range, later on you will know what is most suitable for you.
At what point did you decide this was the profession for you?
Soon after I entered my music high school in China, when I was 15/16 years old!
After school, where did you continue your studies and who did you learn with?
I studied at Royal Northern College of Music with Prof. Ian Wright, Simone Rebello, Paul Patrick, Liz Gilliver, Dave Hassell and Andrea Vogler. During my International Artist Diploma programme at the RNCM I had the opportunity to study with Dame Evelyn Gennie. I also went to Japan to study marimba with Keiko Abe on several occasions.
Why did you decide this pathway?
I always had one teacher at a time, so I found the system here in the UK very interesting, because you have different teachers on different instruments, what RNCM had to offer was the best option for me, and it was the only conservatoire I auditioned for in the UK.
You have won many of the world's foremost percussion competitions including the China National Percussion Competition, Italy International Percussion Competition, Yamaha European Scholarship Competition, Royal Overseas-League Competiton, Park Lane Group Young Artist Competition and The Best Percussion Award from Brass in Concert. What is like preparing for a competition and how have these helped shape your career?
It is very intense! Long practice day and night, but it really helped me developing my repertoire and time management, also my confidence. Definitely from the competitions more people got to know me and where I started to receive invitations for concerts and endorsements.
At what point did solo and concerto performance become your main focus?
After competitions I started to get more concerts, so from one you get ten then gradually performances become more regular - and It was all started in my undergraduate studies.
What was your first ever professional engagement, what was it like and how did you get it?
It was in my hometown Xi’an the ancient capital of China. The city have just built their new concert hall, then I was nominated as the young talented player, so I got the invitation to join with other 3 talents, Rachel Zhang, Haichuan Bai and Heng Liu. It was so much fun with play with them, and of course getting paid felt like a dream come true.
What happened next?
From the Xi’an concert, I have got invitations all over the place, and I still play 20-30 concerts each year in China to this day.
As a soloist, you regularly perform concerti with many of the world's finest orchestras and conductors. What's this like?
To quote from The Avengers - 'Love You 3000!'
Probably the most enjoyable thing, when you feel the energy and passion you melt into it to create the sound, it is just incredible.
Are there any challenges?
There are many challenges as a soloist, as I mentioned before the time management is so important, sometimes you only have 3 or 4 days in between concerts with different programmes and international travel, but always be positive.
In 2010, you formed the Aurora Percussion Duo with Delia Stevens. What was the impetus behind forming your own group and how has this developed since formation?
It was Eric Sammut’s Masterclass at RNCM! At the time Delia was a JRNCM student, and I knew she will continue her undergraduate studies at the RNCM, so immediately after the class I asked her if she wants to play duo with me, the answer was yes, then everything started! After only 2 months playing together we thought we should enter some competitions and find concerts, then we found the Royal Over-Seas League competition, at the time we didn’t know how big this competition was, so we didn’t have any pressure to enter the competition, and luckily we got through to the final, because we enjoyed it every minute, so we decided to re-enter the competition, and took the advice from the judges, a year after we did it again and we also entered the Park Lane Group Young Artist Competition. We were so fortunate to win both competitions in one day, and I still remember dragging a bass drum on the London Tubes was not easy!
Until now we have played more than 200 concerts globally. We were going to play our debut tour in Australia, but due to the current restrictions we didn’t make it - hopefully we can visit there in 2022.
What do you enjoy about chamber performance?
The chemistry, the energy, the sound and the passion! It’s always a joy to work with other musicians, every time it’s a creation of something new, and you never get bored of it.
As a duo you work with Live Music Now to deliver a programme of outreach workshops and performances across the UK, what do you enjoy about working in different environments and how does this differ from your concert performances?
As a percussionist we are so fortunate to have the range of sound, you can find it from the kitchen to egg
shakers, it’s a pure joy to work in the different environments, and we particularly liked to play in care homes and special needs schools, and those people who are unable to join with us in concert halls, there are many occasions when we have been really touched by the people we’ve met.
You are a Deputy Director of Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Marimba/Solo Percussion Tutor at Chetham’s School of Music, what do you enjoy about teaching?
It is great to work at both very established international music institutions. At the RNCM Ian wright has built up a tremendous percussion department with international reputation, it has been a great pleasure to work with current Director of Percussion Simone Rebello and all the percussion professors - they are all my previous teachers. Also we have just appointed Kai Strobel as our new International Visiting Tutor in Percussion, his first appearance will be our Virtual Day of Percussion on the 7th Feb 2021. At Chet’s there's a long history of percussion, we currently have Paul Patrick, Dave Hext, Sophie Hastings, Andrea Vogler and Myself on the team to help students to develop different genre of percussion studies.
I love all my students, it is such a joy to work with every one of them, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. The special thing with music is to share, we all have our own pathways, and sometimes when it comes across to each other, we create a new chemistry of music.
Does teaching help your performing career?
Definitely! When I teach and hear students play, I find it is so interesting to see the different interpretations and ways of the same piece, in the same time I can share my own experiences but it is also great to hear the differences, it makes you more aware of possibilities!
You are an adjudicator for the China National Percussion Competition and Southern Percussion International Tuned Percussion Competition, what do you look for in a competition winner?
A star! Who shows the best of Musicianship, Technique and Personality.
Do you have any hints for students entering competitions?
The repertoire choice is the crucial point of competitions, often I see a player has everything but the choices don’t benefit to themselves, so I highly recommend to think carefully at each stage.
And most importantly to enjoy yourself!
What is your career highlight so far?
There are so many, but I can name few here that personally I felt the most.
1. Encore performance to my mum after a concerto. (Her first time see me in UK)
2. Playing in front of the British Royal Family.
3. Solo recital at the Forbidden City in Beijing .
4. Concerto at the KKL in Lucerne.
5. When I slipped over on the floor during the performance of Flight of Bumble Bee.
What is the best thing about being a musician?
I have travelled to many places and have met different people, I have learned so much from It.
What would your 'Top Three Tips' be for a young percussionist thinking about a career in music?
1. Be open minded, be yourself!
2. Practice harder!
3. Have fun!
Any last thoughts?
Do what you love!
If you would like to find out more about Le, please follow the link:
Yamaha Artist uk.yamaha.com/en/
Sabian Artist sabian.com/
Encore Mallets encoremallets.com/