Meet the star violinist, 11, crowned Abu Dhabi Young Musician 2022

For many musical children in the emirate, the contest was the first opportunity in two years to perform before an audience

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An 11-year-old violinist has been crowned Abu Dhabi’s best young musician at a competition open to schools throughout the emirate.

Yuexuan Li, a Year 6 pupil at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, was overjoyed to be named Abu Dhabi Young Musician 2022.

She said the competition, which involved performers from 30 schools, offered her and others a valuable opportunity to connect through music amid the challenges of the pandemic.

The pupil was awarded a trophy and a £500 (about Dh2,400) gift voucher by UK retailer Chamberlain Music.

“I was really excited. I felt like I could win because I was really emotional when I was playing,” she said.

“It feels like a great achievement because I got to share my music with others from Abu Dhabi during the pandemic, when not many people got to see each other.

“Because of the pandemic, not many events were happening. But with this, I got to see other people’s talents and listen to them play.

“I think it’s just amazing how everyone can have different instruments, but we can all connect with music and share it. It was also really exciting to perform onstage because I can finally share it instead of playing by myself.”

Scores of pupils showcase skills

At the week-long festival of music, 190 pupils aged between 8 and 18 performed in nine categories, including piano, classical and acoustic guitar, brass, strings, woodwind, singing and rock ‘n’ pop.

The festival is Abu Dhabi’s version of the Young Musicians of the Gulf, which is hosted by St Christopher’s School in Bahrain.

Li chose to play Romanian folk dances by Bartok during one of her performances.

The pupil, who is from China, moved to the UAE when she was 3 years old.

She learnt to play the violin when she was 5 and has her sights set on carving out a career as a solo violinist.

The competition was judged by a panel of musicians from around the globe. They included Dr Steven Berryman, director at Odyssey Trust for Education in the UK, Andrew Berryman, conductor of UAE National Symphony Orchestra, and Mayssa Karaa, artistic director of Berklee Abu Dhabi.

The contest was open to musicians of school age who are in full-time education in Abu Dhabi. It was split into two classes – Intermediate for performers of grade five to six standard and Advanced for performers at grade seven level and beyond.

The overall winners of the intermediate section received a Dh1,500 voucher to spend at Musician’s Corner. Chamberlain Music provided the prize for the winner in the advanced category, a voucher worth £500.

Music to the ears after ‘two years of silence’

The significance of music in young people’s lives has been highlighted since the onset of the pandemic, with children unable to meet and perform together in ensemble and bands.

In response to this, schools across Abu Dhabi came together to give children a long-overdue opportunity to perform in front of an audience.

Rob Hall, director of music at The British School Al Khubairat, founded the Abu Dhabi Young Musician competition and hopes it will become a UAE-wide contest.

“It was my dream to set up a festival of music, to get schools collaborating with each other, to get the pupils listening to and meeting each other, and getting together to make music,” said Mr Hall.

He said overall winner Yuexuan Li had an impressive stage presence.

“Her musicality and her musicianship stood out. She really brought complex music to life. She engaged with her audience. The judges were just so impressed by her musicianship and musicality. It was a stunning performance – you could hear a pin drop in the audience,” said Mr Hall.

“We’ve had two years of silence because of Covid. It’s just been amazing to hear live music again. This is the first time that most of those pupils have stood on stage and performed in front of an audience in two years.”

Maya Mashhour, 16, an Egyptian pupil at Al Yasmina Academy, was the overall advanced runner-up. She also won in the rock and pop singing category.

She said was surprised by her success.

“I was just really, really excited. What they [the judges] did say was that they loved my stage presence and how I really connected with my songs, and the emotion and how I delivered what I was doing,” she said.

“I’ve always loved music and it’s always been a part of my life,” said Maya, who took piano lessons at the age of 3 and began singing when she was 12.

“It is a great experience for young and upcoming performers, to get used to performing in front of a crowd, and getting all this feedback from judges, because it really does help.”

Updated: March 28, 2022, 7:29 AM