In Conversation: Yebin Yoo
By: Robin Usher
May 5, 2017
The 17-year old superstar on competitions, balancing study and work and practicing
2016 was a year full of performance accomplishments for you, as a semi-finalist
in the Dorcas McClean Travelling Scholarship for Violinists, finalist in the Open
Instrumental Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition, as Young Performer of
the Year in the Abbotsford Convent’s Music in the Round, and, most recently, as
the winner of the Gisborne International Music Competition and the 3MBS’s The
What was your experience like during The Talent?
Last year’s experience of The Talent is still extremely vivid. The competition helped me
to find my own, individual voice – to form an interpretation from personal experiences.
The peaceful but also extremely professional atmosphere encouraged me to explore
the hidden depths of emotion and seek higher levels of intellect. More emphasis was on
the music being created, making the whole event very inspirational and enriching. The
jury’s feedback that immediately followed the performance invited the competitors to
explore ideas beyond one’s boundaries – an individual and notable feature of the
I would see The Talent more as a platform for young musicians to grow and share their
music than a competition. In its duration, I felt like I could always express my musical
ideas and emotions freely; this freedom certainly helped me to shape a performance
with spontaneity and imagination. Unlike any other performances I have done, I was
able to utilise nerves for creativity and expression. The live broadcast was another
special aspect of the competition – the audience was simultaneously at the other end
of the radio. This stimulated me to deliver a clearer and stronger musical conviction –
for the ideas to reach the distant ears.
My first round performance in particular was the most memorable; occurring on
International Women’s Day, I celebrated the music of Australian female composer
Margaret Sutherland. I truly admire her works in its unique identity and capacity to
mirror the spirit of nature. Seeing women breaking through the musical industry,
especially in the domains of composition, is meaningful as I’ve grown up seeing the
industry almost male-dominated. The collective musical experience of The Talent will
prevail for a long time.
How do you prepare for competitions, such as The Talent and the Gisborne
International Music Competition? Does your mindset change from the beginning
of a competition to the finals?
As stressful and exhausting preparations for competitions can be, this pressure and
challenge is what has helped me to improve significantly. Competitions have a high
demand for repertoire and to have every piece assembled into the best condition is an
enduring process. I like to think of this preparation period as a marathon – it is a test for
endurance, resilience and mental strength.
Every day I strive to take a step further and view the music with ‘fresh eyes’ in hope of
finding new discoveries and innovations. As with any performance, I also try to treat the
piano or orchestral score like the bible. The understanding of the other parts escalates
the learning process.
Throughout competitions, the atmosphere intensifies towards the finals. Yet I personally
feel the complete opposite, sensing more stress at the beginning of the competition
and less as I progress through. The closer to the finals, the more I am able to focus on
the music, perhaps as I am more familiar with the environment and have a clearer
perception of what to expect. Ultimately, competitions serve as new opportunities and
doorways for musicians and should be a place to express one’s soul. I always
endeavour to set music as the central focus of any competition and try to contemplate
on how my performance will offer the audience an emotional journey and spiritual
You are a full music scholar at Firbank Grammar School, and you also study at
the Australian National Academy of Music with Dr Robin Wilson. How do you
balance your music and academic study, as well as a social life and down time?
Well, it is certainly very difficult but as I enjoy music, my music study acts as a relief
from academic study. Especially from having the privilege of performing with the
Australian National Academy of Music orchestra and learning from Dr Robin Wilson, I
am constantly surrounded by inspiration, making music feel more like an entertainment
than a study. Music can also be therapeutic in that I can pour all my emotions into the
music and immerse myself in a world away from reality.
In more general terms, I tend to focus more on the effectiveness of present and rather
than getting too particular about systematically balancing study and down time as a
matter of time. I like to think of my leisure time as having a mutual dependence with
study, as appropriate doses of rest can be very beneficial.
You have mentioned that you started playing the violin when you were eight;
quite late by some standards! What has helped you to become so successful so
I am so thankful to have so many incredible people in my life; the immense support of
my family, my incredible teacher and mentor Dr Robin Wilson, ongoing inspiration John
Curro and many more. However, it has been God who has been my biggest supporter,
helping me to advance through my shortfalls and failures and place greater
importance on the enjoyment of music. It was from these shortfalls that I learnt the real
meaning of music – a special language that can deliver indescribable emotions. I think
that trying to express these feelings in an honest, open way to the audience enhances
any performance experience. I believe that the ability to express extreme depths of
emotion comes from an experience of spiritual connection and faith.
Do you have any tried and true practice tips for other young musicians?
Yes, I think that a very important part of practice is mental analysis. The thinking
process of practice should be problem-solving and logical, and it is critical to find the
roots of any inaccuracies or mistakes, hypothesising possible causes and
experimenting solutions. A high level of concentration is required of such practice and it
is something to be continuously worked on.
When there is a high demand for repertoire, I rely on interleaved and non-linear
practice, where a passage is polished briefly and is visited numerous times a day
(rather than once or twice). This type of practice forces the brain to recall more
actively and is far more effective in the long-term. It produces more myelin, an element
of the brain that deals with speed and precision – particularly helpful for musicians.
I also cannot stress enough on the importance of performance practice. The execution
process during performance practice is in a different dimension to one in the practice
room. Even during the early preparation stages, performance practice can be very
valuable, it is like a reflection of how well you practiced!
If you could travel back in time and choose a different instrument to play, would
you? What would it be?
I have never doubted my choice of instrument – the violin has something truly special
about its timbre – something very soul-ringing. At times I feel as though my violin has
its own feelings, temper and spirit, and the magic in the music is only created when I
connect and become one with it. It is the warmth and vocal qualities of the violin that
makes it so special and spiritual!
It is also very interesting how unique each violin can be from one another, where it be
more masculine or feminine, each has its own personality. It is because of this
individuality that the violin can capture so many different images, sounds and
emotions; the sound world is limitless and challenging. In this way, I think that the violin
encourages one to keep developing and maturing both as a musician and a human