January 2019 Feature Musician – Violinist Alistair Burton


Alistair is a young Cumbrian musician who has already made an inspiring start in his musical journey. Alistair leads the Westmorland Youth Orchestra, and is now a member of the National Youth Orchestra. We asked him about his experiences so far:

What instruments do you play? Violin is my first instrument and piano is my second, although I started playing piano first (age 6) and violin a bit later (age 8).

How and when did you first become interested in music? There wasn’t really any particular defining moment when I first ‘discovered’ the joys of music; my mum taught me the basics of reading music when I was about 6 and gradually it became what I spent most of my free time on. I joined the Westmorland Youth Orchestra when I was eleven and that was always a lot of fun, even before I really understood what an orchestra was or how it worked. I’m now in my seventh year with the orchestra and there’s still a lot to learn!

What do you enjoy most about being a musician? Most of all I love the way that being a musician allows you to meet so many people with the same passion for music as you. Even just learning to read music suddenly opens up a whole world of possibilities — it’s similar to learning a language in a lot of ways.

Can you tell us what it’s like playing with the National Youth Orchestra? Playing with the NYO has been hugely enjoyable. The experience of playing with such a large group of enthusiastic young musicians, with renowned conductors in concert halls across the country, is unparalleled. I’ve met some remarkable people and musicians, and everyone at NYO can learn a lot about music from everyone else, which is a very valuable thing.

What’s your most memorable musical experience so far? Every musical experience is memorable for different reasons, but one of my favourites was in Spring when NYO split into two halves to do two separate projects — my half performed Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and music from Star Wars. I distinctly remember the evening that our half of the orchestra went to the Southbank Centre to see the other half playing in a production of Bernstein’s MASS — a genre-defying work of musical theatre, and a remarkable work in its own right — and I was astonished and very proud to see (now from an audience perspective) what a performance young musicians like myself could give in such large numbers. For a memorable experience of playing in an orchestra, it would be hard to beat the experience of playing at the BBC Proms in the Albert Hall in August 2018!

Do you have any other interests? Music is obviously very time-consuming, but I enjoy my other A-Level subjects (Maths and German) just as much. I enjoy photography and watching films.

What are your top tips for other young musicians? We’re always told to take every opportunity that comes our way, to the point we’re tired of hearing it, but it is definitely good advice. It’s all too easy to let good opportunities pass you by because they don’t come in the form that you were expecting.
A more practical top tip might be to record yourself playing, particularly for string players. There’s usually quite a big gap between what you think you’re playing and what the audience actually hears.

What are your aims for the future? I’m hopefully going to be studying music at university next year (I can’t really imagine studying anything else!); beyond that I’ve no idea what I’ll end up doing but I’ll always continue to identify as a musician, and I know that there will always be more music to explore.