10 for 10: Alumni Q&A with Eugene Lee

10 for 10: Alumni Q&A with Eugene Lee

Eugene Lee

violin 2009   

To celebrate ten years of the partnership between Southbank Sinfonia and EFG Private Banking, and to highlight how together we have helped musicians from across the world build successful and varied careers, we are presenting 10 for 10: 10 alumni stories over 10 months shining a spotlight on the achievements of our brilliant alumni. 

Well, here we are: the final '10 for 10' interview. After working our way back through the alumni of the past decade of Southbank Sinfonia, we've come to appreciate our amazing network of past players even more than before, and have been fascinated to hear insights into the varied ways that our Orchestral Fellowship has helped them progress in their careers. From world-class rockstars, to dedicated music educators, to pro beatboxers... the Southbank Sinfonia family is diverse and sprawling.

For our tenth alumni interview, we chatted to someone whose relationship with Southbank Sinfonia has been especially long-lasting and unique. As well as his career playing first violin for the Philharmonia Orchestra, Eugene Lee works closely with our orchestra each year as our Associate Leader. We caught up with Eugene to hear more about how he went from being a member of Southbank Sinfonia in 2009, to being a mentor and leader to our musicians.

What motivated you to join Southbank Sinfonia originally?

My story with Southbank Sinfonia cannot start without Simon Over and his ability to trust people. I had just finished a year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and instead of staying in London, I headed straight back home to New Zealand. I remember wondering if I’d ever come back to the UK. Around Christmas that year, I received a phone call from Simon who had been to visit all the major music centres in New Zealand to develop links with SbS. I had apparently been warmly recommended by the head of music at Auckland School of Music and by my violin teacher and so, after interviewing me over the phone Simon decided to trust his intuition and invited me to join the programme (it was that same intuition that led Simon to invite me back some years later as Guest Leader). He told me it had a bursary, a year’s worth of work and the chance to play regularly in a set orchestral environment. I don’t remember much more than that, but I liked the sound of what it represented and knew I wanted to be a part of it. So two weeks later, I was on a flight back to London not knowing what glorious things would unfold.

What is your favourite memory from your time in Southbank Sinfonia?
There are quite a few.... The first time I led the orchestra with Beethoven’s Eroica. The energy and laser-sharp communication was insane! My first Anghiari experience.... lifetime colleagues and friends...

Eugene performing in Anghiari with Southbank Sinfonia 2018

What have you been up to since completing the Southbank Sinfonia fellowship?
As the programme was wrapping up, I was asked to join a string quartet. They had formed a few months back and were looking for a 2nd violinist. I gladly accepted and the next two and a half years brought me both the highest and lowest of musical experiences. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to go through that journey and genre of music making. It has formed a majority of who I am as a musician. Then I threw myself into the orchestral world and have been a proud member of the Philharmonia Orchestra since 2015. Highlights with the Philharmonia include playing at a Royal Wedding!

How would you describe your work with Southbank Sinfonia now?
My role within the Southbank Sinfonia team is very unique. I'm like a coach who also plays with his team. When I started, I was only aware of the playing side of the job but through the years, I quickly realised that I needed to be more than that and provide a special type of guidance through mentorship.

What is it like to work closely with the musicians of Southbank Sinfonia each year?
I mostly enjoy the energy and the freshness the individuals bring each year. There are predictable outcomes every year, but the possibilities of how things will come about is always thrilling. The privilege of getting to know their life journey and aspirations is also enlightening.

Eugene performing with Southbank Sinfonia in Hong Kong

How did your time in Southbank Sinfonia help you in your achievements since completing the Fellowship?
Spending a year with Southbank Sinfonia opened me up to many areas of self development. My discipline and confidence  was enhanced by the opportunities we were given week by week. I realised that I could influence the people around me and knowing this has helped me so much in being the right person in many different circumstances.

Do you have a message to pass on to Southbank Sinfonia supporters?
I think of our supporters often, especially nowadays when I can’t see them as much. I wonder how they are and pray they are all okay. My family and I miss seeing them in Anghiari. I want to thank them for their continued support and commitment in our endeavor to make a change for young people. Their belief in Southbank Sinfonia means so much each year.

Find out more about Eugene here