The Richard Pollett Memorial Award is given annually to young violinists who display outstanding personal and musical qualities. Richard Pollett was a gifted violinist who was part of the AYO community and graduated from the University of Queensland.

In 2011, Richard tragically passed away, and his family and close friends established the award with AYO to honour his memory and celebrate his achievements. Over the past ten years the award has built a legacy of empowering young Australian violinists in the early stage of their careers.

This 2022 recipient of the Richard Pollett Memorial Award is Julia Hill. We spoke to Julia, currently over 8,000 kilometres away studying her Honours degree in Japan, on the significance of receiving this award.

A young woman with long sandy-brown hair laughs while holding a violin in one hand. She is standing outdoors in front of a wooden picket fence which is painted light blue.
Julia Hill, AYO Violinist and recipient of the 2022 Richard Pollett Memorial Award.

What does winning the Richard Pollett Memorial Award mean to you as a young violinist?

It’s really, really special. I know that only one violinist is chosen for this per year. For context, I had no idea that I had been nominated for the award! To know that there are people who see what I’m doing and have faith and confidence in me, gives me the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m really grateful to the Pollett family and friends for putting together this award to support young violinists.

You finish your degree and it can feel overwhelming when you have so many ideas… you’re thinking maybe I want to go into an orchestra, maybe I want to be a chamber musician, maybe I want to do everything, or something completely different! I’ve definitely had these thoughts and it feels like I change my career pattern every week. But to know that people have seen the things I do in addition to performance and are supportive of that, is really encouraging.

How will the award assist you in your studies and career?

I have always loved the playing the violin, ever since I picked it up aged seven! Music performance is really special. You have these moments where you finish a concert and you see the impact it has on people listening. Music has such a power to connect to the heart.

I love to perform and share music in that way, but how can music be used as a vehicle for cross-cultural understanding? How can we use cross-cultural performance as a way to educate each other?

I haven’t figured out the specifics of it, but I would love to combine cross-cultural exchange with performance in some kind of project. It could involve commissioning composers from different countries and performing those works in overseas and in Australia. Starting with Japan as an example because I’m here, what if I commissioned a piece for shakuhachi [traditional Japanese woodwind instrument] and string quartet and performed it in Japan and Australia? What kind of cultural exchange could arise from that?

I’d love to use it for a project like that. The springboard of $10,000 from the prize can lead to so many other things. It has given me the opportunity to get started on the dream I have.

A young woman with long sandy brown hair smiles at the camera. She is holding a violin and bow in her hands and is wearing a black long-sleeved top.
Julia Hill, AYO Violinist and recipient of the 2022 Richard Pollett Memorial Award

What have been some highlights of your time with AYO?

The first thing that comes to mind is AYO National Music Camp this year. I was Concertmaster of the Alexander orchestra and we performed Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Now and then I watch the video of us playing, or I play the piece here in this music room. When I close my eyes I can see the memory of us playing, it’s amazing! I can picture Noah across from me in the cello section, Jamie in the viola section, I can see the conductor Brad…

The moment of finishing that piece, there’s slight silence, the gong dies away, and bam! The audience goes nuts! And that feeling when you stand up and you look at the audience:  everyone in the orchestra has enjoyed it, everyone in the audience has enjoyed it, and we’ve all participated in this amazing music-making; nothing can beat that feeling.

It’s been six months and I still cannot describe that moment! Performing with AYO is absolutely fantastic. You get this group of like-minded people that have so much passion for music, and they get put together for a week or two weeks, and then they make this amazing product that we get to share with everyone. It’s really special.

Close-up of a young woman with long sandy brown hair leading the violin section of an orchestra. The musicians are wearing concert black attire.
Julia Hill performing in Alexander Orchestra during AYO National Music Camp 2022. Performance streamed on Australian Digital Concert Hall.

Outside of AYO programs, what have you been up to?

In March I went to Switzerland to do a project with five composers from the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève. We created this piece for violin and electronics to accompany a live film. I was there for about a month working with these composers and it was such a rewarding experience.

That project began last year about when I applied for a Swiss research scholarship to promote connections between Swiss institutions and other institutions around the world. I got the scholarship, but then covid happened so I couldn’t travel over there. But this year I had leftover funds from the scholarship, so I decided to travel over there because performance is such a practical thing. So that was a highlight of my year.

And the main thing this year has been coming to Japan! About three years ago I was awarded the New Colombo Plan Scholarship, which is a scholarship for any undergraduate program, and it encourages undergrad students to undertake language training, internships and study somewhere in the Indo-Pacific region.

When I was applying for this, I had heard of Japan’s amazing musical culture both in the classical world and the traditional music world. As I mentioned before, music has such a power to connect people and create respect and understanding. So I really wanted to go Japan and see how they do their music scene and maybe we could learn something from them and vice versa!

I finally got to Japan two months ago, and I’ve been studying at International College of Liberal Arts at Yamanashi Gakuin University. Through this I have been doing my Honours, and my Honours topic is focused on how learning a Japanese traditional instrument can create a deeper understanding of Japan’s cultures, traditions, values and aesthetics. I’ve been learning the shakuhachi with Akikazu Nakamura in Tokyo. I go to Tokyo about twice a month. It has been awesome to start on an instrument as a beginner again, it’s very humbling!

I’ve been journalling my observations and interviewing professional shakuhachi players and other students. The results have been great so far, people seem to think it can help with cross-cultural understanding.

Apart from my thesis I’ve been doing as much Japanese cultural stuff as possible! I’ve been judo, flower arrangement, tea ceremonies, learning about samurai in samurai class… it has been amazing!