A second Year 12 student at Eton, Alex Pullen, competed in the UK’s most prestigious competition for musicians under the age of 18 this month: the BBC’s Young Musician 2020. Like Eton’s other competitor, Harvey Lin, this is not Alex’s first experience of the competition as he made it to the category finals at the age of just 15. This time round he played works composed by Lynn Glassock, John Psathas and Eton’s Composer-in-Residence, Jago Thornton, described as ‘sparkling’ by the Radio Times. 

Alexander Finlayson-Brown from the Press Office caught up with Alex to hear more about his experience, and his passion for percussion.

When did you start playing percussion and who have you learnt with? 

I started playing the drum kit at the age of five, however began studying percussion at 11. When I was 13, I attended the Junior Royal Academy of Music in London and was taught by percussionists from the Royal Opera House.

How much do you practice each day?

I try to get an hour in every day, though when I have a big event coming up, such as a concert or competition I practise for 2-3 hours every day. Practising percussion is both mentally and physically demanding, sometimes it is better to take breaks and not practise so hard!

You’re a Sixth Form scholar: how has Eton facilitated your musical ambitions?

When I applied to Eton, I wanted to balance both practical musicianship and academia, and Eton had the perfect environment for this. I am able to live, work, attend music lessons and practise in the same environment, and this is very efficient for any musician. The standard of music at Eton is incredibly high – on a similar level to the top specialist music schools in the UK.

How does this second time in Young Musician compare to the first?

Competing in BBCYM for the second time was a fantastic experience. I felt much more confident as everything was familiar, and I had time to work on feedback since my previous performance.

Where do you aim to take your music in the future?

I would love to take music forward as a career and am very much looking forward to applying to university to study music. I am not certain whether I would like to pursue a career in performance, therefore studying academic music should be good route into discovering the wide range of careers available in the music industry.

Who’s your inspiration? Can you say a few words about the pieces you’re playing? 

I am very inspired by the British percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Evelyn is a wonderful performer and one of the very first pioneers of Solo Percussion. She is most famous for challenging beliefs in the music industry, especially of those who oppose contemporary classical music. Evelyn Glennie has also been deaf since childhood and her passion to become a leader in percussion music, despite her challenges, has motivated hugely. 

Were you nervous?

Honestly, I was terrified! The moment when you are standing behind the door to the stage whilst cameras focus on you is certainly frightening. However, this sense of anticipation is thrilling, and motivates you to perform the best you can.

What else are you interested in?

As well as classical music, I am very interested in other styles, such as rock and indie. Besides music, I enjoy running, cycling and watching police dramas on Netflix.

Can you say a few words about the pieces you played? 

My second piece in the programme, Crystal Projections, had been written especially for me by our brilliant composer in residence Mr Thornton. Three weeks before performing in the BBCYM, I had been told that one of my pieces was not able to be performed due to copyright issues. I had a few ideas about finding an old piece to fill in the gap; however, after hearing the premiere of Mr Thornton’s composition Materia 1500 for four organs and electronics I was very interested in seeing whether he would be able to write something. Despite a very tight schedule, Mr Thornton was able to write me Crystal Projections for Vibraphone, Crotales, Tam-Tam and Electronic Drone, and the premiere in the percussion final was a huge success. I am incredibly grateful to have had a piece written for me and will certainly carry on performing it in future recitals.

To watch Alex’s mesmerising performance, click here

You can watch Eton’s other competitor, Harvey Lin, here, and read Harvey’s interview with the Press Office here.