Royal Opera House

The Radcliffe Trust has supported the Royal Opera House in memory of Ivor Guest, a former Trustee of the Trust since 2018, with the Associate Pianist role.

This stands unique within the sector, offering a young pianist a programme of structured training to approach a career as a ballet repetiteur. With the support from The Radcliffe Trust, the Royal Opera House were delighted to welcome pianist Zhu Sun to the role in September 2022.

This structured pathway has developed Zhu’s experience and confidence through an increasing level of responsibility and playing across several disciplines. She has developed a vast array of new, specialised skills required in this role, from developing a sharp understanding of the choreography and choreographic terms, to improvising in varying styles for dance, to providing music emulating that of the orchestra, to collaborating with conductors and communicating musical terminology through dance terminologies. This has been supported through one-to-one external teaching from leading class coaches, Nicki Williamson and Jonathan Still, and repertoire coaching with Kate Shipway, one of the most experienced Royal Ballet pianists, throughout Zhu’s tenure.

At a time when most UK conservatories offer no formal teaching for pianists to train as a ballet repetiteur, and the sector faces a real shortage of experienced ballet pianists in the UK, the Associate Pianist position tackles the need for formal, structured pathways that give talented and enthusiastic pianists the training, experience and confidence to be able to play for any ballet company in the world. Having excelled in her role as Associate Pianist this year, Zhu has proven she can.

Zhu Sun reflects on her time at the Royal Opera House and her experience as an Associate Pianist:

‘I realise that it does not only take good pianistic skills to fulfil the tasks that a ballet pianist faces on a daily basis – I need to know the choreography and provide music in a manner that an orchestra would, with timing and phrasing that I was not used to as a solo pianist, collaborating with conductors, communicating musical things with dancers and coaches in dance terminologies that they are familiar with.  The ballet class is an important yet very niche part of the job that requires very specific musicianship.’