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Kun Yan with her violin

Discovering Kun Yan

A Journey to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
May 17, 2024

There are as many different routes to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as there are musicians in this ensemble. Every musician at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has a unique story, blending diverse cultures and musical journeys to create a rich tapestry of styles and artistic expression. One such remarkable story is that of Kun Yan, TSO Associate Principal Second Violin.

Making Toronto Home 

Kun’s path to the TSO is a testament to her dedication and passion for music. Originally from Changsha in China’s Hunan province, Kun picked up the violin at the age of 5. By 8, she was already performing solos with the Hunan Symphony Orchestra. Her talent and hard work led her to prestigious institutions like The Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory, where she honed her skills under renowned mentors.

Kun Yan performing with the TSO during Brilliant Bach. April 25, 2024.

Her professional journey took off as the Principal Second Violin of the National Youth Orchestra of China, where she performed at world-famous venues like Carnegie Hall and Konzerthaus Berlin. She later became the Concertmaster of the Music Academy of the West, receiving invaluable coaching from distinguished musicians.

Her journey to the TSO was rigorous. After Kun completed her studies at Juilliard, a friend recommended she audition for the TSO position. “My process for getting into the TSO was very intense, including three rounds of a stand-up audition, and a trial with the orchestra evaluating,” she recalls. She was awarded the position in September 2023.

Kun Yan leading a performance of the Beethoven's Septet during the TSO's Maestro's Club Spring Dinner. May 7, 2024.

Navigating her new role has been both challenging and rewarding. One of her personal challenges is juggling languages. “I think and count in Chinese. All of the TSO rehearsals are in English, but the sheet music we play from has directions in different languages,” she explains. As the Associate Principal Second Violin, her responsibilities vary from following and mirroring the Principal Second Violin to leading the section, coordinating bowings, modelling musical interpretation, and ensuring ensemble cohesion. 

Kun feels fortunate to have strong support from her colleagues and TSO Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. “I’m grateful that he supports me to take risks, to be bold and committed,” she shares.

Second Violins section. May, 2024. Ottawa

Her gratitude extends to the passion and dedication she witnesses in her fellow musicians. “The musicians in this orchestra all come so prepared for the first rehearsal. There is so much passion in how we play while having so much fun,” she reflects. The camaraderie extends beyond music, as her colleagues help her navigate life in Toronto, even enjoying rice noodles together like she used to back home.

In the video below, Kun Yan shares how her life changed in one concert, what it’s like to live a life in multiple languages, and how Toronto feels like home.

Meet Kun Yan, Associate Principal Second Violin


This video was produced and edited by Jeffrey Beecher, TSO Principal Double Bass. It first appeared on the TSO musicians’ Instagram channel. For behind-the-scenes content, musician profiles, and moments both onstage and offstage, follow @TSOMusicians.