Celebrating An Icon
Graduates from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music will help make The Esplanade’s 20th anniversary celebration an evening to remember.
This year, The Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay celebrates 20 years of being a premier arts space in Singapore. Fittingly, the occasion will be marked by an unforgettable night of music: Illuminations
, a one-night concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), is a love letter to the venue from the arts community.
The show on 5 November will be a big night for graduates from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) as well. Renowned conductor and YSTCM faculty Dr Lien Boon Hua (Music ’11) will lead the SSO for the first time, and under his charge are a number of prominent YSTCM alumni. Pianist Dr Abigail Sin (Music ’10) and violinist Mr Loh Jun Hong (Music ’09) will kick off the night with a stirring rendition of Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra
. Following their performance, the stage comes alive with a performance of Illuminations
, an original composition by pianist Mr Jonathan Shin (Music ’15) and pipe organist Dr Phoon Yu (Music ’15). The piece was specially commissioned for the occasion and is inspired by the history, architecture and cultural significance of The Esplanade. The SSO will be joined onstage by the Singapore Symphony Chorus, Youth Choir and Children’s Choir for the performance.
NUS meets some of the performers to hear more about their musical journeys and reflections on their time in YSTCM.
AN EARLY EDUCATION
Mr Loh Jun Hong, 32
“I started playing the violin when I was seven.
My older sister played the piano, so my parents wanted me to try something different. Eventually, they settled on a violin. I think I had a natural ease in picking up melodies and memorising them. Coupled with my competitive nature, that helped me improve quite quickly.
It was a big decision for me as a 15-year-old to leave Raffles Institution at Secondary Three to enrol in YSTCM. But I decided to do something that I loved and enjoyed, and I think it was the right decision. It was at the Conservatory that my love for music truly took off. I was exposed to the best of the best and experienced its ability to connect people and bring us together. From great classes to excellent concert experiences and much-needed exposure and opportunities to play in concerts, YSTCM helped me find my musical footing. My education also cemented great friendships, such as with Abigail, whom I will perform with at Illuminations
. She has been a longtime chamber music partner but November will be the first time we perform a combined solo with an orchestra.
Whenever I play for an audience, I hope they will leave inspired and emotionally fulfilled. Music is in many ways a form of communication, just like a story or movie. It draws on the great works of the past, combined with the interpretations of musicians in the present, to touch the audience’s hearts.”
MUST LISTEN: “Tchaikovsky is my favourite composer. His music is always theatrical and beautiful, and till this day, my number one violin concerto is Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 – the only concerto for violin he ever composed.”
TEACHERS PAVED THE WAY
DR Abigail Sin, 30
How did you decide that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I had a slightly unusual educational trajectory. I entered YSTCM when I was only 14 years old and graduated at 18. I skipped the O-Levels and everything, but kind of overcompensated for that by getting a PhD. My parents have been very supportive throughout, though I am sure they did not know what we were getting into as they are not musicians.
Tell us about how your interest in music developed.
I had great teachers who nurtured my curiosity. I remember listening to lots of recordings and being amazed at the kinds of sounds that these musicians were able to create, stirring up powerful emotions and telling fantastical stories. At YSTCM, my teacher, Professor Thomas Hecht, gave me a technical and musical foundation that has formed the basis of everything that I do. My academic teachers helped me to realise that there are so many ways to explore and communicate music, and that my interests in performance and academics could complement each other.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance at Illuminations?
The Mendelssohn double concerto is such a fun piece, and it was written when he was just a young teenager. It is a celebration of youth and life. I hope that sense of fun will be shared by the audience.
What advice do you have for others looking to make a splash in the music scene?
It is a really long journey and our “career path” probably will not be what we originally envisage. But there is so much to stay curious about and there’s a lifetime of growth ahead.
MUST LISTEN: “Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit performed by Martha Argerich. It’s a shimmering, volatile and utterly seductive sound-world that made me fall in love with the possibilities of the piano.”
A VOICE FOR THE ORGAN
Dr Phoon Yu, 32
If there is one thing Dr Phoon Yu hopes the audience will pick up from his performance at Illuminations, it is a curiosity about the organ. “Better still, an inspiration to learn it — or get their kids to,” he quips. His own journey to the organ started relatively late when he was 20, but he has been playing the piano and the Chinese yangqin since he was a child. “My interest in music developed quite organically from playing those two instruments and then listening to, and reading about classical music.”
This appreciation deepened during his time at YSTCM. “Being in YSTCM gave me access to a lot of resources, such as scores and books about music. I was also fortunate to gain connections with other musicians and opportunities to compose and perform.” It also led to a three-semester stint at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the oldest conservatory in the United States.
Since then, he has completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance at The Juilliard School as a C. V. Starr Doctoral Fellow under the tutelage of Paul Jacobs. He will return to Singapore for Illuminations, which he co-wrote with fellow alumnus and friend Mr Jonathan Shin. Reflecting on the hard work of musicians, he says, “I think splashes don’t generally happen out of the blue; usually, people just keep working and improving at their craft until they get noticed by someone who can make things happen for them. It’s a slow-building process, although getting to know people (and getting people to know about you!) certainly can accelerate the process.”
MUST LISTEN: “Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Gigue’ Fugue in G major BWV 577 as played by my teacher Paul Jacobs on the NPR Music Tiny Desk series: the combination of feet virtuosity, complex counterpoint, and quasi-orchestral registration sums up the pinnacle of organ-playing.”
Tickets for Illuminations are available at esplanade.com.
Text by: Roy Sim