MALAYSIA - At an age where other boys are hooked on the latest video games or worrying about girls, Tengku Ahmad Irfan is playing at concert halls around the world.
The 16-year-old Malaysian pianist has been making regular appearances with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra since he was 11 and has also played with the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.
When he was 14, the New York Philharmonic premiered one of his compositions and he has also played under the baton of esteemed conductors such as Neeme Jarvi and Claus Peter Flor.
This Friday, he will perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Darrell Ang.
For all his accomplishments, Irfan is thoughtful and unassuming when he speaks to Life! over the phone from New York, where he is studying at the prestigious Juilliard Pre-College, taking a double major in piano and composition.
Over the crackly line, he is almost inaudible when he shares how he first got into music.
"My parents had an electronic keyboard, which had some built-in classical pieces. Somehow, I was attracted to those pieces, so my parents thought, why not? And sent me for piano lessons."
His father is a doctor and his mother is in the legal profession.
When he was accepted into Juilliard at 13, they moved to New York along with his two sisters, now aged nine and 14.
When the conversation turns to the piece he will be playing in Singapore, Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, his voice brightens.
"What's special to me is that the piece is from Beethoven's middle period, when he started maturing. It's a departure from his earlier style, even though he occasionally referenced his predecessors such as Haydn and Mozart," he says. "This is a great example of his period of transition."
Although Irfan has been praised by reviewers for displaying a "keen bravado well beyond his years" (Malaysia's New Straits Times) and for being "dynamic and memorable" (Malaysian newspaper The Star), he is, at heart, still an average teenager.
In his free time, he likes to chill out with his friends and sisters and enjoys playing video games such as Five Nights At Freddy's.
Indeed, he has not even decided if a career as a full-time performing artist is what he wants to pursue.
"I haven't actually decided if that's going to be No. 1," he says of performing. "I could go into composing or conducting because I love all three equally."
In fact, he says he loves mathematics and science as well.
"I could be a mathematician or teacher. At this point, I don't know really."
For now, though, music is all that is on his mind.
"It's a very unique language. It expresses what's in your heart and how you feel, which cannot be expressed easily in words. That's what I love about music."
This article was first published on January 26, 2015.
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