Baby Tiger distracts violinist mum

Baby Tiger distracts violinist mum
Singapore's got talent: Kam Ning says local students have a lot of imagination.

SINGAPORE - Singapore violinist Kam Ning's instrument case holds a treasure as precious as her 17th-century violin - a photo of her one-year-old firstborn.

"When he sleeps, that is when I practise. I've tried practising with him in the room but he's just too cute to ignore," says the 39-year-old in an interview at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, where she had a week-long residency until last Friday.

On Monday night, she and the arts school's string ensemble, Nafa Project Strings, gave a recital at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

The concert titled Souvenirs includes the melody Malaysian Suite, composed by her father Kam Kee Yong - now based in Canada - as well as Mendelssohn's Concerto For Violin And String Orchestra In D minor.

"It's an extraordinary piece because Mendelssohn wrote it when he was 13," she says. "Thirteen! I thought it was a great piece, such a young piece, for a debut concert."

London-based Kam is back in Singapore for the first time since the birth of her son - named Tiger after golfer Tiger Woods - and is enjoying a short holiday with her husband, a graphic designer.

Monday night's performance and last week's residency are her first experience of teaching and working with students at Nafa, though she often visits the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory at the National University of Singapore.

"I like playing with students. Everything is new to them, so they're willing to try anything," she says.

Asked to give her opinion of the talent at Nafa, compared to that at Yong Siew Toh, she says: "There is no doubt in my mind that the students here have just as much imagination."

Citing also her experience as a judge for the biennial National Piano And Violin Competition organised by the National Arts Council, she says: "Sometimes we think that the locals here are not as talented as the overseas Chinese students at Yong Siew Toh. That is not true. Singapore's got talent."

She herself is a good example of this.

By the age of 12, she had entered the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in Britain - "I didn't want to do PSLE," she quips - and later studied with Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

She made her mark in international competitions such as the Folkestone Menuhin International Violin Competition (1991) and the Third International Pablo Sarasate Violin Competition in Pamplona (1995), and received the Young Artist Award from Singapore's National Arts Council when she was 25.

Since 2010, she has been artistic director and conductor of the Het Kamerorkest orchestra in Brugge, Belgium, which is a two-hour train ride from her London home. It is rare for a violinist to lead an orchestra, since it involves conducting while playing, but Kam was inspired to try after watching violinist Anthony Marwood lead the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

Of her own debut concert with the Het Kamerorkest in 2009, she says: "It was pretty scary at first because when you're leading and directing, even if you're not sure of something, you can't show it.

"I guess they were apprehensive too because they had never played with a violinist. It was a fantastic first venture, it worked out so well."

Like many other Singapore artists, Kam plays an instrument on loan from the Rin Collection - a 1647 Amati violin from the collection of businessman Rin Kei Mei and his wife, who have loaned out many fine and rare instruments to musicians and music students here. She continues to tour and work on her solo career, but says that little Tiger makes her hurry home these days.

She has no plans to start her son on the violin yet.

"Though my dad does," she adds with a laugh, referring to her violinist father, a Cultural Medallion recipient.

"I didn't touch the violin for four months after Tiger was born. It was very strange because all my calluses went away!

"Now, when I go touring, the one thing I'm thankful for is that I can sleep. When I'm at home, I have to get up when the baby is up."

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