Classical rising stars

Classical rising stars
Violinist Alan Choo.

The future of Western classical music in Singapore looks bright, thanks to a crop of accomplished young musicians aged 30 and under.

These promising talents have mostly been educated at overseas music institutions and are fiercely passionate about bringing their experience and expertise back to their home country.

The number of such young musicians has increased over the last few years, says Dr Chang Tou Liang, Life!'s freelance classical music reviewer.

"There are many more young musicians now and there are also more opportunities for them to perform.

"Previously, you win a competition and that's it. But now, more orchestras are engaging young artists," he adds.

Their burgeoning numbers have been bolstered by the founding of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore, which opened its doors in 2003 and offers degree-level training in music, and the inception of the School of the Arts in 2008.

The latter offers an International Baccalaureate programme for 13- to 18-year-olds who can choose to do the performing arts as a subject, including music.

There are now also plenty of orchestras where young musicians can rack up performing experience.

The Metropolitan Festival Orchestra is the successor of the Singapore Festival Orchestra, which was founded in 2007, and the Orchestra of the Music Makers, a volunteer group, started in 2008.

Life! profiles five of the fastest- rising young classical musicians and highlights three others to take note of.

Alan Choo, 24


While other musicians might be hunting for fresh sounds, violinist Alan Choo's focus is on bringing the past to life. He is interested in historical performance, a movement which has been gaining popularity over the last 50 or 60 years.

"Historical performance means if you're playing a piece by Bach or Handel from the 17th century, you use a Baroque violin or a harpsichord, which is an instrument that was made in those times," he explains. "So you learn to play on that kind of instrument and play in the kind of style that they would have used in the past."

A Baroque violin's bow is shorter and tighter, with less hair, and the violin is strung with gut instead of today's metal strings. The result, says Choo, is a "warmer and a more naturally ringing sound, but one which cannot project as loud".

His love for music, and historical performance in particular, began when he was a child.

His father, a doctor, enjoyed playing the piano casually, so "at home, there would always be piano music", he recalls. "Dad would play a tune and ask me to sing or dance to it, so it was quite a nice environment growing up."

The violinist is the eldest of three children. He has a younger sister and brother, both of whom used to play the violin but have since stopped.

He also remembers his parents used to play a recording of Corelli's violin sonata performed on period instruments. "There was something special about the sound and the way those people played it - that was very appealing to me."

However, Choo never got to play a Baroque violin until he went to the Peabody Conservatory in the United States. He graduated from the institute last year with two master's degrees, one in violin performance and another in early music.

Before that, he studied at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, which he enrolled in when he was 15. "At that point, I wasn't 100 per cent sure I wanted to do music, but it seemed like a great opportunity as I had got in before I was of age."

It was his father who encouraged him to take up the place. "My dad asked me, 'Have you ever considered becoming a musician?'... I think he saw potential in me to make this my career."

After taking a break from his studies to complete his national service, Choo graduated from the conservatory in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in violin performance. That same year, he won first place in the biennial National Piano and Violin Competition in the violin artist category.

The year after, he entered Peabody and graduated last year. Now, the bachelor is back at the institution in his first year of study for a graduate performance diploma in violin performance.

After his two-year course is over, he hopes to return to Singapore. "I'm not saying this to be politically correct, but I do really have a special connection to my home soil."

He sees Singapore's budding classical scene as an opportunity and hopes to start a Baroque orchestra here. "People say Singapore is limited in terms of classical music, but if you look at it another way, you can start a lot of things. It depends on your entrepreneurship, creativity and ideas."

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