Rivalry to revelry

30-year-old twin cellists Ng Pei-Sian(left) and Ng Pei-Jee.

SINGAPORE - Twins Ng Pei-Sian and Ng Pei-Jee will perform together at an SSO concert this Friday

For more than 10 years, Australian twin brothers Ng Pei-Sian and Ng Pei-Jee competed intensely with each other in music competitions, where they played the cello.

While studying for diplomas in performance at Manchester's renowned Royal Northern College of Music, they decided to stop being competition rivals.

Older brother Pei-Jee says: "We were put in direct competition. We decided, at the age of 19, that it was healthier not to do that. There's only one valuable prize. If there's a chance that your family member could win, it's not very efficient. It's not practical. On an emotional level, it's not good for the relationship."

He compares the rivalry with showdowns between tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, the most famous sisters in modern sport.

"When they met in Grand Slam finals, the matches were poor in quality, they couldn't fight each other.

The result is quite bittersweet," says Pei-Jee, who lives in London and plays the cello for Fournier Trio, a chamber music ensemble.

Pei-Sian, who has been the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) principal cellist for 4½ years, has a simple explanation for this joint decision: "We just matured. We were quite used to competing like that and the result was usually quite close. It was never one of us doing much better than the other.

"I consider it positive rivalry. It's a good motivator when you don't feel like working. He's my older brother, someone to push me. We get along really well."

Born in Sydney and raised in Adelaide, the fraternal twins were enrolled by their music teacher in competitions shortly after they took up cello lessons at age five, at their Malaysia-born parents' behest.

A decade later, they pursued a music degree in Australia, cutting short two years at secondary school, on the encouragement of a music professor who saw their potential.

Pei-Sian, who was the Commonwealth Musician of the Year in 2007 and teaches the cello at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, says: "We've spent all our lives performing together. We toured around the world as a duo for seven years, during our time in the United Kingdom."

The 30-year-old bachelor brothers, whose parents and 32-year-old elder brother Pei-Shern work in the family business selling car accessories, will team up again on Friday for a double cello concerto at an SSO concert, A Dangerous Liaison.

Why did you take up the cello?

Pei-Jee: Our older brother, Pei-Shern, took violin lessons, but the violin class school was full. The second option was the cello.

Pei-Sian: My dad loves music. He learnt the violin and enjoyed playing in a youth orchestra. Mum's very practical. She wanted us all to go to the same violin teacher, so we could be dropped off at the same time.Maybe the teacher didn't want to teach us because Pei-Shern sometimes turned up for lessons with an empty violin case. Mum later bumped into a cello teacher and asked, "Will you please teach my sons?"

Why did you become professional musicians?

Pei-Sian: Our parents didn't force us to practise. Our teachers were the sole motivators. I used to hear Pei-Jee practise and I would think, "I'd better practise, otherwise he'd be better than me." We decided quite young, at around 15, to become musicians.

Pei-Jee: It wasn't meant to be a profession, it was meant to be a hobby. It's kind of a trap if you're decent in something at that age. Music chooses you because if you develop a love for it early on, you can't see yourself falling in love with another occupation.

Do you have any regrets about your choice?

Pei-Jee: It's a trap but there's no regret. You have a professional attitude from young: daily practice, discipline and commitment. We've been competing from six years old. Performing takes you out of your comfort zone. It's a good education for a kid. Sports is similar.

Pei-Sian: It's good if you can make a decent living out of it or share your art. Performing is a very satisfying feeling.

What is your sibling relationship like?

Pei-Jee: It's very friendly.

Pei-Sian: It's natural and easy. I always give him respect as he is the older brother, though we were born minutes apart. I'll always be the baby of the family.

What are your favourite childhood memories?

Pei-Sian: The first competition we did together was when we were six. He got gold and I got silver. I was so upset that I asked my dad to get me some gold paint to spray my medal gold. Dad pushed me to work harder next time. We weren't in a very well-off family, we had hand-me-down clothes. As twins, we shared everything. Having our own cello at around 5½ years old was something very special. How were you raised by your parents?

Pei-Jee: They prided themselves on being very free with their kids. They let us do our own thing.

Pei-Sian: They didn't worry about our education.

Growing up in Adelaide, what were you like as students?

Pei-Sian: I always got straight As. I made sure I surrounded myself with people dedicated to studying. They help pull you up. Slackers pull you down.

Pei-Jee: I was proud of doing well in school, but I didn't think it was necessary to get straight As.

How were you disciplined as children?

Pei-Jee: With a feather duster, though caning stopped by the time we were six.


This article was first published on Jan 11, 2015.
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