A Rising Star in the Classical Music Scene
– An interview with Singaporean Pianist, Shaun Choo
Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 489), June 20 – July 3, 2014
By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff
Singapore-born Shaun Choo looks like a boy next door who has a quiet, appealing and polite quality, but the 23-years-old is the current recipient of the Singapore National Arts Council Artistic Bursary, and has won a total of 7 first prizes at acclaimed piano competitions worldwide.
That include the 2012 Chopin Competition in Daegu, South Korea, 2010 ZF MusikPreis Friedrichshafen in Germany, 2010 Chopin Competition in Budapest, Hungary, 2010 Chopin Competition in Bagneres Di Bigorre, France, and the list goes on.
Although his family is not musically inclined, the gifted gem discovered his love for music when he was 6, and commenced his relationship with the piano at the age of 7.
At 14, he attended Universität Mozarteum – one of Europe’s most prestigious music academies – in Salzburg, Austria, which is a charming town with a lavish musical history, to pursue his music studies under the tutelage of the late renowned pedagogue Professor Karl-Heinz Kämmerling and Professor Andreas Weber.
The shimmering star in Singapore’s classical music scene has performed in many countries across Europe and Asia, such as Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, China and Korea, and has played with various renowned orchestras. He has also appeared at numerous esteemed piano festivals, such as the Schwetzinger Festspiele, Duszniki Chopin Piano Festival and Warsaw Chopin Festival.
The Chopin-inspired pianist feels that the power of music is immerse and it is a higher form of communication that could express what ordinary words fail to convey.
When did your love for music start? When did you realise that you wanted to be a pianist?
It was my parents who first discovered my interest in music back when I was 6. Neither of them were musically inclined, but we had a guitar at home that dad played leisurely. For my birthday, he bought me an instructional book on guitar chord positions. Before long, to their amazement, I was not only seen happily strumming away, but acquired the ability to play the melodies of my favourite songs by ear. The next year, I started lessons at a nearby private music school. Back then, my parents were well acquainted with the music of French pianist Richard Clayderman, and enjoyed his repertoire of easy listening, sentimental pieces. His music influenced their decision to send me for piano classes instead, which turned out to be a good choice, as I became even more fascinated with the instrument, enjoying practice, and even starting to compose my own pieces that same year!
What is the importance of music in your life? What does music mean to you?
Music encompasses many things. Music is governed by creativity and personal ideas and beliefs. It is built on math. It possesses many philosophical qualities. It is a higher form of communication, often used to express what ordinary words and phrases fail to deliver. It evokes all the main human emotions, such as love, pain, joy and anger, and excites the senses. It is part of our conscienceand sub-conscience, being ever-present in our daily lives. There is a quote from an unknown source that I find particularly inspirational: “For the common things of every day, God gave men speech of common way. For the deeper things men think and feel, God gave poets words to reveal. But for heights and depths no words can reach, God gave men music, the soul’s own speech”. That is, for me, the meaning of music.
You pursued music studies in Salzburg, Austria at the University Mozarteum. How has the teaching of Karl-Heinz Kämmerling and Andreas Weber influenced you?
Both Professor Kämmerling and Professor Weber played pivotal roles in molding me not just as a musician, but as a person. They possessed methodical teaching styles, tackling both musical and technical problems hand-in-hand with ease. Despite being critical, they always respected and encouraged individualism, stressing the importance of establishing one’s unique musical personality. I often enjoyed good arguments and debates with them, and they were always open to my opinions so as to better see things from my perspective. They taught me to be independent and self-reliant. With their guidance and advice, I gradually developed responsibility and confidence in my own judgment.
Salzburg is a beautiful town with a rich musical history. Filled with culture all year round, it is home to many established artists and iconic events, such as the “Salzburger Festival”, “International Mozart Competition” and “Mozart Week”, as well as the annual “International Sommer Academie”, a summer camp whereby leading authorities of music visit to conduct Masterclasses. Being immersed in such a vibrant environment greatly inspires me. Furthermore, it is a privilege to study in the University Mozarteum Salzburg, undoubtedly among Europe’s most prestigious music academies. Through the well balanced curriculum of music-related classes taught at the University’s Bachelor Degree programme, I benefited substantially from the invaluable knowledge imparted to me.
What is your favourite style of music? Which composer do you most enjoy playing/listening?
My very first encounter seeing a classical pianist in action was the DVD of the 2000 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland, and I immediately felt a deep connection towards the composer. To this day, Chopin’s music remains closest to my heart. He was often hailed as “the poet of the piano”, as his works contain lyrical melodies that resemble vocal lines (he was a fan of opera, particularly the works of Italian contemporary and friend Vincenzo Bellini). Blending the textural simplicity of Mozart with the embellishments of Bach, he breathed new life into traditional forms, particularly folk dances from his native Poland, and composed almost entirely for piano solo, making him one of the greatest piano composers of all time.
How do you get your mind prepared right before a performance?
I try to redirect my mind from the task at hand, focusing instead on what I hope to achieve from the performance. I want to make music, I want to connect with my audience, I want them to feel what I feel, and I hope they remember my concert as an experience that touched them in some small way. Most of all, I remind myself of how much I enjoy doing what I do.
Tell us more about your upcoming performance ‘Shimmering Sounds of the Soul – Solo Piano Recital’ at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 28 June?
I’m SO SO SO excited about it! I am very much looking forward to holding my debut recital back home in the presence of family, friends, and fellow Singaporeans. Apart from half a Chopin programme and some various works, I will also be premiering my latest composition, entitled “The Time Traveller’s Sonata”. I’ve hinted musical styles spanning more than 4 centuries across all 3 movements! See you all soon!
This is Part 1 of Shaun Choo’s interview. Part 2 will be continued in the next issue.
Shaun Choo will be performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 28 Jun 2014 for his Solo Piano Recital titled “Shimmering Sounds of the Soul”. Tickets are available at all Sistic outlets. For more information, visit http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/shimm0614.
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