Interview with Singaporean Pianist – Shaun Choo: Local Piano Prodigy Shines at the Esplanade

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Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 490, July 4 – July 17, 2014)

By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff

With a megawatt smile and friendly disposition, Shaun Choo recently won over many hearts at his debut local solo recital titled “Shimmering Sounds of the Soul”. Held on June 28 at the Esplanade Concert Hall, the Singapore piano prodigy graced the stage and delivered his music exquisitely.

The current recipient of the Singapore National Arts Council Artistic Bursary entertained his audience with classical compositions by Chopin in the earlier part of his recital. The most spellbinding moment came in the second half of his recital when he played his own compositions.

“The Time Traveller’s Sonata”, Choo’s favourite work so far, is simply enchanting. Written in spring 2014, his composition comprises classical music styles spanning more than four centuries across all three movements. His rendering of this piece was outstanding, displaying excellent showmanship.

“Together Forever”, also penned by Choo, brought across a feeling of heartrending passion which melted the hearts of many listeners. On a lighthearted note, “The P.O.P Rag” was inspired by Choo’s NS (military service) days in Singapore. This is a composition which many local men can relate to.

Choo’s shimmering and mesmerising performance was greeted with thunderous applause and cheers.

Fortunately, the 23-year-old who has clinched seven first prizes at acclaimed piano competitions worldwide has not forgotten his home, Singapore. He could have avoided National Service and acquired an Austrian citizenship, but instead chose to return home to serve his two-year military service.

When quizzed why, he explains, “I wasn’t going to turn my back on my country that easily. ‘Home’ holds a special meaning to my heart… There is no doubt that Singapore will always be the one place I can call my true home.”

Choo also thinks Singapore is home to many hidden talents and believes full support must be given to them. He hopes to change Singaporeans’ mentality that “classical music has no future”, and is doing his part in nurturing local budding musicians by forming a collaboration between University Mozarteum Salzburg and Singapore through MW Events management (mwem.asia).

Indeed, Singapore has many talents who have been overlooked. And it is time we start treasuring gifted gems like Shaun Choo.

What are some of the struggles in performing classical music?
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges most musicians face is also the most subjective and debatable – finding the balance between developing an authentic and individualistic playing style while staying true and attentive to the composer’s intentions. Much must be considered when determining how a piece should be executed, such as the stylistic period, form, instrument (pianos alone evolved drastically within the last three centuries!) and even country, among many other factors. For example, a Waltz by Chopin differs in character from a Viennese Waltz, and a late sonata of Beethoven is much more intricate compared to his earlier works. However, without the possibility to hear first-hand recordings of the composer’s own interpretations, and with scores often being sporadic in performance direction markings, much is still left to the discretion, intelligence and fantasy of the performer.

You have performed widely in Europe and Asia, such as Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, China and Korea, and have appeared with numerous renowned orchestras. Does travelling change your perspective in music and life?
It most certainly does! Visiting different countries, I experienced various cultures and traditions, opening my mind to new insights in life which developed my personality along the way and in turn affected my musical personality as well.

Which is your most memorable performance and why?
My most memorable concert would have to be the Prizewinner’s ceremony of the International Chopin Competition Daegu, South Korea in 2012. It was the most meaningful performance for me not only because it was my biggest win yet, but also due to the circumstances. I had to return to Singapore near the end of 2010 to enlist in NS (National Service/Singapore military) and was close to two years without a teacher, during which I did not give many performances. It was nerve-wracking to hit the stage after so long for such an important event, especially with big names like Dang Thai Son, Piotr Paleczny and Bernd Goetzke in the jury. I was overjoyed when the results were announced, and it was a great motivation for me during the difficult period.

You compose your own music. Where does your inspiration come from?
Creating my own music helps me clear my mind and enhances my artistic creativity. Moreover, composition helps me understand the ideas and structure of existing music better. Although certain pieces were inspired by prevailing emotions or scenarios at the time, I often create pieces from motifs or ideas discovered during random improvisations at the piano, or by exploring new forms to use, so as to widen my range of composing styles.

Among the compositions you have penned, which is your personal favourite, and why?
I would say it would be “The Time Traveller’s Sonata”, my latest piece, composed during spring this year. It also happens to be my biggest work yet, consisting of three parts (movements). Its character is quite unique, as I hinted classical music styles spanning more than four centuries across all three movements, hence the title. As a result, the listener is taken on a journey “through time”, gradually drawing closer to the present era with each passing movement. I will be playing it as the last piece of my programme during my Esplanade recital!

Is cultivating an appreciation for classical music important? In your opinion, how could we cultivate an appreciation for classical music among Singaporeans? In what ways would you like to contribute to the music scene in Singapore?
Singaporeans have as good a chance as any at being successful in the classical music industry. Although we do not have a long history or culture of our own, many factors, such as our openness towards all ethnicities, traditions and religious beliefs, etc. prove that we Singaporeans generally are a versatile and adaptable people. Given the right knowledge and exposure, we can learn to appreciate and understand classical music better.

If we look at recent charts, an increasing number of rising classical ‘stars’ are in fact emerging from Asia, particular from China, Korea and Japan. Singapore has gradually caught up with the rest of the world in many academic fields, even surpassing our own expectations, and this can also be the future of the music scene here, if over time, more and more effort is invested in making art and culture an integral part of our lives, despite our busy schedules.

Many prominent musicians from across the globe have been invited to perform in Singapore over the years, and gradually, as people become acquainted with classical music through its accessibility, the number of locals interested in the trade are increasing.

Our country is home to many hidden talents, and we must give them our full support, as we count on them to pave the way for a brighter future in Singapore’s vibrant music society. I believe in the long run, more collaborations with well-established organisations worldwide will help our country gain more recognition in the field, creating more prospects for local budding artists.

Hoping to do my part, I am in the midst of forming such a collaboration between University Mozarteum Salzburg and Singapore through an interested promoter and supporter of local talent MW Events management (mwem.asia). As early as August 2014, we are having our first successful connection as the director of Mozarteum’s young talents department will be visiting to give masterclasses and conduct live auditions for young musicians who show potential and are interested in pursuing studies in Salzburg, Austria.

I hope to change the increasing mentality that “classical music has no future” and convince Singaporeans that it can be a wonderful and rewarding trade, recognised and respected here.

You could have avoid National Service, renounced your Singapore citizenship and acquired an Austrian citizenship. Why did you choose to return to Singapore?
It is admittedly true that any form of extensive disruption from music can have a critical impact on a musician. Just like how athletes need to constantly train, we need a constant flow of practice to keep both our physical and mental being in shape. Furthermore, the early 20s is a critical age for one’s artistic career, as most opportunities, such as competitions, scholarships and other awards, have an age limit between 25-30.

However, I wasn’t going to turn my back on my country that easily. ‘Home’ holds a special meaning to my heart. It is a place among family, loved ones and close friends. My parents and I are closely-knit, and so are our extended family. My most cherished friendships were forged here. Moreover, just as we can’t change our biological parents, being Singaporean will always be firmly rooted in me. There is no doubt that Singapore will always be the one place I can call my true home.

What advice would you give to young pianists and musicians about pursuing a career in music?
Carry on and pursue this wonderful dream. Enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy. Despite hurdles and setbacks, don’t be discouraged from your goals. Music is subjective and one cannot evade criticism. The most important thing is to be true to your music, for if you are unable to convince yourself, you cannot hope to convince others.

Other than piano, do you have other hobbies?
Hanging out with friends, indulging myself in the knowledge of latest technology, going for walks in nature, and last but not least, trying out new recipes in the kitchen.

This is Part 2 of Shaun Choo’s interview, continued from the previous issue. For more information about Shaun Choo, please visit http://www.musicshaun.com/

From – http://issuu.com/liyen/docs/july4-17_04 (pg 1), http://issuu.com/liyen/docs/july4-17_05 (pg 2)

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