More than Music with Violinist Loh Jun Hong

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Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 493, Aug 22 – Sept 4, 2014)

By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff

A competitive child driven to excel in everything he did, Loh Jun Hong did not realise he wanted to be a violinist until he was 16-17.

A year before that, at the mere age of 15, the former Raffles Institution student had been accepted to the National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory due to his exceptional musical abilities and outstanding academic record.

Studying at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory enabled him to experience the beautiful emotions and stories within music, and he soon recognised it was his goal to bring all these wonderful experiences to his audiences.

Since then, the easy-going 24-year-old has numerous awards under his belt, which include 1st Prize and Audience award at the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition in Boston, 1st Prize at the Singapore National Piano and Violin Competition (Senior), 3rd Prize at the 13th Andrea Postacchini International Competition held in Fermo, Italy, and 5th prize at the Canetti International Violin Competition held in Turkey.

Labelled a rising star in the annual “Asia Rising Stars” series with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, and featured as one of Singapore’s notable musical talents in a Channel NewsAsia documentary series entitled “Asia’s Wonder Kids”, Jun Hong is dedicated to sharing magical moments with his audiences and leaving them with memorable evenings through music.

“My goal will be to allow audiences to hear what musicians hear,” Jun Hong shared.

He added, “The way to do it, I believe, is to change the presentation of classical music.”

That is the reason he co-founded “More than Music” with local pianist Abigail Sin.

He desires to change the perception that classical music is boring by presenting classical music in a more engaging and casual manner through intimate sharing of personal stories with the audiences.

“It allows us to share something as intimate as emotions with a complete stranger and that is something special indeed,” he said.

Having obtained his Bachelor of Music (1st class honours) from Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in 2009, and a Master of Music from the Juilliard School in New York City, Jun Hong visualises a culturally vibrant Singapore in the future, and is excited to be part of the change in Singapore’s cultural and arts scene.

“As part of the younger generation, I want to be part of that change, to be one of the catalysts for Singapore’s movement towards a vibrant arts scene,” he enthused.

When did your love for music start? When did you realise that you want to be a violinist?
I actually started just like any regular kid in Singapore. I showed interest in music since my sister used to play a little bit of piano at home, so my parents thought it’d be nice to have me play the violin so that we can play together some time.

Just like every other Singaporean child, my focus was always on academics. But, I was a very competitive child and so I was quite driven to improve and get better in music. It is hard to say that a child can love classical music as one is simply too young. For me at first, it was something that I wanted to be good at. It was only till much later on, when I was 16-17, that I truly started to love music.

Being surrounded by music while I was in the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory surfaced all of the wonderful intricacies and beauty in music. I came to hear all of the nuances, the emotions and stories within music. It was then that I knew my goal was to share this experience that I experienced with more audiences.

What is the importance of music in your life? What does music mean to you?
It is hard to describe what music is but I do have an analogy that I always use. Imagine being in a world where food has no tastes, or where everything we see is in grayscale without colours. That is the world without music.

Music brings colours and life to our world and reminds us to cherish and appreciate the beauty of the present. It allows us to share something as intimate as emotions with a complete stranger and that is something special indeed.

Tell us a memory, or an experience where a simple tune touched you and showed you something about life.
I remember listening to Quator Ebene’s live performance of Schubert’s Cello Quintet in C in Verbier, Switzerland, and thinking to myself that if people heard this live performance, they’ll come to find inner peace just like I did.

The hour-long work takes us through all of the struggles, beauty, longing and passions in life. It felt as though I experienced another person’s soul.

You pursued music studies at Juilliard School in New York. Tell us more about your school life in Juilliard School. How have the teachings of Prof Glenn Dicterow, Joseph Lin and Sylvia Rosenberg influenced you?
I think perhaps the best thing about Juilliard is being in the centre of New York. Never before have I been so exposed to all of the wonderful vibrant culture that is New York. One comes to realise that all arts are inter-connected. I had the chance to be inspired by the very best of jazz, broadway, dance and art.

Of course, my teachers at Juilliard made a huge difference in my journey. Prof Glenn Dicterow was not just a great teacher but also a wonderful role model as a person. He helped to solidify my musical personality by giving me the confidence of an artist.

Joseph Lin opened my ears to the possibility of different soundscapes. He was always talking about different colours and atmospheres.

Sylvia Rosenberg had a very big focus on the composer’s intent. She also helped to ground my technique which allowed me to play more freely. All of these different styles of teaching gave me an abundance of ideas for my music.

How would you describe your approach to playing and rendering music?
Feel with your heart and love the music. Audiences will hear the emotions you put into the music, and from there they will be touched and share in your music.

Are there any musicians, and especially violinists, whom you admire and why? If you could collaborate with any artists – living or dead – whom would you choose and why?
Maxim Venergov is definitely my role model. He has the freshest ideas and the [violin playing with the most conviction] in the world. While hearing him play, one will feel as though his interpretation is so interesting; at the same time, one is completely convinced by his ideas. After hearing him, it feels as though his interpretation is the only interpretation worth playing.

In what ways would you like to contribute to the local music scene in Singapore?
After experiencing the cultural vibrancy of New York and Europe, I decided to bring all of the fantastic experiences I lived with there, back to Singapore.

I saw what Singapore can be like in the future, a city also known for its culture and arts, where people will travel from the region to Singapore to watch performances and be surrounded by art and culture.

As part of the younger generation, I want to be part of that change, to be one of the catalysts for Singapore’s movement towards a vibrant arts scene.

Is cultivating an appreciation for classical music important? In your opinion, how could we cultivate an appreciation for classical music among Singaporeans?
I think that classical music best allows one to experience the sound world. After understanding classical music, one will hear more nuances and colours within all the different types of music; most of pop still follows the rules of classical tonal harmony.

As mentioned before, being able to hear the nuances in classical music will be akin to adding colour into the sound world. What this means is that there are people who do not know what they are missing out on! My goal will be to allow audiences to hear what musicians hear.

The way to do it, I believe, is to change the presentation of classical music. Imagine an art work at a gallery without a short synopsis. Only the artists himself will understand the work! Without context or a story, I realised that there is no way through the door for audiences not exposed to classical music. To that extent, I started More than Music.

Why did you form More than Music?
As a performer, I’ve always been immersed in my little world of music. I would travel to the performance venues, show up and perform on stage. There is a certain mindset that all musicians have; we believe that if the quality of music and level of playing is high enough, our audience will understand what we have to say and appreciate our art.

However, I began to realise that there is more to music than the music-making aspect. Shaping the concert experience by changing the way classical music is presented, by interacting, sharing and speaking with the audience, made a tremendous difference. For me, connecting with my audience is of utmost importance.

We feel that the reason that classical music only reaches out to a mere 4% of the population is not because of the difficulty in understanding the music, but in the manner of its presentation. Hence, I wanted to concentrate on audience development by making concerts more engaging and intimate, allowing the public to associate memorable evenings with the concert-going experience.

The concept of the “More than Music” series is to combine the top talents in music in an engaging setting which focuses on the entire audience experience. Aside from uncompromising quality, we want our audiences to come to concerts to enjoy the experience: socialising amongst friends, listening to great music, and hearing the world as musicians hear it.

Each one of our concerts will see each of our artists speaking and interacting with the audience, be it in the concert itself via introductions of the pieces and what it means to the artists, or at the post-concert parties where audiences get to mingle with our artists in a warmer and friendly environment. Our audiences get to enjoy drinks and desserts and simply have a good time with friends and also meet new people!

How is working with pianist Abigail Sin like?
I’ve known Abigail for nine years ever since we were featured in a charity concert called ChildAid which raised funds for underprivileged children.

It is wonderful working with her as we have the same focus on audience development as well as uncompromising quality of playing. At the same time, our personalities are completely different and that makes it so interesting to work with her as a fellow musician and partner for More than Music.

Every talented violinist needs a worthy instrument. Can you tell us about your violin and what it means to you?
I play on a 1780 Mantegazza on generous loan from the Rin Collection here in Singapore. My violin is like my voice, expressing all of my music for me. I love its sweet pure tone and really cherish its projection as well.

What advice would you give to young violinists and young musicians about pursuing a career in music?
Love the music, and love your art. In such an unforgiving scene, sincerity and passion will always pull through.

Audiences and promoters alike will see and appreciate your passion and enjoy your performance all the more for it.

Other than violin, do you have other hobbies?
My other hobbies include jamming some pop songs with my friends where I’ll sing instead of playing a violin! Sometimes we would play a bit of basketball as well.

What is your typical day like?
Ever since I started delving into the organisational part of music, I have my share of emails to reply every day!

If I’m not performing, I usually have a good practice session in the afternoon, as well as regular meetings with my partners to rehearse and to practise public speaking.

I also meet up with various corporations to discuss collaborations and performance platforms.

What is your motto in life, and what do you want to achieve most from your music?
Be true to yourself; don’t regret; look to the future.

What I want to achieve most from music is to be able to share magical moments with my audiences. To give them memorable evenings.

Tell us about your future projects or plans in your music career.
In August, I’ll be doing a masterclass and recital in Indonesia. Next year, I’ll be doing a solo with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in April.

For More than Music, we have two more concerts scheduled this year, in September and in December, which should both be very exciting!

For my long-term plans, I really want to be part of the change in Singapore’s cultural scene. For now, it’ll be organising intimate performances of the highest level. But I’m looking forward to organising festivals and helping more in the education scene as well.

Performance-wise, I’m always looking for partnerships and platforms where I can bring my way of presenting music to other countries as well.

More Than Music is staging its third concert PLAY! at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Share and connect with violinists Loh Jun Hong and Gabriel Ng, and pianist Abigail Sin, on 9th September at 7.30pm. To book a ticket for this memorable evening, visit http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/play0914

For more information about Loh Jun Hong, visit http://www.junhongloh.com

From – http://printarchive.epochtimes.com/a1/en/sg/nnn/2014/08%20August%202014/493/AUGUST22-SEPTEMBER4_01_lowres.pdf (Pg 1), http://printarchive.epochtimes.com/a1/en/sg/nnn/2014/08%20August%202014/493/AUGUST22-SEPTEMBER4_04_lowres.pdf (Pg 2), http://printarchive.epochtimes.com/a1/en/sg/nnn/2014/08%20August%202014/493/AUGUST22-SEPTEMBER4_05_lowres.pdf (pg 3)

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