Violin Virtuoso Tang Tee Khoon

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Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 495, Sept 19 – Oct 2, 2014)

By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff

“Each day, I find new impetus to work at my craft. Each day, I make a new resolution to work at my craft. It is fresh each day,” says violin virtuoso Tang Tee Khoon, the second-ever recipient of Italy 1750 J.B. Guadagnini violin – an instrument of prominent historical significance, which was loaned to her by the National Arts Council (NAC).

“This Guadagnini is really instrumental in allowing me to express without limitations,” says Tang.

Trained under the tutelage of Donald Weilerstein in the New England Conservatory in Boston and David Takeno from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, the graceful 30-year old made her first concerto debut with the National University of Singapore at age 12.

Since then, she has graced the stage with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Arts Festival Orchestra, Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra amongst others, and has toured the globe to perform in countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Australia, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“She demonstrated both the utmost virtuosity and sweetness of tone,” states a review by Ronald D. Greenwood for Tang’s performance with the Auburn Symphony in 2004.

Out of the numerous recitals she has done, playing for the late Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong was a fascinating experience.

“Everything was new to me – meeting the President, playing with older musicians – I was ready for it (it didn’t faze me), but I still came at it from a child’s perspective,” shares Tang.

Debuting at Carnegie’s Weill Hall in New York after winning the East and West International Artists Auditions in 2004 was another breakthrough in her musical career.

Tang is also the prize winner at various music competitions such as the Irving Klein International Competition USA, Kingsville Competitions Texas and Kocian International Violin Competition Czech Republic.

Her countless accolades, from the MBF Myra Hess Award in UK, Martin Musical Scholarship, London Symphony Orchestra String Scheme Award, Singapore Shell-NAC Arts Scholarship, Lee Foundation grant to the Tan Kah Kee Postgraduate scholarship, bear testimony to her prodigious talent.

Despite the recognitions she has won, Tang has not forgotten the less privileged. She and violinist Midori travelled to Indonesia, hoping to educate the poorer children with western classical music through their performances.

“We often speak with them after we are finished with the music, and by being there for them, they know they are not forgotten, and instead gain hope to continue living and looking forward to a brighter future,” Tang conveys.

On September 24 and 28, Tang will be performing alluring melodies by Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, and Brahms with cellist Matthew Huber and pianist Sam Haywood at the Esplanade Recital Studio, in a recital entitled ‘Love and Friendship – Mendelssohn, the Schumanns and Brahms’.

“I respect Sam Haywood and Matthew Huber very much, in that they are musicians, whose characteristics I really like, and [whom] I think deserve to be heard in Singapore,” she adds.

You have performed in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Australia Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Does travelling change your perspective in music and life?
Travelling has allowed me to see and experience many different cultures, lifestyles, and ideologies. It has given me the observation that although there are many differences, there are fundamental basic truths that do not separate us, but that instead apply to each human being. One can get there by reading; it doesn’t necessarily have to be obtained by travelling.

You made your first concerto appearance with the NUS Symphony Orchestra at age 12, and have performed private performances for the late Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong. Tell us about those experiences.
I was a child and reacted as a child would – with curiosity, and fascination. Everything was new to me – meeting the President, playing with older musicians – I was ready for it (it didn’t faze me), but I still came at it from a child’s perspective.

In 2008, you travelled to Japan and Indonesia and performed with violinist Midori, aiming to acquaint children and the communities in Indonesia with western classical music. Tell us more about this project, and the motivation behind it.
This programme aims to connect underprivileged communities in South-East Asia with western classical music. We visit orphanages, schools, homes for the elderly and many other underprivileged communities, to play music for them, and to give them hope.

We often speak with them after we are finished with the music, and by being there for them, they know they are not forgotten, and instead gain hope to continue living and looking forward to a brighter future.

How do you get your mind prepared right before a performance?
Understanding why you are going onstage is the only key to preparing oneself before stepping onstage. That puts everything in true perspective, and grounds you in what is truth.

Is cultivating an appreciation for the classical music important?
Cultivating an appreciation for classical music is cultivating an appreciation and liking for the culture of Western Europe of that time. The lifestyle and affect of the people in Europe, who could enjoy and have classical music playing in their homes at that time, is one of stature and poise.

Listening is the most effective way to [cultivate] a love for classical music. Through listening, one can gain three dimensionally information about the culture, much quicker and much more than just reading.

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?
At different points, I admire different musicians. Usually, they coincide with my fascination for certain characters at that point.

At the moment, I am liking very much the regal characteristic of Alfred Brendel. It makes me smile. I would love to collaborate with him – although he’s just retired from the stage.

What are some of the preferred music pieces you like to play, and why?
Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven are my go-to composers. I think they are refreshing, and have a healthy dose of optimism in their sounds.

Every talented violinist needs a worthy instrument. You are the recipient of a 1750 J.B. Guadagnini violin through the NAC’s Violin Loan Scheme. How does it feel to receive the rare instrument, and what does it mean to you?
This instrument allows me to express without limit. Its potential is so wide and deep, especially now that it is paired with a bow I absolutely love for its warmth, depth and silkiness.

This Guadagnini is really instrumental in allowing me to express without limitations.

Tell us more about your Love and Friendship concert this coming September 24 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. How does it feel like working with cellist Matthew Huber and pianist Sam Haywood?
I respect Sam Haywood and Matthew Huber very much, in that they are musicians, whose characteristics I really like, and [whom] I think deserve to be heard in Singapore.

Other than violin, do you have other hobbies?
I like fashion very much. I also like interior design and garden design. On days when I have a day off, I like wandering through small stores, designing and putting looks together, and acquiring new pieces for the home.

And when I’m in London, a walk through one of the parks is one of my favourite go-to activity on an off day.

What is your typical day like?
A typical day comprises being up from 6 a.m. Reading, a short walk, writing, stretching, slow practice, some Mozart, Bach, Schubert or Beethoven, and then pieces for the immediate upcoming engagement, correspondences, meetings with concert organisers, sponsors, and people from various organisations.

Violinist Tang Tee Khoon, cellist Matthew Huber and pianist Sam Haywood will be staging a concert entitled ‘Love and Friendship’ at the Esplanade Recital Studio on September 24 and 28. The concert on September 28 is only for children.

To book a ticket for the concert, visit http://preview.sistic.com.sg/preview/events/love0914

For more information about Tang Tee Khoon, visit http://teekhoontang.com

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