I first watched Shaun Choo perform about a decade ago, when he was 15 or 16, at a local piano competition. At that time, he was doing his piano diploma in Austria. A couple of years later, he returned for another competition. I then met him at a musical soiree (in which he also performed), some months before he had to enlist for National Service. I attended his first recital at the Esplanade Concert Hall in June 2014. Besides his YouTube videos, I’ve not watched him play until today (although, strictly speaking, he was teaching more than performing).
Shaun is a judge for the Junior and Intermediate categories of the ongoing competition held at the Nayang Academy of Fine Arts. I was an observer at this afternoon’s masterclass conducted by Shaun.
The first to play was 9-year-old Kayden, with the well-known Fur Elise by Beethoven. I have played this piece for more than four decades, but I doubt I’ve ever played as well as Kayden, not to mention Shaun (who played passages while demostrating, which he did quite often). I’ve learnt in 40 minutes a lot about pianissimo, colour, intensity, control, sound, direction, phrases, rhythm, fingering, wrist and arm movements, hand position, shape, support, airiness, dialogue, tonality, tempo, pedalling, direction etc. I must revisit this piece very soon, to do it some justice.
The 10-year-old Jolene impressed me with her Chopin Waltz Op 64 No 2 and Mozart Sonata in D Major (1st Movt) K 311. Again, there was a lot of demonstration from Shaun. I’ve also played both these pieces before, but not as well as Jolene.
a) Chopin’s Waltz – There were also a lot of pointers on pedalling, sense of continuity, balance between the two hands, rubato (is in the RH & LH gives the pulse), balance of sound in all the notes, how to inject charm and charisma, the need to breathe and sing, the essence of a nice colour, the degree of intensity and so on.
b) Mozart’s Sonata – Again, there’s a lot of demonstration and pointers: how to be active and not passive in the delivery, how to bring out Mozart’s charms, the appropriate use of strength when playing, how to produce a compact sound, the need to always sing (even at pianissimo), how there’s no place for hiccups but the delivery should be smooth and melodic, the importance of the control of sound, the balance between the hands, active phrasing and the need for several colours.
Though I found out later that both Kayden and Jolene did not make it to the Finals (he was awarded a Certificate of Participation and she a Silver), I was not surprised (because there are simply too many talented children around) but still suitably impressed!