Young Musicians Festival



I was planning to go to the library@esplanade last Friday when a friend informed me about this noon-time concert for young pianists today, so I postponed my trip.

I arrived at the Open Stage at 11.45am and chose a seat on the left corner of the third row and heard some of the students practising on the Cristofori grand piano. At 12 noon, Midorie (one of the 2pianoteachers in charge of today’s concert; photo on top left) approached me and asked that I moved one row behind, claiming that I was sitting on a seat in a row reserved for the students who were performing. I obliged, almost losing a personal item in the process. Before me, an elderly man in the same row wasn’t too happy and insisted he wanted to sit on the left side when Midorie asked him to move to the right, so Midorie acquiesced by asking him to move one row behind, for the same reason. I must thank this gentleman for I would otherwise have been relegated to the right hand side too. I also wondered: if the seats were indeed reserved, why was there no indication (in the form of a sticker or something)? And I could have been querulous if I chose to, because in the end, random latecomers were the people who filled up the row!

Anyway, I digress.

A total of 23 pieces were performed by students whose ages ranged from perhaps four to late teens/early twenties. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), the piece I was most keen to look up the score to play is the first piece performed. Francisco Tarrega’s Adelita is a piece I believe was originally written for the classical guitar. It was performed by a young Leigh Mok (perhaps 7 or 8 years old). I like that the melody is romantic, soothing, charming and pensive; picking up a little in spirit in the middle and is not an intimidating piece to play for someone with arthritic fingers. Her second piece, Kullak’s Witched Dance, is fast and magical, with a mysterious feel and contrasting chords.

Each one of the rest of the performers gave a short introduction to the piece/pieces they would be playing. These include Schumann’s Album for the Young, Debussy’s Suite bergamasque, Kabalevsky’s Gallop and the Clown, Brahms’ Rhapsody in g minor and Delibes’ Le roi s’amuse, Some performers exuded confidence while others clearly tried to keep their nerves under control. This also came through in their playing. This concert has been a good platform for these young pianists to showcase their talent and build up their confidence by exposing them to performing in front of an audience from a young age.

There were also a few duet pieces by the students (a pair of sisters, two different student-teacher pairs) and the two teachers (Midorie and her husband Laurence). There was even a piano-violin duet by Laurence and his friend Yaw Yeang (the well-known Brahms’ Lullaby, Op 49 No 4). Midorie’s solo piece, Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum from Children’s Corner Suite, absolved her from anything she said or did in oversight earlier on.

An unexpected finale was the performance by a group of string students who call themselves the MusicianSheep String Ensemble (led by Yaw Yeang, whom I’ve been told studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts).  Paganini’s Andantino was delightful, but I still prefer to listen to Chopin’s Etude Op 10 No 3 (Tritesse) on the piano anytime.

Soulful Sunday


(Photo credits: Albert Chan / May Ling

L to R: Jerome Lee, Mrs Pauline Huang, Yu Teik Lee)

Presented by Sifon Music Productions (solely owned by veteran Xinyao singer-songwriter Huang Hongmo), Soulful Sunday is a shared musical journey towards pop piano improvisation. Today’s speakers/trainers are Yu Teik Lee and Jerome Lee, ardent and enthusiastic Pianovers. (I found out about this event via a Facebook post by another passionate member, Goh Zensen.)

This sharing session comes about because of the collaboration between Sifon and Zensen. The event is called Soulful because the way Teik Lee and Jerome play is full of soul and passion, with a lot of improvisation and very impressive, and helps the listener understand a different style of playing music.

The first to speak is Teik Lee. He started off by recounting how he discovered his style of music, his learning journey, his insight into piano playing, his favourite songs and genres of songs, how to play by ear and improvisation. (Richard Clayderman is the main motivator.) He also shared how his playing has evolved from a classical background (even quoting Beethoven’s Sonata Op 101) to sentimental pop ballads. It is very enriching to explore and experiment with the different ways of playing the piano. He used Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to demonstrate how a simple melody like this is akin to be given a blank canvas for add-ons by putting in the chords and embellishments. My deepest impression is when he declared that “anyone who can sing can play by ear, even someone without perfect pitch”. (Does this imply that someone who can’t sing properly will not be able to play by ear? I always barely passed my Aural tests, and I need hearing aids; is that why I’m unable to play by ear?) He further demonstrated with a Malay song (Lenggang Kangkong), a Chinese song (The Moon Represents My Heart) and Moon River (which he also sang). He also mentioned that it is not easy to coordinate singing and playing (which I didn’t really comprehend). His talk ended with a quote from Beethoven: To play a wrong note is insignificant, but to play without passion is inexcusable.

The next speaker is Jerome, who also began by sharing how far he has come from a classical background to explore across multiple music genres over three decades. He also spoke at length about reharmonising techniques through interaction, simplification and improvisation. One thing I remember is: The more you learn, the more informed you are because all teachers teach differently. I have definitely not come across a teacher like him. Nevertheless, he got me curious enough to want to try to transpose (pop) songs into just C+, G+ or F+ (or their relative minor keys : Am, Em & Dm), as most songs can be played with just these 6 chords. (But I’m thinking it’ll be easier to play in the original key according to the score.) He demonstrated using eight songs written by Singaporeans such as Eric Moo, Dr Liang Wern Fook and Dick Lee. (Now I’m inspired to dig up my score for these songs and play them again.) His segment is twice as long as Teik Lee’s because it is more technical (and therefore more ‘complicated’). One new term I learned is that an anacrusis is also called a Single Note Glide.

It has been a refreshing and enriching session. I look forward to attending more such sessions but I doubt I would make the ‘switch’ from my classical training easily. (After all, it was much much more difficult for me to get started on the piano compared to these two gentlemen. And I had a very different career path which would not have allowed me the ‘luxuries’ that they had.)

Rising Star Series by Students of Dr Khoo Hui Ling


When I found out about this performance a couple of weeks ago, I was very excited.


I had watched numerous performances by Hui Ling since she enrolled in the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) as a piano major. One of the most memorable performances was when she played Gershwin’s Concerto in F at the annual Conservatory Concerto competition, which she won.

Hui Ling went on to study piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and then the University of Oregon, where she obtained her Doctorate in Piano Performance in 2016. She is now an adjunct lecturer at YSTCM and teaches the Higher Music Programme (HEP) at the Nanyang Girls’ High School (NGHS) and runs a private piano studio. Today’s six performers are from her private studio.

After a short welcoming speech by Benjamin Shaw, the Assistant Manager of Steinway Gallery who organises the Rising Star Series, Hui Ling took to the stage to introduce the day’s programme, titled ‘Of Myths and Legends’. It is titled such because music always tells a story, like how we communicate to the audience about the composer’s intentions and dreams.

The first performer Melody Li (aged 10), played Macdowell’s Shadow Dance op 39 No 8 (fireflies, represented by the high register and the fast and light tempo), Albeniz’s Asturias (Leyenda) from Suite Espanola (a legend about a camel and women, with traces of flamenco music) and Debussy’s Golliwogg’s Cakewalk from Children’s Corner Suite (a story of Golliwogg dancing and sneaking into a house to steal cookies unsuccessfully but not caught and dances out of the house). Melody also writes poetry and plays the violin. Coming from someone so young and petite, the very solid fingerwork and high degree of accuracy, coupled with the energy and verve displayed in her performance is impressive, to say the least. She will be making her Carnegie Hall debut in October this year.

The next two performers are sisters Claris (10 years old) and Crystal (12), who brought along their laminated water-colour paintings that depict the pieces they play:

Claris played Chopin’s Prelude in B Minor Op 28 No 6 (a lone paper boat on a quiet and calm sea depicting Chopin’s struggles) and Debussy’s Passepied from Suite Bergamasque (two dancers with exquisite footwork represented by the staccatos and the LH melody). I was most impressed by her exquisite pedaling and her total immersion into the music.The announcement that she won the Platinum Award at the Singapore Performers Festival came as no surprise.

Crystal played Schumann’s The Prophet Bird from Waldszenen op 82 (about a lone bird that came upon a blood-sucking flower held by an enigmatic lady deep in a forest) and Chopin’s Etude in C-sharp Minor Op 10 No 4 (a ferocious picture of strong waves that conjures a brewing storm as depicted by the music, nicknamed the “Torrent” etude). These are profound works and it is amazing that such a young girl could execute the technical demands and challenges so well that she appears to be enjoying herself and not stressed. Art clearly flows through the veins of these sisters.

Victoria Yong is a young lady who is preparing for her ‘A’ levels this year, and she reminds me of Yuja Wang (from her dressing to her playing). Her Les rappel des oiseaux by Rameau is a programmatic piece. The call-and-response between the birds are depicted by the trills and quick-running notes. Her Excursions Op 20 1st and 4th Movements by Barber is really good. My liking for anything jazzy and syncopated aside, I really enjoyed Victoria’s solid fingerwork with the right amount of energy balanced by a gentle touch in passages that are not written as percussive (such as repeated chords in the LH ostinato). I’m sure she’ll get a distinction in her coming ‘A’ level Music Elective.

14-year-old Loi Yi Xuan, from NGHS’s HEP plays Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob XVI: 50, 1st Movement (a piece I only learnt when I was doing my Piano Teaching diploma and which Lang Lang chose to include in the programme for his debut concert at Carnegie Hall), Chopin’s Etude in A-flat Major Op 25 No 1 “Aeolian harp” (which I would not even attempt to play but is among my favourite recordings by Lang Lang) and Tchaikovsky’s Dumka Op 59 (another favourite of mine and which is extremely challenging to play). Her playing is so good that my jaws drop and I can’t find words to describe it. I’m sure she makes her teacher, her family and all who know her very proud. She took part in the Golden Classical Award and was placed First in the Intermediate category and will be making her debut at Carnegie Hall in November this year.

Andren Koh is currently doing his National Service. Knowing what National Service is like, I’m full of admiration for him: how did he find time to practise, and at this level? Ondine, from Preludes Book 2 No 8 by Debussy describes a mischievous water spirit (with the sweeping arpeggios representing splashes of water) with a seductive side that becomes intense (the harmonies and shift in dynamics); Scriabin’s Sonata no 4 in F-sharp Major Op 30 describes man’s longing and desire to reach out for the distant star; it is slow and dreamy, with no break before the 2nd movement which is fantasy turning into reality. The sense of flight can be heard in the leaps, melody and constantly driving momentum, personifying constant yearning. I look forward to more of Andren’s performances when he enrolls at the YSTCM next month.

The final piece is a duet by Victoria and Andren. Their Sonata for 4 hands, 1st movement by Poulenc is wonderful; a real aural and visual treat.

It has been an entirely enjoyable afternoon. It’s is commendable that Steinway Gallery organises the Rising Star Series on a monthly basis to provide a platform for young musicians to showcase their craft. It is a unique musical set up to identify and nurture a vibrant music community. I only wish I am able to attend them more often.



Lunchtime Concert at ACM

Today’s Piano Performance at the Asian Civilisation Museum is a collaborative effort with the Yong Siew Toh Censevatory of Music (YSTCM) at the National University of Singapore.


The programme consists of pieces the students have recently performed at their evening concerts at the Conservatory Concert Hall or masterslasses which I have had to miss because of prior commitments.

A total of ten pieces were performed today:

Johann Sebastian Bach (German, 1685-1750) – Prelude and Fugue in F Major, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, BWV 852

This was performed by a Year I student, and I enjoyed watching his fingers running over the keyboard and how the two hands took turns in voicing the subjects. The sustaining notes were done so effectively that it sounded as though the sustaining pedal was expertly employed even when there was no pedalling. (I watched!)

Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1782-1809) – Sonata in A-flat Major, Hob. XVI:43 (I. Moderato)

The young lady who played this achieved such soothing and velvety effect that at one point I though: I would have been lulled to wonderful slumberland if not for the dexterous fingerwork.

Adolf von Henselt (German, 1814-1889) – “If I Were a Bird” from 12 Etudes Caracteristiques de Concert

It was the first time I heard this piece and I loved its singing melody amidst great fluidity. There was clever use of both pedals too.

Robert Muczynski (Polish-American, 1929-2010) – Toccata, opus 15

This was the only piece today that I didn’t take to because it had a sense of nouvelle vague. I was really in awe of the pencil-thin pianist, though, because of the fieriness exuded.

Theodore Lechetizky (Polish, 1830-1915) – “The Two Larks”, impromptu, opus 2, No 1

This piece is absolutely sweet, melodious and heavenly; and the pianist brought a good balance to the singing voice and answering call of the larks throughout. (I am reminded that I’ve not played a similarly titled piece for a long time; and I shall do so soon.)

Dmitry Kabalevsky (Russian, 1904-1987) – Sonata No 3 in F Major, opus 46 (I. Allegro con moto)

A piece that is almost impossible for an amateur pianist to play, this Year 2 student played it as though she could have done it in her sleep! What wouldn’t I give to possess the ability to express the range of dynamics that she displayed!

Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1732-1809) – Sonata in E-flar Major, Hob. XVI-52 (I. Allegro)

A very popular piece that I’ve played, the first chord immediately struck me that this pianist is blessed with the rare attibutes of a K-pop idol and a a classical music maestro. The crisp notes, the precision in his execution behind each note, the fingerwork throughout is so awesome it is beyond what I can describe.

Frederic Chopin (Polish, 1810-1849) – Ballade No 3 in A-flat Major, opus 47

This sweet young lady is obviously unfazed by the demands of performing the piece well in spite of the sudden horrendous blasting of heavy metal music outside the museum, although I must say I still much prefer what I hear on Lang Lang’s CD. I look forward to seeing this Year 2 student in the next Conservatory Concerto Competition.

Ludwig van Beethoven (German, 1779-1827) – Piano Sonata No 30 in E Major, opus 109 (I. Vivace ma non troppo, Adagio espressivo II. Prestissimo)

I have attempted to play this several times, and was never ever able ro proceed beyond the first page, thus I was really impressed and admiring of this Year 4 student whose fingerwork was effortless and whose coordination between the hands and whose stamina must be lauded! Besides the technical prowess, there was also a quality that brought out smiles and delight to the audience.

Franz Liszt (Hungarian, 1811-1886), Charles Gounod (French, 1818-1893) – Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, transcribed by Liszt

As in most performances, the best is kept for the last. This piece was performed at Stephen Hough’s Piano Masterclass held at the YSTCM yesterday afternoon, so I’m sure today’s playing would be markedly improved although I wasn’t able to attend yesterday’s session. I waited with abated breath for the performance to start, and I wasn’t disappointed. I became totally immersed from the moment the opening chord was struck. Knowing that I would not be able to manage the rapid, cascading running passages (including six glississando) with my arthritic hands, I nevertheless resolve to look up the music score the next time I visit library@esplanade so that I can attempt to play the Cantabile section, instead of just contenting myself with the abridged version that I’ve been playing. This is another pianist to look out for in the next Consevatory Concerto Competition.

Today’s performance of all classical pieces by the YSTCM students was the first that I’d attended in many months; I look forward to their jazz performance next month!


An Afternoon’s Delight

I spent a delightful afternoon at a private, mini piano performance by Singapore pianist Victor Khor, thanks to a friend’s invitation. There were only about half a dozen of us, including a pre-schooler.

Victor started with Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 2. He first performed it on a Yamaha Upright U1PE, then on another upright YUS5 PE and finally on the baby grand CIX PE. All models are available in Silent Piano. Victor then proeceeded to explain the features of each piano.

As neither I nor anyone else have further questions, Victor continued to perform a few other pieces to demonstrate the quality of the pianos he played on. This is the part I enjoyed best, and each piece is more interesting than the previous one:

  • Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me (the special arrangement by international pianist Stephen Hough and Victor’s longtime friend, and dedicated to Victor in 2011, and published in a collection called ‘Tributes’);
  • Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence;
  • Albeniz’s Tango in D.

Victor also invited the audience to play a duet with him, and only two youths took up the offer. It would have been quite an experience to play with a concert pianist, but neither my friend nor I was confident enough to do that.

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend a blistering afternoon – a cool, cosy, intimate venue with lovely music from a great performer!

Piano Recital : Clarence Lee

Last Wednesday’s Masters’ Recital at the Concert Hall of the Yong Siew Toh Consevatory of Music, National University of Singapore by Clarence Lee could well be the last time he performed for free, so I made sure I attended, despite feeling a bit under the weather.

I was really glad that I did. The four pieces he played truly showcased Lee’s mastery and proficiency:

(1) Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849) : Ballade No 4 in F Minor, Op 52

Despite this being the most complex, difficult and profound of the set of four ballades. Lee was clearly in ecstasy. The piece is in variation form, and each time the main melody returns, in whatever way it is decorated, the sounds were pristine and crystal clear. The use of pedalling was skillful and rubato was subtle yet effective. I admire Lee’s ability to portray the epic piece as something deceptively easy. Fiery passages are Lee’s forte and the audience were swept up by the passion and emotion towards the climax and the calm after the storm.

(2) Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) : Estampes

I Pagodes

This pentatonic sounding movement was played with a gentle touch. The left hand notes were striking against the shimmering sparkles of the right hand.The musical colours and textures were magnificent.

II La Soiree dans Grenade

Both the steady Habanera rhythm and melody in the left hand against the melody in the right hand were clear and strong. I enjoyed watching Lee’s adept juxtaposition of both hands while he was clearly enjoying himself playing it!

III Jardins sous la plule

It was again amazing to see Lee’s seemingly tireless fingers up close throughout, whether he was playing cross-hands or producing a harp-like cascading effect with one hand while the other hand sang the main melodies.

(3) Franz Liszt : Transcendental Etude No 8 in C Minor “Wilde Jagd”

Here is another piece that truly displayed Lee’s mastery of the piano. He was able to create maximum effect with seemingly minimum effort. I was enthralled the moment the first note was struck. There was excitement galore in tonight’s performance. From the thundering octaves to the ‘over the top’ emotional outpour and the technical challenges including octaves and chord leaps spanning two to three apart and yet being able to sustain a cantabile legato melody over a detached and light left hand accompaniment, Lee again exemplified the consummate pianist of great stamina and worthy of the international stage.

(4) Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) : Fantasie in C major, Op 15 “Wandererfantasie”

Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo

II Adagio

III Presto

      IV Allegro

Regarded as one of the mose difficult pieces for solo piano, this fantasy is in four parts, with each section linked together without break. Each time the well-loved motif (made up of the first eleven notes of the melody) reappeared, it was played in a fresh and contrasting style (for esample, simply majestic or wonderfully melodious). The quiet moments were haunting while the fast passages were bursting with boundless energy.

Overall, Lee gave an impressive performance. The thunderous applause from the appreciative audience was testimony of a great pianist in the making, one who may one day put Singapore on the world map, like Lang Lang did China.

Piano Performance : Joja Wendt

I was one of the thirty or so fortunate people to be invited to this performance by Steinway Artist, Joja Wendt at the Steinway Gallery at Palais Renassance. He is my favourite German jazz pianist and I’ve attended three of his previous concerts in Singapore. His ‘mission’ tonight was to introduce to us the new SPIRIO model; but the bigger treat for the audience was his consummate playing!

Joja Wendt began with Rachmaninoff’s’ Prelude in C sharp minor, Op 3 No 2. It was several bars before I recognised it, for he had not played it as it was written. He had played it in his own style – with lots of jazzy elements and improvisations. He apparently loved playing the piano, but maybe because this was the opening piece and he did not know how receptive the audience would be, he could have been a bit jittery and missed a note or two but managed to camouflage it well. I might not have realised it and thought it was part or his improvisation had I not been sitting practically next to the piano and saw him grinning sheepishly.

It was only after the piece that he spoke to the audience. Naturally, he was pleased at the warm reception and found out that many of us have been to his concerts before. He then went on to relegate a childhood experience of how he was ‘tricked’ by his sister to play the piano at double the normal speed (“from 33rmp to 45rmp”); and that was how he ended up playing the way he does today. He then went on to illustrate what he meant by playing pieces he composed in various styles, incorporating elements of rock & roll and boogie-woogie. It was marvellous the way he could make the piano stool tilt to one side while playing like a maniac! This is the fourth time I’ve seen this ‘trick’, but because I was so near, I was very sure it was no trick. It was fascinating to watch him play with his right fingers’outside’ the keyboard and literally hit the keys with his nose! He could also play like he had four hands.

When he played his Rain Song, inspired by the perpetual rain in Hamburg, he became a conductor who instructed the audience what actions to do to create the various sounds made by the pitter-patter of the raindrops or a heavy downpour, all the while playing the piano without pause.

It was at this point that he decided it was time to carry out the obligation of promoting the Steinway SPIRIO piano. This he did by showing us a video of George Gershwin playing I Got Rhythm in a 1931 concert. He moved away from the piano and we saw for ourselves the keys playing simultaneously exactly what Gershwin was playing. So this is the wonderful thing about the SPIRIO: we can have any great pianists like Joja Wendt himself playing on our Steinway in our living room without inviting him to our house!

At this point, Joja Wendt said he would take requests. When someone said The Flight of the Bumble Bee, he replied: “Nah, that is very difficult to play.” He then went one to regale us with another childhood experience he had with haunted houses and how this inspired him to composed a piece called Haunted House, which he played.

Next, he talked about Art Tatum, whom he considered the greatest jazz pianist ever. He told a story of how, during Art Tatum’s era, pianists were paid by drinks and not money. And then went on to do exactly that. I have never witnessed any pianist who could continue to play the piano while sipping a drink from a wine glass.

His next piece sounded familiar in that it contained many scales, arpeggios and repeated patterns as in a study or technical exercise; it sounded Baroque at times, and jazzy at others. His enjoyment was apparent. Without much pause, he launched into Elephant Song. I’ve tried playing this piece a while ago, and I found it tricky; but the way Joja Wendt played it, it looked deceptively easy.

Though the audience did not request this next piece, inspired by the Wuacken Village, Joja Wendt said he must play it and let us know that he had a standing ovation after playing it in front of more that 80,000 European heavy metal fans. It is a piece in one of his CDs that I have, and I never knew that it is a piece meant for two pianos four hands. Watching him play it up close, I was in awe and amazement.

Eskimo is a piece requested by an European lady, and this he obliged (because it’s one of his compositions). It is a nice and soothing piece. The amazing thing is that he played it with clenched fists throughout (“imagine the Eskimo has forgotten to wear his mittens”). Only black keys were used throughout, and the last note was played by the tip of his nose.

Because it was going to be his final piece, Joja Wendt decided he would play a mesh-up of The Flight of the Bumble Bee with a new, cool New Orleans rhythm. Well, if Rimsky-Korsakov’s original was deemed “too difficult”, this special version is beyond difficult. When this ended, the audience roared with repeated calls for an encore.

The encore piece was also Joja Wendt’s own composition, inspired by the helix of DNA. This was a world premier. We were very honoured that Joja Wendt would choose to play this brilliantly composed, very complicated and very difficult piece for us.

The 75 minute performance was absolutely delightful, enjoyable, entertaining, engaging and engrossing.

What a wonderful way to spend an evening!