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Hao Zi Yoh - Piano

Interview

1- Who was your first music teacher and was the piano the natural instrument for you?

At the age of 3 I went to a group music course called Music Kids – my teacher Lillian Joseph taught us solfege and let us play little tunes or chords as we listened to music with her self-made storyboards and pictures! Just like cartoon! Not long after I started having private piano lessons with Christina Ong. I can vividly remember my first lesson, where she asked me to find all the black keys and played card games as we learned the notes. It was so much fun. Also when she found out that I have perfect pitch, she was so excited and brought me to the kitchen as we checked each note that her glasses produced! I did also learn the violin and was actually choosing between piano and violin as I was heading to study abroad. However, the time spent on piano activities just took over my violin practices, so I gradually stopped playing; I loved playing the violin though!

2- Is your family musical?

Yes and no: my father loves listening to music; my mother loves the piano but didn’t have a proper chance to learn it – when she was young, she made her own keyboard out of paper and sponge and whenever a truck passed by, she dreamt that someday a piano would fall out so she can then play it!! My siblings all learned musical instruments – piano, violin and my sister even plays Guzheng and Yangqin. We all love singing and harmonising to each other.

3- Incredibly by the age of 12, you had already performed at Carnegie Hall as a gold medallist of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition. Can you tell us what you played and your feelings at the time?

I think I played Prokofiev’s Vision Fugitives. I have always been a very calm child so I cannot really remember how I felt on the stage, but I was definitely very excited to meet the other prizewinners from all over the world – it was also my first time to New York!

4- In 2007 you performed your own composition representing your home country of Malaysia at the Yamaha Asia Pacific Junior Original Concert. How was this received and your memories from that tender age?

I was quite surprised to be chosen to play my composition “Bustling City and Peaceful Suburb” at the concert. The event was huge and filled with young composers from many other countries of different culture – counting Japan, Vietnam, Thailand etc. and even Mexico! We were all very excited to hear each others’ compositions as each of us come from very different backgrounds, and each had brought a very special and distinct flavour to their music.

5- You were recently awarded the Philip Crawshaw Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Musician from Overseas. Can you tell us more about this prize and what it means to you?

It was a prize given to an Overseas musician in the finals of the Keyboard division of the Royal Overseas League Competition 2017. I was very honoured to receive this award as a recognition of my work as a musician, and also as part of being a Commonwealth citizen living in the UK. I would definitely wish to compete in the ROSL Compeition again in the coming years, hoping to reach not just the final, but the Grand Final to compete with other instrumentalists, almost like the prestigious BBC Young Musicians Competition.

6- For your MMus Project in 2016 you collaboration with percussionist Daniel Gonzalez to create a version of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit for Piano and Percussion. How satisfying was this new exploration and are you happy with the result?

It was a huge challenge but a very rewarding project for both Daniel and me. Throughout this exploration I had the chance to try out percussion instruments myself – a process which I greatly enjoyed – but also to try communicating my imageries with Daniel, and then turning it into musical sounds on the instruments. I was very lucky to be able to work with him, as we have very similar taste and approach towards tone colours which we wanted to create. After all the efforts of creating the percussion part together and many rehearsals, the end result was certainly more than satisfying; the greatest joy was when audience told us that it really worked for the piece, sounded very Ravel-ian, and that it really made them listen differently and to see the imageries.

7- In another interpretation of the work by Malaysian pianist composer Chong Lim Ng you included improvised extended piano techniques as well as ethnic singing into the piece to draw the audience into the sound-world of a rainforest. How was this experimentation received by the composer and audience?

The composer loved it because of its spontaneity, and said it made the piece sound even better! In concerts, this piece usually becomes the favourite piece in the programme. Actually Chong Lim Ng is a teacher with whom I studied in Malaysia before going to Germany at the age of 14. I am very lucky to have a mentor of such great personality; I visit him every time I go home and he continues to inspire me even until today.

8- You recently collaborated with author and illustrator David Litchfield and improvised to his storytelling of award winning book “The Bear and the Piano”. How satisfied with the results and feedback you have received?

I was so excited when I knew I could improvise to the author’s book-reading, because I actually came to know about this book half a year ago while attending a concert at Barbican – reading it in the bookstore already made me cry – which is why I bought the book. But when I first improvised to the story on my own in the practice room, I felt so disappointed because improvising to stories turned out to be so different from my expectation, it felt quite uncomfortable to be reading and playing on my own. However, during my rehearsal with David, things worked out incredibly well. We were all very happy with the results – the children too!! – and very glad that we could bring the story alive.

9- You completed your undergraduate studies in Germany under Prof. Elza Kolodin. How do you recall this time and this mentor?

Prof. Kolodin is a very loving and motherly mentor, a very strong personality, which shaped me immensely. She knew that I was a very shy girl and she pushed me to explore my courage, I cannot thank her enough for the amount of faith she had in me, that she believed in me. That gave me a lot of confidence and strength to pursue things that I never thought I could – mentally and physically. I have studied with her for 5 years and I have to say, her teaching, her imagination, her love for tone colours, is a huge part of who I am today.

10- How do you balance your time between study, performance and social life?

During my first year of study in London, I had very little social life, as I felt compelled to ‘work hard’ and to almost give up on everything in order to be a “good pianist”. I was completely wrong because that led me to a very unfulfilling life. Now I have realised that being a musician, is a lifestyle. We perform and teach because we love to share, and we practice because it is our way to maintain our artistry, a mental and physical training. As long as I am having good relationships with people around me and emotionally happy, I believe that I am keeping a good balance between work and life.

11- How often do you practice?

Maybe 4-6 hours a day when I work, but sometimes not at all for a very long period of time. It depends.

12- Would you consider teaching in the future?

Definitely! I have done quite some teaching and I love to share my experiences of overcoming problems with people, hoping that it could help them. So a definite yes!

13- Who would your ideal accompanist be?

Accompanist? I am not too sure. Do orchestras count? What about duos? I wish to play with Mischa Maisky if I ever have the chance!!

14- Who is your favourite musician and composer and why?

Martha Argerich has always been my queen of piano – my idol since young. I have too many favourite composers so I really cannot choose! But I tend to like pieces that tell stories – maybe Chopin, Schumann, Ravel?

15- Do you have future plans you wish to share with us?

I wish to base myself in the UK, and perform or teach all around the world. It would also be great if I can improve my improvisation skills! I greatly admire Gabriela Montero!

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submission July 2017