1- Who was your first piano teacher?
Her name is Ms Sim; she was a teacher at a private music school in Singapore that was near my house.
2- Is your family musical?
Not really. My mother loves all art and enjoys listening to recordings and concerts, but never underwent any formal training. My older brother took lessons at home so we already had a piano when I was born, and that was where I derived my initial interest in music from.
3- You were under the tutelage of Albert Tiu (professor at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music) from 2010-2012. How did this master help shape your talent and interpretation?
Although the period of time I spent learning with him was quite short, it was a crucial turning point. I started off not exactly enjoying music as much as I could or should have, for a variety of reasons (too many commitments at school to focus on music, few opportunities to perform, and a few setbacks in prior years) that led to self-doubt. While studying with Mr Tiu, I learnt many valuable things that I did not realise straightaway. He opened my ears up to a whole range of tone colours on the piano, and pushed me to be more perfectionistic and to listen harder to my playing. Most of all, he insisted on working on supposedly ‘simpler’ repertoire (eg. Mozart sonata, Chopin nocturne/impromptu etc. instead of some of the more technically difficult pieces I had done the year before). I didn’t get the point of this immediately but later realised that instead of simply getting the notes out for a difficult piece, I could focus more closely on musical nuances. These are much more useful skills in the long run than being able to play seemingly ‘difficult’ repertoire.
4- You represented Singapore at the inaugural Asia-Pacific Steinway Regional Finals after winning the Grand Prize at the Singapore Steinway Youth Piano Competition. How did this honour feel like and what pieces did you play?
It was a completely unexpected but pleasant surprise when I was announced the winner. As mentioned above, I had had a few setbacks in the years before then, and really wasn’t focusing much on music; not just in terms of time and effort but also that I was prioritising academic work. I was thrilled to represent Singapore and to meet the other eight talented competitors from all over Asia. Of course the media attention was also helpful in putting my name in the spotlight. I played the first movement of Mozart Sonata in D k311, Chopin Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat, Op. 29 and Khachaturian Toccata.
5- You were one of the few selected students from RGS’ Music Elective Programme who completed a Raffles Academy (Music) course associated with the University of Birmingham. Other than music, you have a passion for the humanities, and were a Raffles Academy (History) student and participant of the MOE’s Humanities and Social Sciences Research Programme. Can you tell us more about this programme and your achievements within it?
The Raffles Academy Music course was in its inaugural year at my school when my classmates and I started on it. So we took what was essentially the first year academic syllabus for students at the University of Birmingham and spread it out across two years, as we were quite young and studying various other subjects. There was (contemporary) composition and musicology (we had listening tests and essays and analysed works). The Raffles Academy History class involved a select group of students studying the same content with some further work and a different approach – less ‘classroom’, more open discussion. The research programme functioned like how undergraduate research would – we worked in pairs, came up with proposals, met with supervisors, and did a lot of independent literature review. The fantastic part about all these is that, once you get it right, you gain skills which will never expire. Even now, although I’m studying music at a conservatory, they remain useful.
6- You are a final year Bachelor of Music (Hons) student at the RCM with John Byrne and Dmitri Alexeev. How is this progressing?
I have been studying with John Byrne since I came over in September 2012, and words cannot adequately describe how much I appreciate his guidance over these few years. It has been a long journey and we’ve worked closely on so many aspects of pianism and musicianship – in my first year he really helped me with technique, practice methods and building up confidence, then in second year with gaining more experiences through a few competitions, and in third year building up bigger, more challenging repertoire, and finding my own voice in the music I play. This (fourth) year has built on the third year and has been very much on refining sound, presenting a ‘bigger’ character and presence on stage, and maturity as a musician. He is also very professional and I have learnt a lot about music that’s not just about the performance and practice part, and I believe these ideas will last me a lifetime.
I started having occasional lessons with Dmitri Alexeev about half a year ago and these have been very fruitful too. He is without doubt a great pianist with incredible technique and control of the instrument. Perhaps what’s best is how I’ve managed to find a balance between two different opinions and teaching styles. One can never get too many opinions on how to play a piece; the more the better!
7- Can you share with us an abiding memory in connection with one of your performances or competitions?
There was one recital I gave last year in Faversham where afterwards, a member of the audience approached me and after showing his appreciation; he said “You really love the Schumann (Fantasie), don’t you? Especially the first movement!” I was pleasantly surprised that he had felt it so strongly. This exchange reminded me how, ultimately, music is about sharing what you have with an audience. We may do as many competitions and auditions as we like, and they certainly push us to practise more effectively and stay focused, but it is these little moments of interaction with audiences that make me rediscover the bigger picture.
8- How often do you practice?
Pretty much every day, it varies between 2-6 hours, although once in a month, especially after an important performance, I would take a day off, and intermittently during holidays as well.
9- Would you consider teaching music in the future?
Yes, I think it is an important part of most musicians’ careers, and it is something I have already gained a few years of experience in. It has proven to be very useful for my personal growth as well.
10- Who is your favourite musician and why?
I don’t really have a specific individual in mind, whether it’s composers or current performers. I have noticed that I have a preference for playing works from the great German composers like Bach, Beethoven and Schumann (haven’t tackled Brahms yet), Debussy, and Chopin. With regards to performers, I have a deep respect for those of the younger generation like Yuja Wang, Daniil Trifonov and Jan Lisiecki, just to name a few. I am very much in awe of legends like Brendel, Barenboim, Pollini, and always listen to their recordings and concerts, but I find it more useful to look for inspiration from those who are young but also very mature and intellectual.
11- How do you balance your study, performance and leisure times? What are the biggest sacrifices?
That is something that needs constant work, to be honest! I’m not sure I always get it right. I think my social life is the aspect that gets neglected sometimes – the problem is that practising is not just physically and mentally exhausting, but emotionally draining as well. So at times, I prefer to simply have some time to myself.
12- You have won a variety of prizes in competitions. Does anyone of these awards particularly stand out?
I think it would probably be the Steinway competition I did in Singapore, as it was the first proper prize I ever received. Then there was also the BBC Young Musician competition in 2014 where I played in the keyboard final – it was a challenge at the point as I did not feel very confident, but in retrospect, I think it pushed me to deal with the stress of performing better, and to be more perfectionistic with my playing (it’s hard not to think that way when there are various camera angles focusing on your face and hands!).