Sunday, 13 July 2008

Singapore’s Young Pianists Shine

The prodigious Jonathan Shin,
whose playing makes you listen
(I Talk, You Listen)

Just attended the final recital of the 2008 International Summer Piano Institute, organised by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Entitled Fantasies & Impromptus, it gave 18 pianists from 6 different nations (Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and USA) a chance to shine after a week’s keyboard tutelage from Thomas Hecht and Albert Tiu (from YST) and guest pedagogue Gabriel Kwok from the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Earlier in the week, I had sat in on a masterclass by Kwok. Pretty impressed with what I saw.

Chopin featured in the recital, of course. Little Evelyn Handrisanto (Indonesia) gave a very clean and unmannered account of the eponymous Fantaisie-Impromptu, while an even littler Stephanie Onggowinoto (Indonesia) impressed in her very musical account and secure grasp of Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor (K.475). Not an easy piece to play or listen to, but this young lady seemed to make child’s play of it.

Their older compatriot Budianda spewed forth sulphur and brimstone in Liszt’s Dante Sonata. Thunderous and not very subtle, it raised a storm of decibels, one which fistfuls of dropped notes and a blackout (lasting almost a whole minute) did little to faze. Blood and guts, that’s what raw passion in music-making is about, and this young man has it in bucket-loads.

There were also attempts by other pianists in virtuoso fodder like Balakirev’s Islamey, Busoni’s Carmen Fantasy and – gasp – a Scriabin sonata, but these seemed too large for their young hands and unformed (and possibly uninformed) minds.

Pride of place went to two Singaporean pianists, who displayed by far the most polish and poise. Indeed, both Zhang Aidi and Jonathan Shin, past winners in the National Piano Competition, are the cream of our crop. There was little to quibble in Aidi’s smouldering interpretation of Fauré’s Impromptu No.3 which had both youthful ardour and nostalgia to equal degree. Jonathan brought a wealth of sound and colour to Charles Griffes’ Scherzo (from Fantasy Pieces), an impressionistic miniature tone poem, suggesting that he’ll make a terrific Debussy interpreter some day.

If this were a competition, I dare say they would have clinched the top prizes. More importantly, they showed themselves to be exceptionally fine musicians.

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