Monday 25 June 2012


Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (23 June 2012)

A piano manufacturer that does not promote or celebrate the art, literature and performance of the pianoforte is only fit to sell furniture. Thus Steinway, the world’s undisputed leader in concert hall pianos, has committed itself to discovering and nurturing young talent by holding competitions worldwide. The Singapore national competition sponsored by Bank Julius Baer attracted some 50 contenders, with the best four in three age categories performing in this evening’s final concert. 

The common denominator of all four was a stunning surfeit of instrumental prowess, and musical maturity that far surpassed their tender collective ages. 11-year-old Joachim Lim opened the show with a crisply delivered Haydn sonata movement, only bettered by the naturally flowing way in Glinka’s Variations on The Nightingale, where filigree and whimsy were equal partners. In Piazzolla’s Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi, his urgently-driven tango rhythm was uncannily idiomatic.

The sheer wealth of interpretative possibilities meant that there were two finalists from Category 2, a couple of 13-year-olds who were as different as chalk and cheese. Gavin Jared Bala was the born entertainer, breathing an inner joy in Beethoven’s Sonata in G major (Op.79), then weaving a lustrous silken web around Moszkowski’s Etude in A flat minor (Op.72 No.13). Its extraordinary beauty made astonishing contrasts with Turkish maverick Fazil Say’s Paganini Jazz, an outrageous send-up to all those variations on Paganini’s 24th Caprice.

If Bala was the life of a party, Zecharus Ong was the deep thinker. His ramrod posture and perfect deportment lent stature and weight to Haydn’s Sonata No.48 in C major, which resounded as if it came from a very young Alfred Brendel. Utter clarity reigned in a Bach Prelude and Fugue, which gave way to the fleet-fingered fantasy of Faure’s Second Impromptu in F minor.   

If See Ning Hui, the eventual winner chosen by an international jury, had an advantage over her rivals, that was by virtue of being three years older and an unshakeable self-belief that translated into polish and poise. Her Mozart movement from Sonata K.311 displayed a firm grasp of symphonic thought, matched by a feather-like touch and delicious rubato for Chopin’s First Impromptu. Under her hands, even Khachaturian’s rather superficial Toccata did not sound like empty motoric rumblings.

The pianists anxiously awaiting the result.

The judges had given the nod to perhaps the most ready and all-rounded pianist to represent Singapore in the Asian Regional Finals in July, the winner of which proceeds to Steinway’s Festival in Hamburg. On the basis of this evening’s showing, See will fly the flag of her nation proudly. 
Come 28 July, See Ning Hui will represent Singapore in Steinway Asian Regional Finals.

The pianists with Celine Goh and Alexander Melchers (Steinway Singapore) and David Lim (Bank Julius Baer).

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