Saturday, 1 September 2012


HSBC Youth Excellence Award Concert 2012
University Cultural Centre
Thursday (30 August 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 September 2012 with the title "Depth of talent".

The HSBC Youth Excellence Award has been around since 2000, and if one scans its roll of honour, it reads like a very impressive young Who’s Who of classical music in Singapore. Every year, a new name is added and one marvels at the depth of talent that exists here.

The annual showcase concert, attended by President and Mrs Tony Tan, opened with performances by two previous recipients. Guitarist Kevin Loh (2010 winner), student at the Menuhin School, showed his mettle in Joaquin Turina’s flamenco dance-inspired Homage to Tarrega.

His keen perception of pulse and rhythm was allied with sensitivity of touch, both of which provided a strong backbone for Astor Piazzolla’s L’Histoire du Tango (History of the Tango), where he was joined by violinist Gabriel Ng (2006 winner). The four-movement suite was an enjoyable chronological treatise of the tango, and the duo blended well, delighting in its tricky counterpoint, and alternating sultry and fiery spirits.

This year’s awardee was unveiled as 10-year-old cellist Aoden Teo Masa Toshi, who had earlier made a very public appearance at this year’s National Day Parade. The smiley and bespectacled lad is the very portrait of confidence and poise. His sense of purpose and enthusiasm makes one want to listen to him, and hold the audience captive he did.

Aoden Teo plays Saint-Saƫns's Allegro Appassionato with pianist Michelle Seah.

His Prelude from Bach’s Suite No.1 had both clarity and rock steadiness, besides being able to shade the repeated arpeggios with contour and colour. The cantabile line in Saint-Saens’s The Swan was deliciously shaped, and when fireworks were called for, his mastery of the same composer’s Allegro Appassionato was accomplished with breathtaking ease.

Some inexperience showed in the performance with the Orchestra of the Music Makers of Saint-Saens’s First Cello Concerto. Several spots saw intonation go awry, and synchronisation was not always perfect. As only the first movement was played, the music came to an unsatisfying jolting halt. One hopes to hear him in the whole work sometime soon. 

The young orchestra (itself the recipient in 2009) conducted by Chan Tze Law also accompanied Gabriel Ng in the rip-roaring finale of Mozart’s First Violin Concerto. Its own showcase was equally prodigious, first polishing off Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue with requisite pomp and aplomb. The highlights from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake were also gripping, with the opulence of playing easily overcoming the dry acoustics of the hall.

As an encore, all three young soloists joined the orchestra in Elgar’s rambunctious Wild Bears from The Wand of Youth, with Kevin Loh ditching his guitar for the humble triangle. Clearly everyone on stage was enjoying themselves, and that is what makes these awards well worth the while and outlay.

The most recent HSBC Youth Excellence Award for Music winners (from L): Violinist Gabriel Ng (2006), Guitarist Kevin Loh (2010), Cellist Aoden Teo Masa Toshi (2012) with conductor Chan Tze Law and the Orchestra of Music Makers (2009). 

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