Monday, 26 May 2014


Saturday (24 May 2014)
SIP Youth and Children Centre

The Chinese city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province has been for centuries synonymous with classical garden-residences and the musical arts, no better represented by the antique Kunqu opera tradition and its more intimate relative Suzhou pingtan. Today Suzhou is a happy confluence of the hallowed past and an exciting, modern and rapidly-progressing present. Just minutes separate the laid-back canals and bohemian alley-ways of Pingjiang Lu from the chrome and steel skyscrapers of Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), a sure sign that China has firmly laid claim to the 21st century while proudly reflecting on its colourful history.

Suzhou or Singapore?
The Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is perhaps a bit of both.

In the field of Western classical music, the Chinese have made major in-roads, with the emergence of international superstar artists like pianists Lang Lang and Wang Yuja, just to name but a few. Once purged and denigrated as product of the degenerate and decadent Occident, Western classical music has now been embraced by the Chinese as a status symbol of exalted taste, good living and “having arrived”. 

The SIP Youth & Children's Centre

So it was not a major surprise that a fruitful Suzhou Saturday afternoon be spent in the company of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the newly established Suzhou-Singapore Young Artist competition. The fact that these two fixtures were even possible spoke volumes of the level of cooperation between the cities of Suzhou and Singapore, spear-headed by the Suzhou-Singapore Township Development Pte Ltd. Twenty years of far-sighted Singaporean investment in Suzhou as a hub of research, development and manufacture has transcended industrial and commercial concerns to now encompass the aesthetics of artistic endeavour and music-making.

The Young Artist Competition was held at the SIP Youth and Children Centre, a space-age, multi-purpose venue built to resemble the arching petals of a flower in bloom. Its symbolism was not lost on the 140 young string players from Suzhou and Jiangsu under the age of fifteen who applied. 30 musicians (29 violinists and a sole cellist) were selected to perform at the Grand Finals, and true to form, there was not a single no-show in the three-hour long event.

Dressed to thrill, and dressed for the kill.
Somehow someone forgot to tell the pianist!

Every player took his or her opportunity seriously, whether informally attired in tee-shirt and jeans or dressed to the hilt as if attending a debutant’s ball. Each performed a short work from the standard Western or Chinese violin repertoire, including single movements of well-known concertos. The overall standard of playing was generally high, comparable to the Junior and Intermediate categories of the biennial Singapore National Piano & Violin Competition. Mastery of the printed score was the pre-requisite, and many possessed the ability to breeze through their repertoire quite effortlessly. Several went further by communicating through heart and soul, moving the audience with a singing tone and technique that went beyond mere notes.

Chen Tianqi was the deserved 1st Prize winner.

The three-member jury led by Singaporean violinist Siow Lee-Chin, Head of violin studies at the newly-formed Bard College of Music in Soochow University awarded the 1st prize to Chen Tianqi, whose confidence and finely-honed tone impressed in the first movement of de Beriot’s Violin Concerto No.7. His reward included a bounty of 10,000 RMB and an all-expenses paid trip to Singapore to participate in Symphony 92.4 FM’s Young Artist Competition on 27 June. 

2nd place went to Huang Yiqun for a solid reading of the first movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1. For my own part, it was difficult to resist the pluck and resolve of little Dong Daoyi, all cherubic cheeks in a bright red dress, who sang and soared in Li Zhili’s Fisherman’s Harvest Song. She was awarded a deserving 3rd prize. It would seem like all three, as well as several others, have been well-schooled by their teachers, heartily supported by their parents, and a bright musical future awaits them. That is, if they continue to work hard and pursue their dreams.

Siow Lee-Chin addressing the audience.

As the organiser of the competition, Siow had encouraging words for this Suzhou-Singapore initiative which will hopefully continue as an annual event. "Although this competition is a "baby" compared with major international competitions, I am heartened that the students have embraced this opportunity.  When I was a student competing in competitions, I did not always win. But it was the small steps I made preparing for smaller competitions that helped me win the Henryk Szeryng International Violin Competition which launched my career. This was a major motivation for me to help this event happen for the young people of Suzhou and Jiangsu Province," she mused. "It was very fulfilling that a music project to benefit the young could arise from the investments in physical infrastructure that our pioneers had made over the last twenty years. Who would have thought that a music competition be a by-product of an industrial park?" she added.

A guest performance by students of
Soochow University School of Music,
all students of Siow Lee-Chin.

The future of China, as well as the world, lies in its young people. They will become the leaders of tomorrow, and their collective responsibility may begin quite simple with the discipline that comes with learning and mastering a musical instrument. Singapore is proud to work hand-in-hand with Suzhou to develop talent and leaders for the future.

The winners received their prizes from
the Consul General of Singapore in Shanghai.
Siow Lee-Chin with Dong Daoyi,
a fiddler for the future.

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