Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
26 July 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 July 2014
For the second time in three years, the biennial Steinway Asia Pacific Regional Finals for pianists under the age of 17 was hosted by
Singapore. As with the event two years ago, this
competition brought together some of the most talented young keyboard talents
in East Asia region to vie for a residency in the Steinway Music Festival in
Hamburg, Germany to be held later this year.
Each pianist had been judged on a 20-minute solo programme by an international jury earlier in the day, and the gala concert was a showcase of a sample of their prowess. Quite predictably, most of the eight finalists selected virtuosic music from
Russia and Eastern Europe, almost guaranteed to strike awe in the
hearts of listeners. At stake was a “Most Popular Pianist” prize, voted by a
live and Internet audience by SMS in the manner of Singapore Idol.
On that count alone, Feng Yi Chen (
Taiwan, 17 years old) should be lauded for
selecting the first movement from Haydn’s Sonata
No.25 in E flat major, the least showy work on display. His playing was
crisp and light, full of nuances befitting the ebullient humour of the music.
The other pianist who played non-Slavic music was Celestine Yoong ( Malaysia, 13), whose fluency and clarity in two
movements from Ravel’s La Tombeau De
Couperin, the Prelude and Rigaudon, were a total delight.
The evening’s fare was opened spectacularly by Teofilia Onggowinoto (
Indonesia, 14) with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.11. She brought out the cimbalom (Hungarian dulcimer) effects very well, and went on a
thrilling free-wheeling course to its outlandish end. Not to be outdone was Nicole Tay Wan Ni ( Singapore, 12), also the youngest participant, who
was totally polished and all smiles in Glinka’s transcription of Alyabiev’s The Nightingale, a set of florid
variations on a Russian folksong.
Three pianists chose to play pieces not in their competition repertoire. Nathan John Torento (
Philippines, 15) illuminated Arensky’s Etude in C major with romantic insight
even if he has yet to feel completely at home with it. Chae Won Kim ( South Korea, 13) had the full measure of
Tchaikovsky’s popular Dumka,
confident and buoyant but retaining every bit of Russian melancholy and angst.
Kant Kosoltrakul (
Thailand, 17) pulled off Arcadi Volodos’s manic
transcription of Mozart’s Turkish Rondo
with stunning aplomb, completely unfazed by its fiendish machinations. Do Hoang Linh Chi ( Vietnam, 17) attired in a startling poppy red
dress with spectacles to match gave, to these ears, the performance of the
She had substituted a Beethoven sonata movement with Liszt’s Tarantella from Venezia e
and Naples), a vertiginous swirling dance which was accorded a grandstanding
treatment, so full of poise and Mediterranean colour that one imagined a
seasoned veteran at play.
First prize was awarded to
Korea’s Kim, with the petite Viet Do placing a
close second. There was a tie for third prize, shared by Thailand’s Kant and Singapore’s Tay. Home advantage also saw Tay garner the audience prize, which was no
big surprise. Awards and accolades ultimately mean little in a career
musician’s long journey, but these provide a source of encouragement and
affirmation for the young, one that will remind them of the hard work and