Wednesday, 22 April 2015


CALLING ALL PIANOPHILES! Here is a piano recital you will enjoy, featuring one of Singapore's promising young pianists CLARENCE LEE. 

His recital is part of the Young Virtuoso Recital Series, which has presented pianists like Lim Yan, Albert Lin, Abigail Sin, Azariah Tan and Nicholas Loh in the past.

His programme as follows:

RACHMANINOV Prelude, Op.3 No.2
RACHMANINOV 10 Preludes, Op.23
LISZT Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude
LISZT Reminiscences de Don Juan

Where: Victoria Concert Hall
When: Saturday, 2 May 2015 at 7.30 pm
Tickets: $18, $28, $38  by EventClique  

Here is an exclusive interview with CLARENCE LEE, who talks about his life as a pianist and his inspirations.

Do you come from a musical family? Did your parents appreciate music?

My mother was a professional singer for many years and my parents both play the Chinese guzheng. My mum was also my first piano teacher so yes, it runs in the blood.

What were your first memories of playing the piano, or any other musical instrument?

My mother bought me a toy piano when I was three years old. She later discovered my talent for music when I started imitating tunes I heard on television all day long on that toy piano. Although I used only one finger to play, I was told that it was note-for-note perfect!

What were your piano teachers like, and how did they help you develop your love of music and ultimately technique for playing the piano?

As a child, I always had the idea that male teachers were fierce and intimidating; hence all my teachers prior to studying with Dr. Thomas Hecht at the Conservatory were young, sweet and beautiful female teachers! They were Ms. Winnie Tay, Alice Chang and Amy Lim, each of them different but equally significant in my life and career. Every teacher in a musician’s life is of equal importance because having to name the most important teacher in my life would be similar to asking if the leaves on the trees are more important than the roots or vice versa. The tree would not survive without one or the other.

All my teachers allowed me to be who I really was on the piano and never restricted me from expressing my feelings. Technique that serves no musical purpose is meaningless and I was very lucky that none turned me into some musical robot or machine. There’s no point in being technically perfect if it means nothing to your listeners. If audiences wanted to hear perfection, they need not attend a live concert since they could easily listen to a CD at home.

Did you win some prize at the 2005 National Piano Competition? And was that the encouragement you needed to pursue music at a tertiary level?

I was the 3rd prize winner in the intermediate category of the 2005 National Piano & Violin Competition. Music was my passion but I had never considered it as a career even at that point. Initially, my dream was to be a medical doctor to save lives.

It was my father’s decision that I should give it a shot at the auditions to the Conservatory. We originally did not expect to pass that audition and that was just another opportunity for me to perform. When I was accepted to the Bachelor of Music programme at 15, it was an opportunity too good to resist. I have never looked back since.

What was studying at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and lessons with Professor Thomas Hecht like? 

Dr. Hecht was a disciplinarian and no-nonsense teacher who believed that talent alone was not the key to success, but hard work and perseverance were. Despite him being American, studying with Dr. Hecht was exactly like learning martial arts from a traditional Chinese kung fu master. He instilled that kind of discipline in me.

Beneath that strict facade was a dedicated, kind and compassionate fatherly figure who whole-heartedly cared for each and every one of his students. Where would you find someone who would go to the extent of arranging online skype lessons and regularly replying to student’s e-mails while rushing back to USA to visit his father in hospital Dr. Hecht was this great teacher and I owe most, if not all of my current achievements to him. I would not be where I am today without him.

What were experiences like taking part in international piano competitions?

Going for international competitions is like buying lottery: it is impossible to predict the results. Ironically, most of the concert opportunities I had been granted have been a result of not winning prizes in competitions. You never know who would be in the audience and I have been very fortunate to meet people who believed in me regardless of the results.

Luck also plays a huge part in a musician’s career. It is about being at the right place at the right time. As long as you have something to say in your music, it will connect you with the right people. Being sincere and truthful as a musician is far more important than finding a formula to winning competitions.

Your recital programme on 2 May reflects the riches of Romantic repertoire – Liszt and Rachmaninov are the highlights. What does this music mean to you?

While some people find joy in being mentally or intellectually stimulated while listening to music, I find joy in music that can emotionally stimulate all kinds of audiences, including the general public. Liszt and Rachmaninov were rock stars in their days and wrote music that was accessible to everyone. I too believe that Classical music should be for anyone and not just the musically “educated” listeners.

I chose repertoire that showcase all aspects of Liszt and Rachmaninov – the virtuosic and flashy side, as well as the deep and touching introverted aspects. These were the two composers that made me fall in love with Classical music, and I hope to be able to inspire others to fall in love with it too.

You now study with Albert Tiu, well-known for his interpretations of Romantic repertoire. How has he influenced your views on this music?

You are spot on. Mr. Tiu is very famous for his Romantic interpretations, especially the Russian School – Scriabin and Rachmaninov - and has recorded many albums of this music to great success and recognition. All his students know that they are not going to have an easy time if they chose to work on Russian Romantic repertoire with him. So you can guess what I had gone through over the past few months!

Mr. Tiu has always been very particular about tone and colour. It is all about understanding harmonies, knowing how it relates to each other and showing it through your instrument. I have learnt to use my ears to listen to the colours that I am producing from the instrument instead of only listening to what I hear inside of me. The greatest insights I have gained are the exclusive opportunities of listening to him demonstrate sections of my pieces in every lesson. Hearing him produce those amazing colours on the same instrument has inspired me to push further and expand my palette of sound. When he can produce those colours on the piano, you are left with no excuses that it was the instrument’s fault!

Clarence Lee is now the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's
ensemble pianist, here playing with the
world's largest erhu ensemble.

Tell us a little about the new work, Waves by young Singaporean composer Phang Kok Jun which you will give the World Premiere on 2 May.

I first performed a piece by Kok Jun in 2012, and was immediately attracted to his special and unique sound world. His colouristic sense through his use of harmonies and 3-dimensional style of writing made him the obvious choice of local composer whose music I wanted to showcase. I asked him to write me a piece that would best represent his identity. Leaving him to write whatever his inspiration tells him to, I had this condition: the music has to be easily connect with the Singaporean audience and would leave a lasting and nostalgic effect on its listeners come Second of May.

What does the future hold for Clarence Lee?

I always thought I had a clear plan in life, since my primary school days. But it never quite turned out that way. You can plan ahead all you want but life is about making important decisions when the time arises, and each decision will change the course of the future.

I have been very fortunate to be where I am today as a professional musician and hope to be able to give back to Singapore for everything it has given me. Helping the less fortunate and providing equal opportunities for everyone from all backgrounds of life is my long term mission. My mother always reminded me that being a kind and useful person in society is more important than being successful and rich.

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