At primary six, Wong Kah Chun’s answer of “musician” drew laughter from everyone in his class when their teacher asked for their career ambitions. Nonetheless, he would go on to graduate from the Hans Eisler Musikhochschule in Berlin with a Master of Music in Orchestral/Opera Conducting.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how the conductor, who, without making a single sound, needs to have the ability to be the guardian of unity in an orchestra,” says Wong, who took first place at the fifth Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition held in May. The win “changed [his] life overnight”, earning him invitations by the China Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestras. He has also been selected by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra to participate in the Dudamel Fellowship programme for the 2016/17 season.

Despite the recognition, a conductor’s work is never easy, he says: “Imagine how difficult it must be for a German conductor to come to Singapore to work with a Chinese orchestra. Reverse this situation and it is what I face on a daily basis.”

While Wong has already lined up work with more than 30 different orchestras from five continents over the next few years, he hopes to pursue another surprising hobby on the side — surfing. “Where I live in Japan, off the Kanagawa coast, there are amazing waves in summer!” he says with a laugh.