Pianist Abigail Sin, 24, and violinist Loh Jun Hong, 26, founded the More Than Music chamber music concert series in 2013 to connect with the Singapore audience and break down the perceived exclusivity of classical music. Evidently, the formula has worked: The series will soon stage its 10th concert, Side by Side, on March 2 and 3 at Esplanade Recital Studio.
Sin and Loh, who were respectively 14 and 15 when they were accepted to National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, will perform in Side by Side with special guests and former teachers Prof Thomas Hecht and Mr Ng Yu-Ying from the T’ang Quartet.
The programme will feature Eugène Ysaÿe’s tour de force Sonata for Two Violins and well-loved masterpieces for two pianos, Maurice Ravel’s La Valse and Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, “works that evoke the warmth and tenderness of being part of this musical family and also works that showcase our virtuosity side by side,” Loh says.
We chat with the musicians about what to look out for in the concert, how far the More Than Music programme has come, and whether classical music is all they listen to.
Any surprises we can look forward to in Side By Side?
AS: Piano duo music isn’t performed much in a professional concert setting in Singapore, so if you haven’t seen that before you’re in for a treat. Violin duo music is even rarer! Also, the encores might contain a sneak preview of the next concert…
LJH: The biggest surprise for our series will be the difference in our approach to concerts. Instead of solely performing for our audience, we share about the music, its colours, stories and what we find so exciting about each and every piece. We combine the intimacy of chamber music with our personal brand of musical introductions.
Abigail has been working on her PhD at London’s Royal Academy of Music since September 2014 and Jun Hong is based in Singapore. How do you rehearse for Side By Side?
AS: I fly back to rehearse about one or two weeks before each concert. We start rehearsals already having prepared our individual parts thoroughly, so that the rehearsal is about sharing and exploring each other’s ideas about the music and making artistic decisions together, rather than “practising”. It also helps that Jun Hong and I have been playing together regularly for a while now and we know how to rehearse together effectively.
LJH: Rehearsals can be a challenge sometimes since we do not meet regularly. However, just like jazz musicians, as long as we know our part well, we can focus only on musical ideas and emotions instead of going through the technical/execution aspect slowly.
How will Side By Side be different from your past More Than Music performances?
AS: More Than Music has always invited the best young musicians from Singapore and the region to perform chamber music with us. However for this concert, we are thrilled and honoured to have our former teachers from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music join us as guest artists for this concert. It is a indeed a testament to how far More Than Music has come that we are able to invite local artists of their professional standing to perform under our banner.
LJH: I think this is particularly special because both Abigail and I were the youngest students to enter the conservatory, and now more than a decade later, we are joining forces with our former teachers in concert as colleagues!
How has More Than Music grown since its founding?
AS: One of the joys of running More than Music is presenting the music we believe in on our own terms. We had a really fun travel theme for our previous concert, Songs of Travel, where we collaborated with a photographer. In terms of repertoire, we’ve explored violin duo arrangements of the Bach to contemporary music and staple works like Franck and Mozart as well. We’re also excited to be teaming up with more partners to expand our reach beyond our regular concerts at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Stay tuned for more news!
LJH: From our collaborations with musical institutions in Kuala Lumpur in 2015, to talks and workshops and concerts presented by Singapore Symphony Orchestra, we are finding that our work is becoming more popular with both our audience as well as other organisations who are looking to present us. Our roster of musicians is growing to include some of the very best in Singapore and covering a wide ranging instrumentation to form interesting and rarely combined combinations. For example, our next concert in May will be with the award-winning harpist Lee Yun Chai. Harp, violin and piano is a rare combination indeed!
What’s the most valuable lesson and experience you’ve gained through running More Than Music?
AS: Having to think and communicate more deliberately and articulately about why we do what we do as classical musicians, and finding new ways to help audiences today experience this amazing music afresh. I’ve definitely realised the urgent need to be more intentional and more creative about getting this message out there to people more effectively.
LJH: I think it’s the ability to better understand the communicative power of music. All of our artists have performed extensively internationally and locally, but seldom do we get a chance to speak to our audience and connect with them. Sharing some of our ideas and excitement and seeing the music become ever more infectious really makes me love performing more every time.
What is next for More Than Music?
AS: After Side by Side on March 2 and 3, our next concerts this year are on May 20 and September 8. The concert on May 20 is called A Musician’s Fantasy, and will feature young award-winning harpist Lee Yun Chai, who is home to serve National Service after studying at the Juilliard School’s Precollege division. Tickets for A Musician’s Fantasy will be on sale by 1 March.
LJH: We are working on a new series at the Arts House on Sunday afternoons where audiences get to take a glass of wine into our cozy little space and where we’ll do more causal and interactive sessions. It’ll be like a music and wine social.
What are you listening to right now?
AS: Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau’s new (self-titled debut duo) album. And something by Murray Perahia or Richard Goode at any given time!
LJH: I’m listening to Grieg’s Violin Sonata No.3 2nd movement. A really technical and boring name for one of the simplest, purest and most innocent music. It has such a beautiful and singing melody but with just one simple note, we feel a touch of melancholy seep into the music.
Being so closely associated with classical music, is that the only genre you listen to? What else is on your playlists?
AS: I listen to some pop music for fun. Disney songs are always great, and I can memorise chunks of Hamilton lyrics.
LJH: On the contrary, I think many classical musicians don’t listen to a whole lot of classical music (myself included). I appreciate all of the energy and spirit of jazz, the catching pulse and rhythms in pop music, and even the cool harmonies in a cappella music.