The MFO was the accompaniment orchestra in the Final Rounds of the Violin and Piano Artist categories of the recently-concluded National Piano & Violin Competition (NPVC) organised by the National Arts Council.
From an initial crop of 17 participants in the Violin Artist category and 32 participants in the Piano Artist category, 3 participants made it through to the Final Round of each category to perform their chosen concertos with the MFO, conducted by MFO Music Director Chan Tze Law. After the intense Final Rounds, Shi Xiaoxuan (Violin) (left) and Yap Sin Yee (Piano) (right) emerged as the 1st Prize winners of their respective categories. MFO caught up with both of them immediately after the Prizewinners’ Concert.
MFO: Congratulations to both of you! Before we talk about the competition, could you tell us briefly about yourselves?
Sin Yee (SY): I am from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I started on the piano when I was 6 years old and took up the violin at the age of 12. At 18, I decided to stop my lessons on the violin and concentrate on the piano as I felt a stronger affinity to the piano and the many magical musical moments that I was able to create with it. I had first heard about the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) when I was 16 and have always wanted to study in Singapore ever since, so this is how I ended up in Singapore and taking part in the competition.
Xiaoxuan (XX): I am originally from the An Hui province, China. I picked up the violin when I was 5 and at the age of 10 I was offered a place to study at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Junior School. My family decided to relocate to Shanghai so that I could pursue my passion. I did try picking up the piano in Junior High for about 2 years but no other instrument caught my attention as much as the violin. When I turned 18, I had to make important choices in my musical career. Having heard many good things about YSTCM and also because Singapore is not that far away from Shanghai, I decided that coming to Singapore to study would ideal for me.
MFO: What was the most difficult thing about the competition for you?
SY: Honestly, when I first signed up for the competition, I did not even think of winning. I just wanted to enjoy myself whilst performing as well as to share my passion of performing with an audience. Even though the NPVC is not my first competition [Sin Yee also took part in the Thailand Mozart International Competition in 2011], I had completely forgotten how much mental effort and concentration is required throughout the competition journey and how tiring it is!
XX: It has definitely helped me to mature a lot as a musician. As Sin Yee said, competitions are extremely tiring. For example, all the Semi-Finalists had to perform a full 50-minute set! I always forget how much stamina is needed. Also, I have learnt how to be adaptable. The competition rounds for the violin categories were held in the YST Orchestra Hall, which is not an easy place to play in for a violinist, and I had to continually adjust my sound during the competition to best suit the acoustics.
MFO: Who would you like to thank most at this point?
SY: I really need to thank my piano teacher, Albert Tiu for helping me to raise my piano playing to a whole other level. He said he was really happy as he did not expect me to do as well as I did!
XX: My violin teacher, Qian Zhou played a big role. She taught me how to control my nerves and how to look calm whilst playing even though I am feeling so nervous inside!
MFO: You had chosen to perform the Saint-Saens “Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor Op. 61”and Saint-Saens “Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 22” respectively for the Final Round of the competition. Was it difficult to decide what to enter as your set piece for the competition?
SY: It is an easy answer, really. I fell in love with the piece when I first heard it and knew I wanted to play this concerto for the competition.
XX: When I went to seek advice from my violin teacher, she suggested the Saint-Saens concerto. I was not a fan of it initially but after listening to it multiple times as well as studying the piece in greater depth, I felt that I was able to understand it and couldn’t stop playing it.
MFO: Was this your first time playing solo with a professional orchestra? How was the experience working with the MFO?
SY: Yes, it’s my first time. I feel extremely honoured to have worked with the MFO. Considering I had never played with a professional orchestra before this, I felt that the rehearsals I had with the MFO were extremely efficient and it was overall a very enjoyable experience for me.
XX: Yes, it is my first time playing with a professional orchestra as well. Even before I began the first rehearsal with the MFO, I knew that the orchestra would sound good as I know that many YSTCM alumni and experienced professional musicians play in the MFO. I expected a very good experience but they have overshot my expectations!
MFO: How was it working with Maestro Chan Tze Law?
SY: It was really good to work with him, such a good experience! I felt like he understood my style of playing right away.
XX: It was a very nice experience. Not only is he a fantastic musician, conductor but he is also an extremely good communicator. It is very easy to work with him.
MFO: What are you immediate plans after the competition?
SY: Firstly, I have to rest! I have vacation plans, visiting my friends and relatives back in KL. After this, I will return to Singapore to for the 2nd semester of the academic year and am looking forward to picking up many new pieces.
XX: I will be going back to China for a short holiday. After that, I’ll have to prepare new pieces for the next semester at school. I will also be playing the same Saint-Saens concerto with the YSTCM Conservatory Orchestra in February 2014 [Xiaoxuan also won the YSTCM Concerto Competition in 2013]. I just can’t wait to continue playing more music.