[Full] Interview with the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra

1)     Do you have a favourite film music composer? Who is it? Why?
I don’t really have a single favourite film composer- I love the music by Alexandre Desplat, James Newton Howard, Nakagawa Koutaro, etc. If I had to name one, I would say James Newton Howard. While the works of other film composers can be identified by their thematic styles and/or orchestration, JNH’s works are written in a myriad of different styles which reflect his brilliant imagination.

2)     What is your favourite piece of film music? Why so?
I’m a Star Wars geek, so I’ll say the music of John Williams in the motion pictures Star Wars.

3)     Do the films this piece (Barber- Adagio) appears in influence your interpretation of the music? (The way it has been used in Amelie, Simpsons etc)
Not really – I am seeking to evoke a more serious, elegiac and deep sense of lament in my interpretation.

4)     Did you watch any of the films where this music was used? If you didn’t, is it intentional?
I have watched several films and tv dramas where this music was featured, but very often I felt that it was not really appropriate as the music was used for a more dramatic effect instead of evoking a deep sense of sadness.

5)     If you had a choice, what kind of story will the music be featured in?
An unexpected tragedy, where the audience were not able to predict what would happen next.

6)     How important do you think that music is in films?
Music in film is extremely important. It adds an additional depth to the two- (or three-) dimensional images on the screen and reinforces the film’s plot and characters. Music in film gives a more dramatic effect to what is happening on screen and is able to evoke different moods in the audience and allow us to have a closer connection and deeper understanding of the film.

7)     Your take on classical music being used in films vs. composed music for films.
I personally prefer films featuring classical music, since I grew up watching cartoons such as Tom and Jerry where the music of Chopin and Liszt were often used to a great dramatic effect. However, since films were not present when most ‘classical’ music was written, it is necessary for composers to create music to enhance today’s films – and they never fail to provide the audience with an amazing aural experience. It would be great if films have a good combination of the two!

8)     What are doing in preparation for this conducting session?
The Adagio is a popular and relatively simple piece, and I’ve decided to explore a slightly different interpretation of the piece to provide the audience with possibly a different experience. I have been exploring trying various tempi, rubato and the lengths of cut offs between phrases to use the reverberation to its best effect.

9)     Do you have a favourite conductor? Who? Why?
Esa-Pekka Salonen. He fully understands that the audience today are not only exposed to classical music but also music by other artists such as Lady Gaga, etc., and is constantly rethinking and renewing the tradition and providing today’s listeners with interesting and exciting programmes. On top of that, he’s an amazing composer!

10)  Being a young conductor, what do you think is most challenging to you?
I would say the most challenging thing about being a young conductor is handling many of the situations that may arise during rehearsals without stepping on too many toes. It can be challenging to find a way to best convey my intentions and inviting the orchestra to follow them. Sometimes, it is best to simply trust the orchestra and work on other details instead of demanding more than the orchestra can deliver.

11)  Can you tell us more about your training in Russia?
The training in Russia is pretty intensive- we study new pieces almost every week and conduct them with two pianos in the classroom to work on our techniques, gestures and interpretation before conducting an orchestra, which is made up of professional and experienced players. As a protégé of Leonid Korchmar, director of opera at the Mariinsky Theatre, I am also often at the theatre learning from conductors and guest conductors such as Valery Gergiev and Tugan Sokhiev during their ballet and opera rehearsals. We also have other classes such as harmony and aural. Everything is taught in Russian.

12)  Can you describe to us your best conducting moment yet?
Conducting Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C with one of the world’s top 20 orchestras – the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time at the Philharmonia Building in St. Petersburg!

13)  You didn’t study conducting initially when you went overseas, what prompted you to make the switch?
Being a composition and piano scholar, and also an older and more experienced student (because of NS and my initial training in Singapore), I was the top candidate of choice when an orchestra at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire needed a conductor to lead them. I wanted to do a good job conducting, but since there wasn’t a conducting elective for freshmen I had to teach myself to conduct by attending rehearsals of the Philharmonia Orchestra and watching great maestros such as Ashkenzy and Salonen rehearse the orchestra. It was after conducting Mozart’s Symphony N. 40 and Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of the Animals with my conservatory orchestra when I found a passion in conducting and collaborating with musicians in an orchestra.

14)  Conducting, Composing, Performing – which do you like best. Why?
It’s hard to put a finger on one of the options. I love collaborating with musicians in exciting projects, and I would go for whichever puts me in one at the moment. Currently it would be performing film music with the BHSO!

15)  What do you think are some of the main challenges for a young musician trying to pursue music as a career in Singapore?
The music scene in Singapore has come a long away, and the advent of several new orchestras and ensembles provide many opportunities for young musicians to start and ‘orchestra career’ by performing with other fellow musicians and building up their repertoire. I guess the main challenge now for young musicians like myself is to remain motivated and dedicated to our craft, and continue on our journey for the love for music and bringing it to people around us.

16)  Apart from music, what do you like to do in your free time?
I would catch up with my friends and family around the world, and also whip up a good meal. I am a food junkie, and am constantly learning new recipes of different cuisines. Having a good home-meal also keeps me from getting homesick!

17)  What next for you?
I have two projects to bring the performing arts to the hearing- and visually-impaired children in Singapore in July and August, and a possible collaboration with Young Steinway Artist Congyu Wang and the NUS Symphony Orchestra later this year. Of course, I would also be returning to St. Petersburg to continue my music studies at the end of September.