Leading up to the 13th World Harp Congress this July in Hong Kong, we’re talking with performers for the ever-popular WHC Focus on Youth showcase concerts. Check in each week as we present insights from these talented young artists.
Give us some background: when did you start playing, what’s your current age, and who do you study with?
I started playing at age 6 back home in Singapore with my first teacher, Katryna Tan. I am now 21, studying in my third year at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Catherine White.
Tell us about your WHC program. How did you choose your repertoire and what do you like about the music?
I start off the program with William Matthias’ “Improvisations,” which is a nod to my time studying in Britain so far. I also like how the three movements have such a stark difference in character, which I find fun to play. Then its Spohr’s Fantaisie Op.35, which is quite dramatic—but in a very understated manner —which I really like. This is in contrast to the last piece I’ll play, Grandjany’s “Rhapsodie,” which is incidentally one of my all-time favorite pieces. Its virtuosic and dramatic, but also has the most beautiful melodies and luscious harmonies.
Have you ever attended a World Harp Congress?
Yes; I attended the previous Congress in Sydney in 2014. It was incredible meeting so watching/meeting so many harpists; and l loved watching and participating in masterclasses, especially Susann Macdonald’s.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get to Hong Kong?
Eat a ton of dim sum. I adore Cantonese food!
Which harpist do you most admire?
There are many phenomenal harpists today that I have the utmost respect for, but I think the harpist I admire the most would be Henriette Renié. Her legacy as a harp pedagogue is legendary and she did so much for the harp in her time. Also, I love her compositions and I find it so inspiring that she achieved so much as a female musician in a time when the classical musical scene was very much gender-biased.
Which harpist are you most looking forward to meeting in person at the WHC?
Jana Bouskava and Elizabeth Hainen.
What’s the most memorable musical performance you’e ever attended?
The first time I ever went to the BBC Proms; it was the Munich Philharmonic with Valery Gergiev conducting. They played Bolero, Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto, a contemporary piece by Galina Ustvolskay, and the Rosenkavalier suite. It was such a brilliant program and the whole experience was a real emotional rollercoaster. I’d never left a concert quite so awed, inspired and moved as a human being.
What’s your most memorable performing experience?
When I performed “Contemplation” back in Singapore at the Arts House when I was 15. I felt really connected with the audience. I remember enjoying performing it so much in the moment and also being really happy with my performance after. I remember thinking to myself, “this is how I want to feel every time I perform,” which really inspired me to work a lot harder. It also made me want to continue performing because I didn’t ever want to forget that feeling!
What advice would you give a young student wanting to start harp?
Take your time learning it. Experiment, find out what kind of pieces you like or don’t like, or finding sounds you do enjoy and those that you don’t. It’s a beautiful instrument that has so many possibilities; and there is no rush at all to explore them all at once. Most of all, have fun!
What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?
My first harp teacher told me once that if you wanted something enough and you worked hard enough, doors would open for you. You are ultimately responsible for how well you do (or vice versa) and also for who you are as a musician; no one else decides that for you.
When you’re not playing the harp what do you like to do?
I am the ultimate foodie. I love cooking and eating!
What’s on your playlist?
Currently, Vulfpeck, Sam Rui, Woodkid and Ariana Grande. I’ve also been listening to a lot of piano concertos recently—Prokofiev’s third is my favorite at the moment!
Finish this sentence: In 10 years I see myself…
…I hope to be happy with where I am in life, and to have my own harp by then.