Modern Mozarts

Published on 26 April 2017

Meet the league of young Singaporeans making waves with their sparkling orchestral compositions.

BY MELANIE LEE

CHEN ZHANGYI, 32

Assistant Professor
(Music Composition)
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
Listen to his music at soundcloud.com/chen-zhangyi

How did you become a composer?
I started out playing violin and piano like many young kids, and one thing led to another. It’s like being in a playground full of amazing sounds!

What’s your work like?
The initial composing part is done in solitude. However, once the piece is done, the rehearsing and performing phases bring all the hard work to fruition by creating new sound-worlds.

Tell us about one of your compositions.
‘Window Shopping’ is a chamber opera (two singers and a chamber ensemble) that is the most-performed of all my works. It infuses a variety of musical styles such as French Impressionist and pop.

ZHANG KANGYI, 31

Photos: Zhang Kangyi

Media Director,
Composer-Flutist at Chamber Circle,
Scientist at Institute of Materials Research and Engineering
Listen to his music at soundcloud.com/kangyi-zhang

How did you become a composer?
I have always been intrigued by the huge palette of sounds when we combine all the instruments in an orchestra.

What’s your work like?
While I consider myself very traditional, I do use contemporary instrument techniques when appropriate for the subject matter.

Tell us about one of your compositions.
My favorite one is a trombone concerto titled ‘Let Freedom Ring!’ The piece premiered this March with American trombonist Wes Lebo and revolves around significant events of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

TERRENCE WONG, 28

Composer-in-Residence at the Singapore Wind Symphony,
Assistant Band Instructor for three schools
Listen to his music at terrencewong89.wixsite.com/twfy-sg

How did you become a composer?
While studying for my Diploma in Music Performance at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, I wrote my first proper wind band work, ‘Threnody’. Later, I submitted my first orchestral work ‘Two Moods for Orchestra’ to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composers’ Workshop, and it was one of the three chosen to be performed by the Orchestra.

What’s your work like?
I try to write music that audiences can relate to, but my works also challenge them to accept unorthodox methods of expression at the same time.

Tell us about one of your compositions.
My latest work, ‘Monsoon’, is for solo erhu, oud and tabla with wind band. It is a set of symphonic dances commissioned by the Singapore Wind Symphony. It was really challenging  — yet fulfilling — to write music that did justice to the three ethnic instruments’ traditions, while marrying it with the Western wind band.

PHANG KOK JUN, 28

Freelance Composer,
Composer-in-residence for Ding Yi Music Company
Listen to his music at
www.phangkokjun.com

How did you become a composer?
I only started composing at 20 when I was serving National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces Music & Drama Company. Even though I wasn’t initially studying music in university, I ended up making the jump and started over at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

What’s your work like?
I would probably describe it as diverse. Besides Western classical music, I’m also influenced by Chinese traditional music, having grown up playing the erhu. I also listen to a lot of jazz and show tunes, as well as soundtracks from movies and games.

Tell us about one of your compositions.
I believe in writing music for children, including the Esplanade’s Feed Your Imagination (an arts programme for primary and secondary school students) and experimental theatre show Child’s Play (for children ages seven to 10). It’s important to cultivate a new generation of concertgoers.

DIANA SOH, 32

Photos: Diana Soh

Composer
Listen to her music at soundcloud.com/diana-soh

How did you become a composer?
I have always been more attracted to less conventional sounds, and the orchestral world, for me, is a hugely conventional institution. I wanted to see if I could still write my music under these constraints.

What’s your work like?
If I could use words to communicate my music, then you won’t really need to listen to my music, would you?

Tell us about one of your compositions.
My most memorable orchestral work has to be ‘…//…’ I wrote it while pregnant and finished it a day before my daughter was born. Three months later, it was performed and I brought her up on stage with me when I took my bow.

EMILY KOH, 31

Photos: Emily Koh

Assistant Professor of Composition
University of Georgia
Listen to her music at emilykoh.net

How did you become a composer?
When I studied at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, students were encouraged to compose orchestra works to be performed at a yearly orchestra reading session. From there, I was commissioned to write pieces for various orchestras.

What’s your work like?
My work is generally introspective. It contemplates difficult questions on what it means to be a human being.

Tell us about one of your compositions.
Because I constantly try to improve from my previous works, I tend to favour my newer works. My latest orchestral work is ‘Jia[k]’, commissioned by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

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