TAGS #BTS #BOOK #BEHINDTHESCENES #TANGQUARTET
The Revitalised Quartet
If there is anything about Singapore that I’m proud of, it would be the T’ang Quartet.
As a former journalist, columnist and entertainment editor in various newspapers and publications, I’ve had the opportunity to interview many musicians and performers of different genres, both local and international, but classical music has always been what I’ve loved and listened to from the time I was a child so I’ve always been a little partial to classical musicians.
And the T’ang Quartet play at a different level. As a professional quartet they’ve been trained in the finer points of chamber musicianship. They are also Quartet In Residence at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of SIngapore (YST) where they train young musicians in the artistry of quartet performance.
I’ve often referred to them as Singapore’s preeminent string ensemble, for that’s what they are. They’re probably also the best quartet in Southeast Asia – and among the top in Asia. So it is a privilege and an honour to have been asked to write the book that would mark their 30 anniversary.
The question was, where would the story start?
The quartet already had two new members who were happy to have had a connection and were also eager to take on the future, while the two founding members who had retired had respectfully declined to be interviewed for the book when asked.
Which is why we decided to begin the story at Year 30 – with violist Han Oh having already had two years as a permanent member of the quartet while cellist Wang Zihao had a year with the quartet he so admired when they taught him at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.
I spoke to the quartet as a group and individually, and there was a lively mix of emotions during the process.
It is clear the founding members – first violinist Ng Yu-Ying and second violinist Ang Chek Meng – retain their passion for playing in the quartet and have been revitalised by the inclusion of new blood.
There’s understandably some regret, especially over the loss of their two former colleagues but they’ve accepted that they’ve had to part ways and are thankful for the role they played in the quartet’s history.
They’ve lost little of their verve as performers though they often joked that they were old. While very much in touch with their own mortality, they are determined to give the best of what remains of their physical dexterity to achieve new artistic standards of musicality. There is also plenty of admiration from these two technically sublime veterans for their new colleagues.
New member Han has known the guys from the quartet for as long as he has known how to play the viola. The self-confessed quartet geek still looks like he is enjoying his honeymoon with his one true love and this enthusiasm of his would probably last beyond the next 30 years, if he keeps himself from injury. It was fascinating to hear of his varied musical experiences, even playing at the Grammys, and how his experience will help the T’ang Quartet.
Zihao, who made a big leap to join the T’ang Quartet when he relinquished his job as a cellist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, is extremely respectful of his older colleagues. He also often expresses his admiration for them in a very soft-spoken manner. He enjoys the camaraderie while learning and growing musically by observing his more experienced colleagues.
But Zihao pulls his weight as far as being a member of the quartet goes. His colleagues are full of admiration for his talent and are often in praise of his technical proficiency, and very precise pitching.
Technically, this group is more than capable of upholding the very highest standards of the T’ang Quartet. But what will make them transcend that is their wonderful optimism, the abundant mutual respect they have for each other and their willingness to help one another attain their goals. There is a strong feeling of unanimity in this group and a confidence to take on new challenges.
Already, they have benefited from the experience of renewal, and have thrived with the inclusion of two new players.
Would the T’ang Quartet in its current incarnation last another 30 years? I don’t know, but I’d say this group has an excellent chance of achieving what they haven’t already done in the past 30.