Interview with Chan Yoong-Han 2014

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Joshua Tan Kang Ming, conductor, Chan Yoong-Han, violin. photo: Gerard Chia

Violinist Chan Yoong-Han plays the Sibelius concerto with the Orchestra of the Music-Makers on 13 August 2014 at the Esplanade, 7:30pm. TFI caught up with him to learn more.

by Chay Choong and Derek Lim

He’s only 39, but violinist Chan Yoong-Han’s musical footprints have long made their mark over Singapore. 2000 Shell-NAC Arts Scholar and the winner of the 2004 NAC Young Artist Award in Singapore, Chan is First Violin FIxed Chair at the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, but his musical exploits include solo work, chamber music and more. if you’ve watched the Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of the Music Makers or the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra lately, you’re likely to have seen and heard him. We spoke to him about his upcoming concert with the OMM, where he plays the Sibelius concerto, one of the great 20th century concertos.

‘Sibelius’ music is very nationalistic,’ says Chan, ‘And it portrays the Finnish landscape and culture vividly through music. In fact, many would argue  that the nationalistic fervour in Finland is, until today, still very much inspired by his music.’

Although he wrote seven symphonies, which he is best known for, Sibelius only wrote one concerto, and as Chan explains, the concerto is very much symphonic in nature and the solo violin is merely a texture/voice in the overall picture/story. ‘The most convincing live performance I have heard if this work was by the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Leif Segerstam in 2002 at the Victoria Concert Hall,’ says Chan, ‘Interestingly, the performance was so memorable that I had forgotten who the violin soloist was! (Ed: It was Réka Szilvay). For once, I was drawn into every musical element presented so vividly in the performance that my focus was no longer on the soloist only.’

Born into a musical family where his violinist father (also his teacher) ‘banned’ his children from listening to pop music, Chan first heard the Sibelius concerto at age ten and started learning to play it at 16, the same year he gave his first recital at the Victoria Concert Hall, but his first performance of it was only in 2009, where he played with the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra.

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Sibelius (right) with Thomas Beecham (left)

Despite the Straits Times’ description of his performance then as being technically masterful and magisterial, Chan has his reservations with the work. ‘I have always felt my interpretation of this concerto is somewhat inadequate as I have never visited any Nordic countries’ he reveals, ‘However in the past few years, I have been fortunate to have played frequently under many renowned Finnish conductors such as Osmo Vänskä, Okko Kamu and Petri Sakari.  Their faithful interpretive approach to Sibelius has been quite enlightening and has given me a clearer perspective in my exploration of this concerto.’

He adds that most violinists, in the process of muscling through its technically demanding passages, succumb to aimless virtuosity or over-indulgence in the music.

This will be his first solo performance with the OMM, which he has worked with since its inception six years ago. ‘I have been OMM’s leader-mentor since its inaugural concert in 2008,’ says Chan, ‘OMM has developed and grown into an integral part of our local musical scene. I feel proud and privileged to be able to make music and connect with this group of highly charged young music enthusiasts. I certainly look forward to performing this concerto with OMM, not forgetting this concert’s guest conductor, Joshua Tan Kangming, who has been my friend and match-maker since army days. I was introduced to my wife, Cindy, through Joshua!’

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