Playing on a grand scale
From solo recitals to orchestral showpieces, Lim Yan is one of Singapore’s most acclaimed pianists of the past decade. Derek Lim chats with the prolific prodigy
Read reviews of Lim Yan’s past performances, and you’ll find regular references to his ‘lightning speed’ and ‘volcanic energy’ – it sounds exhausting. But all that vitality has made him one of the most prolific – and highly regarded – pianists in Singapore. The 28-year-old seems to be on stage constantly, whether accompanying a singer or choir, as a soloist or part of a chamber ensemble. He recently turned in a blistering solo rendition of Samuel Barber’s finger-breaking Piano Sonata at the Singapore International Piano Festival (as a ‘Young Virtuoso’), and has appeared with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) several times since 2002 (when he was only 22), playing Rachmaninoff’s ‘Paganini Rhapsody’, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s ‘Choral Fantasy’.
The easygoing and affable pianist – scheduled to play a recital with his fellow Young Artist Award winner, SSO violinist Chua Lik Wuk, on 4 September at the Esplanade – found time to talk about his achievements both on and off the stage.
You just finished a recital where you played the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes [a technically challenging composition].
Yes, I was quite satisfied with how it went – could have been worse! I’m planning for another solo recital in November. I have a few broad ideas, but we’ll have to see – I’m thinking of doing song transcriptions of Schubert, the Liszt ‘Erlkönig’ and Godowsky’s transcription of ‘The Trout’. The ‘Erlkönig’ is very demanding but I’ve been working on it for some time now, so hopefully it will be ready.
Apart from solo appearances, you seem to play a lot of chamber music…
I enjoy chamber music very much because of its interplay of ideas. I think it’s very good to play chamber music as it really teaches you to listen very intensely, because you have to react to what everybody else is doing. Because, you know, in concerts, things never go 100 per cent as you want them to go in rehearsals. So you have to be constantly on your toes and react to what happens.
How do the challenges differ between performing chamber music and solo recitals?
Well, for solo recitals it’s just you on stage; all the focus is on you and therefore the pressure is on you. And if I do a solo recital it’s just me, and I have to create everything, whereas in a chamber music setting there’s a partner – or a few partners – to play off each other so you can inspire each other. There are other people on stage so psychologically on stage it feels easier [chuckles], and if you make a mistake other people can cover up for you.
Sounds like a lot of practice. How many hours do you work every day?
Actually, I don’t know if my way of working is usual or not, but I don’t fix myself a number of hours to practise per day. The average amount of practice I do in a day is not important – what’s important is that it’s a sustained amount of it. I see whether I have any engagements on the day and, so, how free I am to practise, and if practice is going well and I’m feeling particularly inspired on a certain day, then I’ll do a little more. If things aren’t going so well, then I’ll do a little bit, do some housework and return to practice the following day.
Do you play anything else other than the piano?
I enjoy chess. I played chess for my university when I was in the UK [studying at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester] and semi-regularly play badminton. In fact, I’ll be going to play tomorrow.
Tell me a little about the recital you have with Chua Lik Wuk.
We first worked on a concert last year, on a friendship basis. The programme was chosen by Lik Wuk. It’s a fairly heavy-going concert, with four sonatas – which is fairly unusual, I think – by Fauré, Beethoven, Mozart and Prokofiev. But to be perfectly candid I do not know the Fauré and Prokofiev yet!
Readers are curious…are you attached?
Ah…can we leave this one out?
Lim Yan will perform alongside Chua Lik Wuk in a violin and piano recital on 4 September.