Interview with Igor Yuzefovich and Pei-Sian Ng | The Flying Inkpot

Igor Yuzefovich, former concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and joint concertmaster of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Ng Pei-Sian, principal cellist of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra play together again for one night with re:Sound in a program of Janáček’s Idyll for String Orchestra, Carl Vine’s ‘Inner World’ for Cello and Chamber Orchestra, Christopher Theofanidis’ The World is Aflame and Shostakovich/Barshai’s Chamber Symphony Op.110a.

Aileen Tang catches up with them to find out more.

The Flying Inkpot: Igor and Pei-Sian, wonderful to have you reunited for re:Sound’s concert this month! And welcome back to Singapore, Igor! It’s great to be able to listen to you play again! What makes you keep coming back to Singapore?

Igor Yuzefovich: Singapore was my family’s home for almost 5 years – the people here welcomed us into their homes, their hearts and their cultures. We loved living here, we made wonderful new friends here and we had the chance to share our knowledge and artistry with the people of Singapore. Our daughter was born here and will hopefully forever feel a certain connection to this land. With all that in mind – it would be silly to not want to come back as often as one can!

Igor Yuzefovich

TFI: What do you miss most about Singapore?

Igor: There are always trivial things that one misses, such as the variety of the food, the warm sun and the close proximity of some other exotic destinations. But I think some of the things I probably miss the most are the friendships that were made both within the musical scene and outside of it and the eagerness to learn on the part of the students that I had a chance to work with.  

TFI: Pei-Sian, your performance repertoire is getting more and more diverse with each year! What’s on your wish list that you hope to perform one day? 

Ng Pei-Sian: Kabalevsky Cello Concerto No.2, Tavener’s “The Protecting Veil” and a lot of chamber works. 

TFI: You’ve performed Carl Vine’s Inner World for cello and tape twice in Singapore. How different will it be at re:Sound’s concert with chamber orchestra be – for you and for the audience? 

Pei-Sian: Three times in fact! The most recent was at the Red Sea Art gallery in Dempsey Hill.

TFI: Ah, I missed one!

Pei-Sian: The chamber arrangement is really not too far from the original version – the tape will still be an integral part of the sound-world of this unique piece. 

Ng Pei-Sian

TFI: Igor, you’ve worked in many different places with their own cultures and habits when it comes to the arts. How have some of these cultures – say in Singapore or Hong Kong – influenced your perspectives on music? Is it true that music is indeed the international language or does that only apply to a specific type of music? 

Igor: It is perhaps the most overused cliché in the musical world, but as many clichés go, it has a great amount of truth to it.  Music is indeed a universal language. Everyone understands music – whether it’s classical, pop, rock, hip-hop or any other genre.  Any sound can convey a wealth of emotions, evoke memories, or inspire thoughts. Having worked in different cultural environments has certainly given me a new understanding of how the music language is different from the spoken words. What you cannot explain in words – you can show with music.  It is the bridge between cultures, languages, peoples.   

TFI: Is there a genre that you haven’t had a chance to explore but would like to?

Igor: Like many classically trained musicians, I would love the chance to learn to improvise better. When we are in school – we are taught to rely on and interpret what’s on the page. Many well-known classical musicians have found a way to free themselves of this binding and have even found a way to interlace the different genres.    

TFI: What is your personal view of the value of chamber music, especially with some of the misconceptions that people may have about its inaccessibility?

Igor: Anyone who feels that chamber music has any degree of inaccessibility is gravely mistaken. It does, of course, come down to taste – some prefer the big lush Romantic orchestral works, some prefer the edgy, contemporary sounds, some prefer solo piano recitals. Everyone has their preference, but none of those should ever be viewed as a value of accessibility. Music is universal – as we said before. It is and CAN be accessible to everyone and anyone – the only challenge in this is how it is being presented to those for whom it’s not “their cup of tea”. Music education is vital – not just in Conservatories around the world but for the general audience.  

The audience of the modern day is very different from the audience of say 50 years ago – not in who we are but in how we perceive, what we are brought up on, and what defines our tastes.  We are very much reliant on how things are packaged – there are businesses spending millions of dollars researching and developing their brands to make a bigger visual splash than their closest competitor. I feel that the classical music “business” is far behind the times on this – and as a result of wanting to catch up we often are “adjusting” the wrong side of the product.  Instead of simplifying the programmes, or presenting just “the favorites”, we need to be educating the audience, presenting concerts in a way that is more exciting to the first-time audience members without devaluating the experience that an experienced audience member receives. It is a tricky balance, but one I think is vital to our survival.

Chamber music is just one of the means through which this could be accomplished. The flexibility of the repertoire, ensemble makeup and the venue can provide a great vehicle for musical education. Not to mention the fabulous musical experience.  

TFI: The two of you have played together many times – as soloists and as colleagues in the SSO. What is your favourite thing about playing with each other?

Igor: Pei-Sian and I have enjoyed a wonderful musical and personal friendship over the years – I think we are very much on the same wavelength when we perform and I know that I can always count on being continually inspired by him when working with him.

Pei-Sian: I don’t have to tell you that Igor is a brilliant musician. His bow arm is beautiful and nothing seems a challenge to him! Our rehearsals are usually efficient, not much discussion is made, and we seem to understand each other well – as good friends do.

TFI: What do you think Igor misses most about you?

Pei-Sian: My unwavering honesty! 

TFI: Tell us about your favourite experience of working with each other.

Pei-Sian: I will never forget when we performed Beethoven’s Triple Concerto together. The month of the concert, his beautiful daughter Sophie had arrived. Meanwhile I was suffering with tendonitis from a gym injury. We were both navigating all sorts of mental and physical distraction but we still survived the concert! 

Igor: Pei-Sian has a wonderful natural ability to make every performance different and very individual.  That makes choosing a favorite moment nearly impossible!

TFI: So what can we look forward to at this concert with re:Sound? 

Pei-Sian: An eclectic programme, most of which will surprise, delight and perhaps challenge!

Igor: Definitely wonderful musical experiences!

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