More Than Music: From Me To You – We Interview Loh Jun Hong, Abigail Sin and Ng Pei-Sian | The Flying Inkpot
Besides the tried-and-tested duo of violinist Loh Jun Hong and pianist Abigail Sin, the More Than Music series – founded by Loh and Sin – is also known for its star-studded list of guest musicians. Cellist Ng Pei-Sian returns to play with them for the third time and Aileen Tang chats with all three to find out more about their collaboration and chemistry.
The Flying Inkpot: Let’s go right back to the beginning of More Than Music. How long has it been?
Loh Jun Hong: We’re almost starting our 10-year anniversary season actually! We started in 2013 and our first concert was in December 2013. So I think starting from the end of this year, we’ll be starting the entire year of our 10th anniversary.
TFI: So you could actually bring back all the guest musicians you’ve had from over the past 10 years!
LJH: That could be cool!
TFI: Whether live or virtually, it could be to be a whole year’s worth of celebration!
LJH: We were also thinking whether we should do some of the bigger chamber works including more people, whether it’s sextets, octets or something like that.
TFI: Is there a piece that you really want to do?
LJH: I’ve always wanted to do [Tchaikovsky’s] Souvenir de Florence [for String Sextet]. I really like that piece.
TFI: Let’s talk about the whole concept of More Than Music, Jun Hong and Abigail, for your newer fans, what is the concept of More Than Music?
Abigail Sin: Well, I think we basically just want audiences to be able to enjoy and experience these works as vividly as we do as musicians. Too often, in classical music concert experiences, people are expected to arrive at the hall, sit in silence, clap, don’t talk and then just go home straight after that. It’s not very welcoming and it’s not very enjoyable. It’s the idea that classical music is meant to be good for you, but it’s not necessarily a really enjoyable evening out that you want to bring friends to. And so we wanted to create an experience where people are not going to feel intimidated by classical music. They’re there to have a good time, the musicians create this vibe where it’s like you’re at a house party. You’re at an intimate concert with friends and you’re talking to them or someone might crack a joke or two. We just really want them to experience that. We enjoy this, we enjoy this music, we enjoy playing each other and we enjoy sharing this music with you. So let’s have this shared space together. That’s definitely a big part of our mission where people can enjoy themselves, bring friends and basically just spread the word that chamber music is really, really cool.
LJH: I think when we first started it, what was always on my mind was comparing it to a restaurant. When you go to a restaurant, whether you enjoy the meal or not is not just about how good the food was. It’s the service, the people you go with, the atmosphere, the ambiance. And that’s what we wanted to create. For More Than Music, concerts, what we try to do is give a complete experience. It’s a series where people will be comfortable bringing their friends and introducing them to a good time enjoying music together.
Ng Pei-Sian: What I quite like about More Than Music concerts is that you don’t have programme notes. A lot of the time if I’m an audience member, I might get bored and I just start reading. But here, you’re fully engaged in the concert. You’re introduced to the background or bits of information that might be relevant to the work from the performers themselves. It’s more personal and it’s always fun to watch Jun Hong speak to the audience as well!
LJH: What?! You mean you!
NPS: I don’t know what I sound like but I know what you sound like!
LJH: I think when we first worked with Pei-Sian on More Than Music, he wanted to make sure his introduction or whatever he said had a really good flow, but now he’s like, “No, I’m just gonna wing it and make it amazing!”
NPS: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to the audience because that’s something I’ve always had a fear about. But having the opportunity and just pushing myself to do it – even if it’s a failure – it’s been really good for me, just to find my voice.
AS: The cool thing about speaking about the music is you really feel that the audience is on your side. They really want to enjoy this. They’re not there to listen for wrong notes or whether you cracked your sound. So if you give them a way in and you give them a window to see, “hey, this is what we love about the music”, they get really psyched up to just enjoy the performance, so it’s almost like if you say something and you play it, they’re going to love it because they are fully prepped to enjoy the experience.
TFI: It’s not just going there to listen to musicians play a piece of music – it’s also hearing what that piece of music means to them.
Is there anything that you haven’t done that you would like to do? You’ve of course talked about the music, you’ve had More Than Music and Wine, and you had something with film as well. Is there anything that is “more than music” that you would like to explore?
LJH: We did the commission with the animation on Haruki Murakami’s short story last year. [Ed: watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awXRIJdQIJY] We are talking about doing another one but we’re still not sure when we’re launching that. I enjoyed the process of working with Jonathan on the Murakami and we are exploring doing another one with him. Perhaps this time with Pei-Sian on board so it will be a piano trio. And we think maybe this time, it could be narrated by us instead of a separate narrator – so one of those stories where the musicians are the characters in the story. We’re still exploring that.
AS: We’re always looking out for opportunities to make the concert experience itself as creative and as enjoyable as possible. The visual element of what a concert looks like and what people see when they enter the space is something that’s important to us. We’ve worked with a photographer before in the concert experience itself, and we’re always on the lookout for ways to just tie in visual elements with our themes.
TFI: Just now we were talking about all the guests you’ve had with More Than Music. Well, Pei-Sian is one of those who keeps coming back! Pei-Sian, what makes you want to keep coming back, and why does More Than Music want to keep having him back?
NPS: It’s so easy for me to want to come back to More Than Music because I feel that these two musicians are so great. They bring me up to my potential and they also spark my imagination. And I feel like we’re also speaking the same language. I think if I’m honest, Abigail’s more cerebral in the way she sees music, and Jun Hong is also a very great thinker but he also trusts his instincts. I feel like I have both sides to me as well, so I really connect well with both of them. And I mean with the greatest praise.
LJH: Yes, I fully agree with Pei-Sian. When we’re working on things like the Schumann Quintet (Ed: “In Good Company Again” in September 2021), we would feel the phrases instinctually and very similarly.
NPS: It’s like when I have an idea of a specific concept or color and I don’t even have to explain it to Jun Hong.
AS: With More Than Music, you have these amazing musicians that challenge you and it makes us better musicians. It makes me a better musician playing with Pei-Sian and Jun Hong, and I really love working with them. Sometimes we might have differences in rehearsal, but it’s those differences that help to shape the performance into what it will be.
LJH: I think what’s really nice about our chamber concerts is that you have familiar faces. You’re working with people you know and with your friends. And I think it brings out the best in chamber music, if you compare it with a fixed quartet that rehearses three times a week. My friends and colleagues tell me that if you’re in a professional quartet, you’ll definitely have arguments with the other members because you see each other too often. I think why it’s really nice for us is because it’s regular, but also infrequent. So when we come together each time to work on new repertoire, it’s always fresh and always inspiring. A lot of the time, we’re playing music we’ve never played before, so we’re discovering pieces with people that we know and love. I think what I really enjoy about these More Than Music concerts is that we have few enough rehearsals that everything is super, super fresh.
TFI: Have you had instances where it just takes a lot more work to make it come together because you don’t play together often enough?
LJH: I’ve actually worked with great musicians who upon the first rehearsal or read-through, things just click. The best and most fun times is when it just happens, and when there’s the ability to be able to compromise and also inspire at the same time – to have that free flow of sharing ideas, communication and respect.
During the COVID period, we did a Beethoven series for all the violin sonatas [Ed: Recorded July to September 2020] We had three different musical partners and that was quite interesting. They were all incredible musicians, but each one of them was so different. I think it’s not as simple as “Oh, it’s easy or it’s not easy to work with people”, but it’s almost like playing with another person changes you. It’s like how when you are with your primary school friends, you’re a certain way but when you’re with your army friends, you’re a different way. So I feel that when I’m playing with different people, it brings about a change in the music that I play.
Abigail and I have known each other for a long time and have played together for a long time, and there are certain things that she does that I understand very quickly. But sometimes with a new piece, we might think of it very differently and it might be surprising for both of us as well. And then we would find a way to meet in the middle and work together.
TFI: Do you think you can see a possibility in the future where there is a More Than Music that you’re not personally involved in as a musician?
AS: I think we because we feel so strongly about the series and we love playing with the people that we invite, at this moment there is no need to have More Than Music without either one of us. For example, if we do Souvenir De Florence, I’m obviously not playing in that and I will have sit out that half of the concert. We’ve also done concerts where Jun Hong and I only played together for one piece. [Ed: “Side By Side” in March 2017] I played with my teacher, Thomas Hecht, and then he played with Ng Yu-Ying, and so there was actually not a lot of me and Jun Hong on stage together. More Than Music is a community and people come knowing that they’re going to hang out with familiar faces. And I think for now we are going to be a part of that.
Tickets for More Than Music: From Me To You are available from https://frommetoyou.peatix.com/
Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello
Martinu Cello Sonata No. 3
Beethoven Piano Trio, Op. 97 “Archduke“
Sat 18 and Sun 19 June, 7.30pm
Esplanade Recital Studio