Concert Preview – TFI interviews Kevin Zhu for ‘Kevin Zhu Plays Shostakovich’| The Flying Inkpot
by Aileen Tang
Last February, Singapore audiences were wowed by the American violinist Kevin Zhu’s performance of the full set of Paganini’s 24 Caprices. Kevin, whose playing was described by the Straits Times as possessing “purity and robustness of tone…allied with matchless intonation”, returns to our shores this month with a double treat: a solo recital with pianist Akira Eguchi and Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto no. 1 with Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) and conductor Chan Tze-Law.
‘Holding the violin always felt natural’, says Kevin, 23, over Zoom, where he appears surprisingly fresh after a flight from Berlin. Playing the violin was an integral part of his childhood in Cupertino, California – he started learning the violin at 3 – and as he grew up, says Kevin, ‘the violin grew with me’. His musical journey led him to clinch top prizes for the junior category of the 2012 Yehudi Menuhin Competition at age 11 and the 2018 Paganini Competition, aged 17.
Though it was the influence of his father, who played Chinese folk songs on the violin at home, that first led Kevin to the instrument, he iterates how much he loves listening to all genres of music. For his upcoming concert with OMM, he will take on Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1 – a piece whose technical virtuosity and emotional intensity have long appealed to him, and which he has long wanted to play. Happily, the OMM were equally up to attempting the technical challenges of the work that Kevin proposed (it was originally meant to have been the Sibelius).
A born musical communicator, his wish to communicate has led him to find other outlets of expression – though not many, his website has reflections (which he calls Musings) on teaching, tips for finding good restaurants, and philosophical thoughts on topics such as beauty and the seasons. In one, he talks about subtlety, which may explain his understated treatment last year of Paganini’s otherwise exhibitionist Caprices.
Kevin views writing as “another pathway and another form of expression”. He shares that he had always struggled with writing in school and thus he wanted to reframe his perspective on writing, applying what he had gleaned from expression through music to writing – a different script, a different medium but with the same intent.
Refreshingly for a performer, he has none of the sometimes stereotypical neuroticisms that musicians have – when asked about any pre-concert habits or rituals he may have, Kevin laughs that he doesn’t have anything essential that he must do before he goes on stage. Jet lag might perhaps be the biggest potential concern but even then, it’s not much of an issue – In fact, there isn’t much that bothers him when it comes to trans-Atlantic flights and living out of a suitcase when he is touring. Kevin loves travelling – and it’s a good thing he does because ‘it’s a long flight from the US to Singapore’. Almost immediately after his concert on 21 January, he flies back to the US for a tour with Jan Vogler (cello) and Andrew Armstrong (piano), but not before he explores more of Singapore.
‘Singapore is not too different from New York,’ he says, in that both cities boast immense diversity. Having already discovered the huge variety of food we have, he looks forward this time to discovering more of the ‘human’ side of our city-state.
And we certainly look forward to experiencing what is sure to be another fantastic performance from him.
Kevin Zhu plays Shostakovich
RAVEL – La Valse
SHOSTAKOVICH – Violin Concerto No. 1
TCHAIKOVSKY – Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”
Sunday 21 January 2024, 5pm
Esplanade Concert Hall
Orchestra of the Music Makers
Chan Tze Law, conductor
Kevin Zhu, violin
Tickets for Kevin Zhu plays Shostakovich can be purchased from Sistic