Saturday, March 8, 2014

NUS Symphony Orchestra: Reverence

Late last year, a chance reading of an article about an aspiring pianist’s dreams so moved a conductor that he immediately invited her to perform his favourite piano concerto with his orchestra.

“I’m happy to have her, it’s an inspiration for us,” says Maestro Lim Soon Lee of Li Churen, who will be accompanied by the NUS Symphony Orchestra (NUSSO) in Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto this Sunday. Just 18, Churen has already won first prizes at the 2012 Ars Nova International Piano Competition and the Senior Category of the 2011 National Piano and Violin Competition (NPVC).

Saint-Saëns’ music is wildly popular in the classical music scene here. Last year alone, ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ was featured twice - first in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Concerts for Children, then shortly after in ChildAid 2013 - and his concertos were performed by the winners of both the Violin and Piano Artist categories in the 2013 NPVC.

"I think his music requires an almost different set of lenses to look from,” says Churen, a third-year student at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music under Albert Tiu. "He was a staunch supporter of the 'art for art's sake' movement, it's almost as if for him, music did not have to do anything other than be beautiful. I'm learning to sit back and enjoy the scenery in the music.”

The Piano Concerto No. 2 was famously removed from the set list of pieces for the NPVC after being performed by all three grand finalists in 2005. When the ‘ban’ was lifted last year, the concerto spared no time making a reappearance, garnering the top spot for Yap Sin Yee, also a student of Albert Tiu’s.

Besides Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto, the NUSSO will be completing the programme with Mendelssohn’s most famous symphony, nicknamed the ‘Italian’, as well as Smetana’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Die Moldau’ from Má vlast.

“Between the musicians and me, we are 30 years apart, bound by a common love for music,” Maestro Lim muses. “I want the audience to share in that joy we feel.” Join Li Churen and the NUSSO under the baton of Maestro Lim Soon Lee this Sunday, 7.30pm at the University Cultural Centre Hall.