Kevin Loh: From National Service to President’s Young Performers Concert
Kevin Loh: President’s Young Performers soloist
Twenty-one year-old Kevin Loh has just completed his two-year conscription with the Singapore Armed Forces this August. For most Singaporean young men, it’s a time to celebrate a major marker of adulthood. For Kevin, another milestone beckons: his solo performance with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO). The award-winning musician, who plays classical guitar, will take the stage at the SSO President’s Young Performers Concert on 27 September at the Victoria Concert Hall. If you’ve not heard about Kevin, let us do the honours…
At the age of 12, you were talent-spotted on your YouTube channel by the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in the UK, where subsequent grants from rock band The Rolling Stones, HSBC and the UK government enabled your studies there. How was the experience for you?
I left for the Yehudi Menuhin School in 2010 to pursue my musical as well as regular academic studies. This was just a few months before I turned 13. I returned in 2017 when I was 19.
As clichéd as it may sound, it was truly an eye-opening experience. The Menuhin School is an international school with so many talented young musicians from all over the world. It was where I made many close friends and I feel really privileged to be a part of this incredible family. Most of us are still in touch today and there is always this connection we have as fellow musicians, because of our common passion.
Having spent a third of your life in the UK, what were some highlights?
I remember watching the legendary guitarist John Williams perform at the Menuhin Hall. I also went to the Royal Festival Hall in 2013 to catch the Colin Currie Group perform Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” with Steve Reich himself. I’ve frequently been to the Wigmore Hall too, where I saw the incredible French string quartet Quatuor Ebène, the phenomenal American mandolin player Chris Thile — together with my good friend Singaporean pianist Abigail Sin. (Abigail was a soloist for the SSO President’s Young Performers Concert in 2003). There was also the Canadian violinist James Ehnes. The UK was a place where I got to meet many leading musicians in the field, not just from the UK but from the world over. All of these performances left me incredibly inspired and full of awe.
During your National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces, how did you manage time for practice?
Being a combat engineer in an active stay-in unit, it was tough not being able to plan in advance, so practice time was really random and it really was a luxury. I’ve also had to reject invitations to play in international concerts as well as competitions.
For someone who used to practise five to six hours a day, having that reduced to five to six hours a week got me really worried. Instead of succumbing to physical exhaustion and time limitations, I took advantage of whatever opportunity I had in order to put in as much practice as I could — mental practice was not spared either.
I’ve just completed my NS in August and hope to rebuild the momentum that I had prior to entering NS. I am really pleased that despite all the odds, I have the privilege to perform as this year’s President’s Young Performer.
How are you preparing for the SSO President’s Young Performers Concert?
I’m back to my regular practice routine in order to give my best performance for the concerto. I look forward very much to working with the SSO. I have collaborated with various SSO musicians in the past, including former concertmaster Alexander Souptel as well as flautists Roberto Alvarez and Jin Ta, amongst others — and it’s always been incredibly easy working with them. I’ve also had the honour to give the world premiere of the Guitar Concerto, written by Prof. Bernard Tan, with the SSO in 2013. Having worked with the orchestra before, I know I’ll be in good hands!
What made you pick the Concierto de Aranjuez?
Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez really is the iconic classical guitar concerto, so I knew I had to perform this concerto at least once with our national orchestra.
Rodrigo was a Spanish composer who became blind at the tender age of three, and yet that did not deter him to become one of the biggest composers for Spanish music on the guitar. The second movement, the Adagio, is particularly well known to all of us. Even jazz legend Miles Davis used it in his own album called “Spain”. Unbeknownst to many, the emotions in the Adagio was very personal to Rodrigo as it expressed the devastation at the miscarriage of Rodrigo and his wife’s first pregnancy.
In the audience will be Singapore President Halimah Yacob, whose key platform is inclusivity and serving the underprivileged. What sort of social causes draw you?
With my experiences in the UK and elsewhere, I have been very fortunate to witness many rich and diverse cultures. In 2016, a few of us from the Menuhin School went to the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, France. We helped to bring food and other supplies to the distribution centre, where we worked the production line, preparing food to be sent to the migrants. We gave the first-ever classical concert for the migrants and volunteers, in the famous dome tent in Calais. We really got to connect with them and hear their stories.
One of the causes I’m passionate about is helping to raise funds for underprivileged communities, for them to have more opportunities to experience the arts. Cultural development is such an important part of nation building, and I find it vital to invest efforts to raising awareness of the arts and increasing the public’s exposure to the arts. Through my experience and participation in ChildAid in Singapore, I got to know two specific charities that help this very cause — The Straits Times Pocket Money Fund (STPMF) and the Business Times Budding Artist Fund (BTBAF). I think the mission on the BTBAF states this mission perfectly, “No child, regardless of personal circumstances, should be denied the opportunity to pursue the arts.
Who are your music heroes? Any living musician you particularly admire?
Apart from the usual suspects like British guitarists John Williams and Julian Bream, some of my musical heroes include world-renowned guitarists like Paolo Pegoraro, Pavel Steidl, Rene Izquierdo, and Judicael Perroy.
A living musician whom I particularly admire is British pianist Stephen Hough, who is a Renaissance man in his own right. A concert pianist, composer, artist and a writer, he’s an amazing creative genius and is able to express himself so artistically in all these different mediums. He even wrote a piece for guitar which I’m eagerly looking forward to learning very soon! Another musician I particularly admire is British composer Graham Fitkin. I simply love his style of composition and I enjoy listening to his music very much. It’s my dream to work with him in the future as well.
Hough will be performing with the SSO, on 13 September 2019, details here.
- Joshua Tan, conductor
- Kevin Loh, guitar
- MENDELSSOHN The Fair Melusina Overture, Op. 32
- RODRIGO Concierto de Aranjuez
- REGER Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 132