Sweet swansong from Mr Han, SSO Principal Horn
On 13 March, our Principal Horn Han Chang Chou (also known as Han Xiao Guang), will present Mozart’s elegant Horn Concerto No. 2, among other works with the SSO in an 80-minute concert without intermission.
The concert marks Chang Chou’s retirement later this year as Principal Horn, celebrating his four-decade career in music – a large part of which he had dedicated to leading the SSO horn section.
Chang Chou began studying the French horn at 13 and his father, renowned horn player Han Xian Guang, was his first mentor. Raised in a musical family, Chang Chou’s uncle and younger brother are also horn players and professors. His other teachers include Liang Kechao, Barry Tuckwell, Douglas Hill, Hans Pizka, Philip Myers, and Gerd Seifert. Chang Chou joined the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 1987.
Affectionately addressed as “Xiao Guang” or “Mr Han” by colleagues and students alike, Chang Chou has been Professor of the French horn at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore, since 2003. Last year, he accepted the invitation to become resident horn faculty member at the new Tianjin Juilliard.
My first day at the SSO seems like just yesterday. At the time, the Victoria Concert Hall was undergoing renovation, and we had rehearsals at the PUB building at Somerset with conductor Lim Yau. Thirty-three years have passed, and I have lived half my life in Singapore — settling down and starting a family where we now have two adult children. I’m grateful to SSO founding music director and conductor Choo Hoey, for his trust in me. When I joined the SSO, I was still young and did not have much experience. For all the progress and results I have achieved today, I will always be grateful to SSO.
On the life of a musician
“Choosing music is like choosing a way of life, an attitude. I always tell students, ‘Learning music will not make you very wealthy. You must know that life will be simple.’ It will be a simple life, but a happy life.
“And I can sense it in many young musicians. They are very thrifty, and prefer to spend on instruments, scores, or travelling to find instructors to help improve their skills. This is our kind of life, as a musician.”
On his onward focus on teaching
“I like young musicians that are inquisitive, curious – and bold enough to ask questions. Other characteristics will take time to develop – the ability to handle stress for instance. The adrenaline from stage performances can be very exciting, sometimes too much for some to bear. Something like the BBC Proms can really be overwhelming.
“The life of a professional musician is hard; when you don’t play well, not everyone will bother to tell you. The discipline to practise and improve is vital.”
His wish for younger musicians
“2020 marks my 33rd year in the Singapore. I’m eager to develop younger talent among horn players here. That gives me the motivation. My wish is that our younger musicians will far exceed us, by working hard, practising, and refining their musical sense. At my age, I’m still learning. I still have to learn and grow.”
Farewell wishes for Mr Han
Mr Han has been a much-valued and much-loved member of the SSO throughout his long tenure. His exceptional musicianship has been a highlight of so many concerts over the years, but I especially want to commend the warmth of his personality, his deep love for music, and his devotion to the SSO. I join everyone in wishing him much joy as he embarks on a new chapter in his career.
Xiao Guang, congratulations to you on ‘graduating’ with an A+ from the SSO! You have such unique qualities, not just as a wonderful musician with passion and curiosity, but also as a wonderful human being. Your great warmth, empathy and solidarity have boosted the spirit of unity at the SSO through the years. Thank you, Xiao Guang!
In addition to being one of the most warm and kind human beings I have ever met, Mr Han is without question one of the most gifted horn players of his generation and one of the most fearless & poetic musicians I have ever had the pleasure of sharing the stage with. Every time I watch and hear him play it is like taking a lesson. He is a treasured colleague and he will be deeply missed. I wish him all the best with his future endeavours!
Mr Han has been a true inspiration to me over the years with his effortless playing, perfect embouchure and super human endurance and his ability to play the most stunning pianissimos. He is a very kind and generous man and a close friend! Mr Han is also a wonderful teacher. The Tianjin Juilliard School is very blessed to have him and I wish him the very, very best in the exciting next phase of his life.
Xiaoguang, congratulations on your perfect ‘graduation’ from the SSO! In our 32 years as colleagues, we have witnessed its growth together, from a fledgling group to a mature orchestra. Sharing this journey with you has been my great honour. You have continually proven yourself to be a musician with the utmost perseverance and rigour, where your fine temperament is matched by your great sense of responsibility and selfless nature. We look forward to hearing about more successes on your next challenge, where a new life in teaching awaits!
Bravi and thank you for all the years of great music, Mr Han!
Catch Mr Han at a special farewell SSO concert, 13 March, Victoria Concert Hall, 7.30pm: