By applying through the international auditions during his penultimate year at Eastman School of Music, Lien Boon Hua has become the Assistant Conductor to the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice since October 2016.
“There are only two National orchestras in Poland; the other being the Warsaw Philharmonic. Hence, I am very honoured to be part of this well documented group which has a lot of recordings on NAXOS with Anthoni Wit in the 80s and 90s, especially with the Mahler Symphonies, Bach Symphonies and Penderecki Concertos.”
During his stint with the orchestra, Boon Hua took part in a few competitions so that he can be more exposed to live audience, and other people around the world through the live-streams in each competition. Just in the last two months, he has participated in two competitions, one in Poland, and the other in Spain.
“I didn’t do as well in Spain but stayed for the whole competition, watching a couple of my colleagues advance, and of which, one of them won. These people are mostly Assistant Conductors in big places, between late 20s and early 30s. For example, the girl that I am great friends with, is assistant to Riccardo Muti in Chicago; the person who won second prize is an assistant in one of the orchestras in Paris; and the other, an assistant conductor in Netherlands. We are all in the same position, with the same experiences, and I really learned a lot from them.”
“For me, I realised that competitions are great opportunities for me to get closer to the pieces. I have to go through an intense preparation process and think about what I exactly want to do in the music. It is unlike a masterclass where some things are sorted out and some not; in a competition, everything must be sorted out. So even if I didn’t do well in a competition, I would have grown and learned a lot, making myself better for the next!”
With numerous projects lined up for Boon Hua, the orchestra’s program director plays a huge role in the music programming for the entire season.
“For example, for a subscription concert in February, we discussed the possibility of doing Firebird and Prokofiev Piano First Concerto. I also intended to do a work by a Polish Composer Karol Szymanowski, which I very much loved, but she decided that it may not be suitable.”
“In other projects however, such as community concerts in our hall, we discussed about fun carnival music such as Strauss’ operettas, which are difficult to conduct but yet, very related to the audience. Different scenarios require different sets of discussions, but most importantly, the musicians have to be flexible and adapt to the conductor.”
As music director of Orchestra Collective (OC) in Singapore, Boon Hua often spends an extensive time with Jeremy Lee (general manager) to discuss the repertoire for its projects.
“I have a special taste in music – there are some that I enjoy, but others that doesn’t touch me in certain ways. I remember Bertram Wee‘s piece clearly, Wild of Heart was very well written, a huge surprise but fun and challenging. It was very incredible.”
“OC is a project about young aspiring and ambitious Singaporean musicians who need the extra boost. It is almost like a forum where they come and discuss about playing together, which is an healthy interaction although they come from different schools. With a few projects this year, I have to ensure a high standard of music from these musicians, which explains why I have become more picky in my rehearsals with them. We have to up our game and make a statement about Singaporean music and musicians; this is our time and we can do this.”
Of the many repertoire and composers that Boon Hua likes, he enjoys Mozart the most.
“Mozart is very pure and innocent. I remember vividly about assisting my boss in Symphony 35 with an orchestra in Czech. We met in the morning of the second rehearsal, and coincidentally but sadly, Trump has won the election that day. When we got to the room, my boss addressed the orchestra briefly, before starting to rehearse the symphony. That one hour of Mozart was simply joyous, making me forget about all the bad in the world. That moment really struck me because Mozart is such a charm and a certain joy – I never realised it was as powerful as sitting through a Mahler symphony, just different.”
“Then after, when I was doing Mahler in Poland, I strived very hard to achieve that level of music-making where there is no need to do a lot, but yet everyone understands well enough to be in the moment.”
In a bid to expose his musicians to appreciate Mozart and his music, Boon Hua specially requested to do Gran Partita during his recent reading with OC.
“For most people, or myself as a trombone player, I don’t play anything Mozart. I barely play Beethoven even. In fact, only when I started listening to or conducting orchestral music, then I realized how important Mozart is, and how I’ve been missing out on his music.”
“It is easy to think that Mozart is very boring, and that his music all sounds the same, but when you have a real relationship, it can be absolutely powerful in an innocent way.”
As Boon Hua seeks to complete his Doctorate in Orchestral Conducting after the end of his contract in September this year, he intends to have his next position in the States so that he can be with his family.
“I hope to keep up the guest opportunities to conduct more orchestras, and hopefully work in a big orchestra like I am now, which I am super grateful for. It would be a big learning opportunity to be able to join one, and for me to become a better conductor than I was before.”