Behind the Maestro: Mrs Mary Seah

It was an intensive week in March this year for Maestro Kahchun Wong as he finally returned home after completing two full house concerts with the Nuremberg Symphony, a high profile radio broadcast with BR Klassik, and numerous interviews.

“When I was first approached by this wonderful orchestra to be their next Chief Conductor, I was at first unsure if I was ready for the challenge. Working with my musicians and performing to a very supportive audience this week has finally cemented the fact that Nuremberg will be my musical home for the upcoming years,” said Kahchun.

Nuremberg, is the birthplace of German Composer Johann Pachelbel, who played the organ in the St. Sebaldus Church which is still surviving till today. Nuremberg is located at the crossroads of several trade routes and has long played an important historical role. For example, its annual Christmas Market is famous throughout Europe.

“Because Nuremberg possesses a rich musical tradition, it is something special to now be a part of the cultural life of the city.”

Kahchun’s first week saw several familiar Singaporean faces who turned up to his concerts.

The Singapore ambassador to Germany Mr Laurence Bay, came from Berlin despite the heavy snow, and his German professor from NUS (National University of Singapore) also came with her parents who were living nearby.

Most prominently, Kahchun’s music teacher who used to teach him MEP in Raffles Junior College (RJC), Mrs Mary Seah (now Principal of Tanjong Katong Girls’ School) also flew in from Singapore.

“I remember the days when I was a year one student at RJC. We were going to have a concert at the Esplanade, and I asked Mrs Seah (then HoD of the music department) if I could compose a symphony bringing together the Symphonic Band and the String Ensemble.

Without any hesitation, she accepted my proposal, and even encouraged me to conduct my own piece in the concert.

But I sat on this idea till January, and didn’t do anything at all. We were supposed to practice on the work in February and nothing was done by then. Everyone was terrified,” Kahchun recalled.

It was then when Mrs Seah called him to the room, and patiently but yet politely asked him if he could complete the work.

“She spoke to me as though how two adults would speak, and asked me what I needed to complete my work. I requested for a laptop, which she loaned from the music room to me; and a period of two weeks, in which she took me out of class for that duration I needed to compose my music. She even booked a lab for me to compose my music in peace.

Every time at lunch, she would come by with food, stay with me till 8pm to finish my work, and sometimes send me home.”

With his teacher’s encouragement, Kahchun’s work was finally ready two weeks before the actual concert. He conducted the RJC combined orchestra at the newly constructed Esplanade at the age of 17 in April 2004.

Titled ‘Vox Stellarum Symphony‘, it eventually became the inspiration for his two band works ‘Warrior’s Dream’ and ‘Overture to Vox Stellarum’.

“This was the same person that came to my concerts in Germany. I am very grateful to her and she has changed my life. She has taught me to be responsible, and as a professional musician, we have to promise and deliver.”

Mrs Seah attended every single rehearsal and both concerts that week that Kahchun conducted, and continued to support him in her very own quiet way – just like the good old days.

“Before my first concert, Mrs Seah came by and delivered food from my favourite restaurant in Nuremberg. We also spent time talking about music and she made me feel like a student again.

Although it has been 14 years apart since I graduated from her class, she was still imparting wisdom to me in her own way, someone that I could trust with my life. I am fortunate to call her my teacher.

“Thank you, Mrs Seah.”


Kahchun Wong will open the season as Chief Conductor of Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra on 22 September. He will conduct the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra on 23 and 24 November in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, becoming a select few who are invited to the orchestra’s prestigious subscription series. Other highlights of the season include debuts with the New York Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra.

Join Kahchun as he conducts Beethoven Symphony No.7 this Saturday (15 September) at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, Singapore Botanic Gardens with musicians from Nuremberg Symphony and students from his alma mater, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

This free concert initiative is by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Singapore in partnership with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

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