Behind the Music: Ms Chan Peck Suan

The next few months for Singaporean conductor Kahchun Wong is filled with a stunning list of debuts with top orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Orchestre Capitole du Toulouse, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra.

But before all these extraordinary opportunities, he will first reconnect with his brass roots as a guest conductor of the world-renowned Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra (TKWO) in its subscription concerts in Tokyo on 23 November, and Osaka on 24 November 2018.

Coming from a non musical family background, Kahchun’s first initial music influence began in Jurong Primary School (JPS) brass band, where he played was introduced to the cornet under the tutelage of Mrs Chua Ai Chuan.

“My favourite memory of my band life in JPS was certainly the practice breaks, because my friends and I would buy these ice-cream cups for 20 cents, eat the wonderful stuff and then kick it as soccer,” he recalled.

Kahchun then entered River Valley (RV) High School, where he intended to join Basketball as a CCA. He was however asked by his teachers persuaded to join the concert band as SYF 1999 was around the corner, and the band was in the lack of trumpet players.

“The choice piece for the competition was James Barnes’s Invocation and Toccata, and I was shocked by how difficult it was for the trumpet then. I had to do a lot of practices after school and over the weekends!”

Under the baton of Ms Chan Peck Suan, RV Concert Band performed Spartacus in the following SYF in 2001 (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daRivNEQH50) for SYF in 2001 and once again attained the gold award as they did in 1999.

“Meeting Ms Chan has been an important moment for me. She is a trailblazer in the Singaporean band scene, not only through her rich experience as a band instructor but also her international perspective, having studied trumpet in Michigan on a PSC scholarship.”

Kahchun was subsequently appointed band major and student conductor by Ms Chan, and also given opportunities to play solo trumpet repertoire with his band, which further motivated him to become a musician.

To Kahchun, band instructors are like parents. They care a lot for the wellbeing and discipline of their students, as they see them through the ages of growing up.

“Throughout my years in RV band, Ms Chan believed in us and gave us many opportunities to grow. She was exceptionally demanding of all of us, building not only our musical foundations but also our characters.”

In the two upcoming concerts with TKWO, Kahchun has specially crafted a programme that pays tribute to his own musical upbringing in Singapore by Ms Chan. In the first half of the performance, they will play Invocation and Toccata by James Barnes, Spartacus by Jan van der Roost and Peterloo Overture by Malcolm Arnold, all pieces which he had spent months practising and performing with his secondary school band.

His concert is unified by theme of colours, and he hopes the audience would leave the concert hall feeling like they had just spent a day at the art gallery. Invocation and Toccata is like a drawing of a witch with a cauldron and a black cat; Spartacus portrays gladiators with spears in war, and Peterloo paints a horrific massacre in the public square of Manchester in 1819.

The second half of the concert will feature Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, arranged by Tohru Takahashi, which has been orchestrated from Mussorgsky’s original piano version with the sound of the wind orchestra in mind.

Kahchun’s appearance with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra in their 2018/2019 subscription season is featured alongside veteran maestros Kazuyoshi Akiyama (Senzoku Gakuen College of Music), Paul Meyer (former principal conductor of TKWO), Takeshi Ooi (principal conductor of TKWO), and Eiji Oue (former music director of Minnesota Orchestra).

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