Quek Jun Rui (b. 2001) began playing the oboe at the age of 10 under the tutelage of Simon Lee and Elaine Yeo. He was an oboist with the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) since 2013, and was appointed Principal Oboe in 2017. As a soloist, he made his debut after winning the SNYO Concerto Competition 2021.

He travelled with the orchestra to Malaysia in 2016 and to China & Hong Kong in 2018 for the inaugural Asian Pacific Youth Symphony Orchestra Festival. In 2016, he was featured in an episode of “On the Red Dot” titled “Passion Pursuits”, which shed light on youths taking up music as a career despite being tied down with academic commitments. 

In 2017, Jun Rui was accepted into the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST) Young Artist Programme, and was subsequently granted early admission into the Bachelor of Music (Honours) programme the following year, under the faculty of Rachel Walker and Carolyn Hollier. He also participated in masterclasses by Celia Craig, Wei Weidong, Melinda Maxwell, Oliver Boekhoorn, Josep Domenech. From 2020 – 2022, he was a military musician in the Singapore Armed Forces Band. He was appointed the woodwind section leader of the Ceremonial Band. Additionally he performed with the SAF Central Band. His latest performance was with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) as a winner of the prestigious President’s Young Performers Concert in 2022, where The Straits Times commended his playing as “plaintive bel canto lyricism…displaying immaculate articulation and dexterity…”.

Jun Rui is currently a third year undergraduate student at YST.

Hi Jun Rui! What an honour it is to be interviewing the President’s Young Performer. Congratulations! Share your feelings with us!

Hello The Band Post! Thank you for inviting me for this interview. It was definitely a surreal experience to share the stage with the orchestra I grew up listening to. Prior to this opportunity, there weren’t many platforms to perform as a soloist, let alone with a full sized symphony orchestra. I have always played in large ensembles such as wind bands and orchestras. 

I have had moments of self-doubt, but the musicians and the conductor were encouraging and supportive, which helped to calm my nerves. Looking back at how much I have grown, from someone who fears orchestra rehearsals to performing as a soloist, I definitely have come a long way. I am extremely grateful for all the past and present opportunities. 

Despite such a young age, you’re definitely a seasoned performer. What were the greatest milestones in your performing career?

The first was 10 years ago when I performed as a soloist with the Maha Bodhi School (MBS) Alumni Band. I vividly remembered trembling on stage during the performance as it was my first experience as a soloist.

The next milestone was when I joined the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO). It was my first time being in touch with orchestral and chamber music. The role of the oboe in a wind band is very different compared to an orchestra. Instead of seating at the front row in a wind band, the oboe player is seated in the centre of the orchestra, which makes the wind parts much more exposed. Being surrounded by so much sound when seated in the middle of the orchestra allowed me to hear what the other parts were playing and enjoy the music better.

Another significant milestone was when I performed the 1st oboe part of Brahms’s first symphony with SNYO in 2018. This was my first concert as Principal Oboe and it was a privilege to perform this masterpiece in the Esplanade Concert Hall. 

My solo performances with the SNYO and SSO are my biggest achievements thus far. Performing as a soloist really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It was intimidating but exciting at the same time. I felt reassured when I knew that the orchestra behind me had fully supported me, bolstering my confidence to play better.

The oboe isn’t a common musical instrument. How did you first come into contact with it?

My father, who is my first music teacher and band director of MBS Band, had the idea of expanding the instrument diversity of the band by introducing the oboe, bassoon and double bass. He decided to try it out with me, hence appointing me as the first oboe player in the band. That was when I met Mr Simon Lee, my first oboe teacher. He was with me from the very start, watching me hold the oboe for the first time and making the first sound on the reed.

You were the principal oboist of SNYO and in the Yong Siew Toh Young Artists Programme. How did these opportunities help you grow as a budding musician and shape your outlook on music?

Being Principal Oboe of SNYO gave me numerous leadership opportunities like performing different roles like the 2nd oboe or Cor Anglais. It is important to understand what part you play in the orchestra, hence I was very grateful for such opportunities. Details such as articulation, phrasing, dynamics and breathing are often overlooked, and it is much more than playing what is written on the score. When I was in the YST Young Artist Programme, I had weekly lessons with Rachel Walker.

Describe your practice routine for the oboe and how it has evolved to fit your current standard and style.

Everyday, my practice routine would start with me picking a note and warming up with a variety of exercises revolving around that note. I would do major and minor scales, arpeggios, dominant 7th, diminished 7th, chromatic scale, whole tone scale, scales in 3rds, 4ths, and broken chords. These exercises reinforce fundamentals like air support, intonation, homogeneity of tone and dynamic control.

After working on scale exercise, I would then move on to an etude, which I aim to complete within 1-2 weeks, followed by other pieces. My school schedule can be quite packed, therefore I have to split up my practice into shorter sessions, and consists of studies, solo oboe, orchestral pieces and chamber pieces. 

Who are your greatest musical inspirations, to inspire you to strive towards excellence? 

One of my greatest musical inspirations is my father. Since I was young, I have always admired the way he presents his musical ideas with very little words. As a conductor, he somehow makes the music come alive effortlessly and he tells a story with his music. His conducting constantly reminds me to be expressive in my music and to enjoy the process. 

Another one of my greatest inspirations is my first oboe teacher, Simon Lee. He can be very strict, yet very patient and dedicated towards me. He always reminds me to be honest to myself, to own up if I made a mistake. I always seek his advice when I am lost or need help. He is always there during major events like my performances and auditions. Most importantly, he always reminds me to strive to be the best version of myself.

What is the piece that speaks to you the most?

The Barber Violin Concerto. Not only is this my favourite violin concerto, it has one of my favourite oboe solos ever written. 

In this piece, each movement has its own colour and style. I love the way the long lyrical melodic lines are written in the first 2 movements which are so expressive and emotional. What makes it so special is how the intense 3rd movement heavily contrasts the 2 preceding movements. 

When I performed this piece with SNYO in 2017, I had goosebumps playing the beautiful solo in the second movement. It was such an extraordinary feeling when I took the solo bow, coupled with the audience’s applause, making this whole experience so special to me.

As someone who is entering the music industry here in Singapore, can you describe your feelings and reservations?

I am thrilled to be entering the music industry in Singapore. It has always been my dream to work with the experienced musicians in the scene and learn as much as possible from them. I hope to be able to get many performing opportunities in the near future so that I can be exposed to different repertoire.

What kind of challenges have you experienced in your journey to become an aspiring young musician? How have you changed from when you first started?

Balancing work and practice is my biggest challenge. I spent too much time practising, resulting in too little time for my studies. Hence, I have decided to be more organised and plan a practice schedule, so that I can spread out the available time and focus on my studies. 

Over the years, I realised that rest is as equally important as work. I am often engaged in my work too much to the point I lack sufficient rest, resulting in a decrease in overall performance. I always have to remind myself to sleep early and drink more water daily. These little things will have a significant impact on my performance.

Do you have any future endeavours you would like to pursue? 

I wish to pursue my Masters Degree in oboe performance upon graduating from YST. After obtaining my Masters, I hope to teach and work as a full-time orchestral performer.

Kyla Kwan

Written By Kyla Kwan

Music has always been a large part of Kyla’s life. After loudly proclaiming that she will never join a performing arts CCA again, she promptly joined Crescent Girls’ School Symphonic Band and picked up the clarinet. She began her venture into the world of the Symphonic Band and continued at Eunoia Junior College under the baton of Mr Adrian Chiang. A sophomore at Nanyang Technological University, she is currently majoring in Linguistics and Multilingual Studies and is grateful for Band Fusion for giving her this opportunity to stay in touch with this lovely community. She is still struggling to park her car.