Alexander Oon completed his Master of Performance studies and graduated with a Distinction at the Royal College of Music in 2018, on scholarships generously supported by the Christopher Hogwood and Lee Foundation. Prior to that, he was nominated as Best Graduate and the recipient of the Embassy of Peru Award upon completion of his Bachelor’s Degree at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, 2016.
In 2015, Alexander entered the NAFA Music Essentials Concerto Competition and emerged as the Grand Prize winner, allowing him the debut opportunity to perform Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No.2 as a soloist with the NAFA Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Lim Yau. As one of the selected few Horn players around the world to participate in prestigious music festivals, Alexander had the opportunity to be a part of the Kirishima Music Festival (2015), Pacific Music Festival (2016), Lucerne Festival Academy (2017), and the Britten Pears Orchestra Academy (2018).
Alexander’s keen interest towards contemporary and experimental music has led him to be chosen as one of two joint winners for the RCM Contemporary Competition 2018. He also has a passion for introducing works of this nature written for the horn to the audiences of today through composition workshops. Over the course of the last few years, Alexander has had the privilege of freelancing with the Philharmonia Orchestra London and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra as Principal and Section Horn. Alexander has also served as adjunct lecturer at his alma mater (NAFA) and is one of the founding members of the contemporary brass group, TEH Trio.
He will be returning to his former job as Principal Horn with the Sun Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi Vietnam for the 2022-23 season.
Hello Alexander! You’ve achieved and contributed much to the musical scene in Singapore and abroad in the past few years, we are honoured to have you share your journey with us! What or who inspired you to pursue music?
During my secondary school band years, my music director Dr Lee Tian Tee, was instrumental in my music development. Many ensemble fundamentals that I’ve learnt stemmed from his education. It was through his rehearsals that I truly found a passion for music making with others, which led me to pursue the Horn further. I didn’t do well at all in academic subjects whilst I was in secondary school, but once I entered NAFA and started getting my first As in the different music subjects, I knew I was in the right place for me.
Could you share some of the obstacles you encountered, how you overcame them and how it has impacted you?
Auditions are a major aspect in a performing musician’s life. I have failed numerous auditions before I landed my first full time position with the Sun Symphony Orchestra. I think that as easily as it is to get disheartened with every failed audition, one must understand that it is part and parcel of the journey. Sure, I did feel down for a while after each one, but I did not let that stop me from preparing for the next one. It truly is all in the mentality that one has to adopt when preparing for auditions. “Give it your all, and expect nothing”.
What drew you to the French Horn?
The first time I witnessed a French Horn in action was when my Dad took me to my first Singapore Symphony Orchestra Concert way back in 2003. I was 11 then. They performed Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, and all I can remember is that I was attracted to the sound I heard when I saw those ‘circle-circle’ things being lifted up. That was when I told my Dad that I wanted to learn that instrument.
Describe your practice routine for French Horn and how it has changed over the years.
During my years as a student, my routine was long-winded and tedious. I always needed a long warm up before any session, as I was afraid to ‘leave out’ any small aspect of the routine back then. Over the years as I developed professionally, I learnt how to filter and scale down the routine, so that I’m doing only what’s important for me that day, or for that week. I learnt how to ‘diagnose’ what was necessary.
What was your most memorable experience related to music, and how has it impacted you?
Some of my memorable experiences were in the earlier years when I was in the Pacific Music Festival / Lucerne Festival. In PMF, I got the opportunity to play alongside big names like William Caballero, Sarah Willis and David Cooper. The other festival members in the horn section were extremely proficient as well, so that pressurised me to keep my consistency in check. Playing with high level players for a month really allowed me to pick up some good habits in orchestra playing.
Wow, that’s incredible! You’ve been in the music industry for quite some time, do you have any advice or words you’d like to share with those newly entering the industry?
The journey is going to be filled with ups and downs. However, if one is passionate enough about this life, these circumstances should only build one’s resistance and resilience. Always be hungry for new information, don’t wait for things to be served to you on a silver platter. Initiative is always a plus. Practice hard, hangout with the right people, talk to the important people, and you should be fine!
What is the piece you feel most connected to?
This is honestly one of the hardest questions to answer because my reply would change on a regular basis! Currently, it’s probably Strauss’ Four Last Songs, as that was one of the last pieces that I performed in Singapore with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Beautiful horn lines all throughout the piece. On some days, the most relatable piece is Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, for obvious reasons.
You’ve freelanced with the Philharmonia Orchestra London and held the Principal Horn position for Sun Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi, was performing overseas any different from performing in Singapore?
In my perspective, the difference is not humongous. With each and every performance, I give it my all, regardless who is in the audience. If I had to pick apart the differences, I would say it boils down to the hall acoustics. I’ve played in many concert halls over the last decade, but unbiasedly, still feel that the Esplanade Concert Hall has truly one of the best acoustics around.
You’re also one of the founding members of the contemporary brass group, TEH trio, could you tell us how this came about?
The three of us were schoolmates at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and started hanging out together, geeking out over “brass-talk”, and some impromptu jam sessions. (We had to play trombone trios because that was the only stuff written that fit our instrument’s ranges.)
After that, I left for my masters in London, and Sun Symphony in Vietnam, whilst Jasper went on to do his masters in Stuttgart. However, during the pandemic, Jasper and I found ourselves once again on Singapore soil where Chun Meng was waiting to welcome us with open arms, albeit on Zoom. Halfway through circuit-breaker, we figured that it was the best time to launch the TEH Trio officially, and so we did! We were mostly based online, with videos that covered popular songs of numerous genres, in a multi-track style. Once live performances started coming back, we were fortunate and privileged enough to be invited to give our very own TEH Trio (and friends) concerts!
To end off, what are some of your future projects or endeavours?
As some may know already, I’m back with the Sun Symphony as Principal Horn, as of October this year. I am going to be based here for the foreseeable future, whilst still arranging music for some friends and ensembles back home in Singapore! I like to live life in such a way that I follow where the wind takes me. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back in Singapore again one day!
Thank you Alexander for sharing your inspiring journey with us, wishing you all the best in your future endeavours!
Yong Xuan had joined Brass Band in Primary school, and after deciding to never join band again, trying out the French Horn in Anderson Military Band drew her right back in. From there she developed a greater sense of appreciation for music and the effort put into creating it. Studying Film, Sound and Video in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, she is thankful of this opportunity to share the stories of incredible and growing musicians to this community and beyond