16-year-old is youngest Goh Soon Tioe Award winner

For the auditions, Mathea Goh challenged herself by learning three new pieces in 21/2 months.
For the auditions, Mathea Goh challenged herself by learning three new pieces in 21/2 months.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MATHEA GOH XINYI

At the auditions for the annual Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award in June and July this year, one of the pegs in teenage violinist Mathea Goh Xinyi's violin came loose during her performance.

Instead of panicking, the 16-year-old calmly returned the instrument and carried on playing - something the judges took note of when they selected her as the winner of the award last month.

"It's just one of the many mishaps I've encountered," she says.

She also had mishaps at last year's National Piano and Violin Competition, where she took home the second prize in the senior category.

She recalls: "A string snapped minutes before my quarter-finals, my chin rest fell off before the semi-finals and a peg came loose during the finals, so I've learnt to take it in my stride."

Introduced in 2011, the Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award honours the late Singaporean pioneer violinist and conductor. It is given to a young string player with a strong track record of musicianship and performance. The first award was given out in 2012.

The winner is selected by a four-member panel of Goh Soon Tioe's former students, including two of his daughters, Sylvia and violin mentor Vivien.

This year, seven applicants were shortlisted. Mathea received $7,000 when she won the award and says she will probably spend the money on "a better bow or violin".

She will perform at the winner's recital on Oct 26 at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

Mathea, a Year 4 student at Methodist Girls' School, is the fifth and youngest winner of the award. Past winners, such as cellist Theophilus Tan and double bassist Julian Li Rong Yui, were in their 20s when they won.

The teenager says she was surprised to be the youngest winner. "Being one of the younger applicants, I could've been competing against more highly qualified musicians since I do not know who else applied," she says.

For the auditions, she decided to challenge herself by learning three new pieces in 21/2 months. They were Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, Partita For Violin No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach and Violin Sonata 3 "Ballade" by Eugene Ysaye.

The effort paid off. The judges praised her maturity and her strong technique despite her age and having limited practicebecause of her studies.

Mathea has been playing the violin since she was five and practises three hours a day during the school term. She sometimes duets with her nine-year-old sister, who is also a violin player. Her father, 48, is a scientist and her mother, 46, is a housewife.

She is studying under violinist Min Lee and her mother, Annie Lee, at Wolfgang Violin Studio. She is also a member of the local symphony orchestra, Orchestra of the Music Makers.

One of the judges for the award, who declines to be named, says Mathea stood out because she "was able to communicate and engage the listener, touching the heart with the music".

These comments should thrill Mathea, who says that she enjoys telling stories through her violin.

On top of wanting to be a full-time musician and composer, she dreams of being a librettist and a member of a pit orchestra for musical theatre performances.

She says: "Being able to play the violin is being able to tell a story to the audience or maybe provide a reprieve from the buzz of life or refuge from any troubles."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline '16-year-old is youngest Goh Soon Tioe Award winner'. Print Edition | Subscribe