Last minute switch brings conductor Wong Kah Chun to Japan early

Wong Kah Chun was called at the last minute by the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra to replace its ailing French music director tomorrow.
Wong Kah Chun was called at the last minute by the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra to replace its ailing French music director tomorrow.PHOTO: ST FILE

Prolific Singaporean conductor Wong Kah Chun will be making his Japan debut tomorrow - two months earlier than expected - after he was contacted by Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra to replace its ailing French music director for this week's concert.

Wong was contacted by the orchestra on Monday and was given less than 24 hours' notice before he was flown into Japan for rehearsals, which began the next day.

The orchestra will perform the Fourth Symphony by Schumann, and Sibelius' Violin Concerto and Valse Triste.

His first appearance in Japan was originally slated to be with the New Japan Philharmonic in November, followed by the Tokyo Philharmonic and the Kanagawa Philharmonic in May and June next year respectively.

Those appearances will continue as scheduled.

The 30-year-old, who was having dinner in Singapore with a friend when his manager told him about the last-minute assignment, says he took the opportunity without hesitation. "I have studied rehearsals of the works on the programme, so I felt like giving it a shot," he says, adding that the dates worked out and that the orchestra was "very sincere" about the arrangement.

Communicating with The Straits Times over WhatsApp from Japan, Wong says of his whirlwind debut: "Behind the perceived glamour is real honest hard work. This time round, I flew overnight with only one score out of three, had to learn it by memory on the plane and then go straight to the rehearsal without any sleep."

Despite the concerns that might come with such an arrangement though, it helps that Wong, who in May this year won the first prize at the prestigious Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition held in Bamberg, Germany, is no stranger to jumping in at short notice to cover other conductors.

Fresh off his win, Wong made his China debut in June when he replaced renowned Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos at the last minute.

Since then, he has stepped in to conduct five other orchestras and will also conduct the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra next month, again substituting a conductor who is no longer able to commit to the date.

Despite his young age, Wong has quickly become one of Singapore's most prolific conductors, having led orchestras in more than 20 cities in four continents.

After his debut with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in March last year, he has since performed with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, among others.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'Award-winning conductor to make early debut in Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe