Making it big overseas: Enjoying every minute

Singaporean violinist Jonathan Ong (left) is part of the Wasmuth Quartet which has swept major awards since its formation last January. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JONATHAN ONG
Singaporean violinist Jonathan Ong (left) is part of the Wasmuth Quartet which has swept major awards since its formation last January. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JONATHAN ONG

Singaporean violinist Jonathan Ong, 27, does not aim to be remembered as a world-famous violinist.

"The people that I respect the most and remember most fondly are not just great musicians, but also great people," he says.

"So I want to be remembered as someone who is not just good in music, but also generous in spirit and kind."

Humble words from one who is enjoying a string of successes as a member of the Wasmuth (pronounced as "vas-moot") Quartet, the graduate string quartet-inresidence at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.

Since its formation in January last year, the quartet has swept awards at major competitions in America and Japan, including the Grand Prize at the 68th Coleman Chamber Music Competition, one of the biggest competitions in the United States, in April and, most recently, the Bronze Medal at the 8th Osaka International Chamber Music Competition last month.

A founding member of the quartet, Ong, who started learning to play the violin at the age of seven, says the members started playing together for a course in chamber music for string quartets at Indiana University and hit it off.

"They say a quartet is kind of like a marriage between four people - you have to learn to be open to one another's ideas and flexible. Thankfully, everyone in the quartet is easy to work with," Ong says with a laugh during a recent visit here.

Comprising violinist Brendan Shea, 27, violist Abigail Rojansky, 25, cellist Warren Hagerty, 22, and Ong, the quartet has been described by the online classical music site Cleveland Classical as "thoughtful, impressive musicians".

The quartet plays mostly classical music - early classical to 20th-century music - and music of living composers, such as Akira Nishimura and Dan Visconti.

At the age of 16, Ong, the 2001 third prize winner of the Singapore National Violin Competition, moved to the United States with his family to get an early start in music. He has an older sister and two younger brothers.

He studied at the Eastman School of Music in New York.

After doing his national service here, he got a scholarship in 2012 to do a Master of Music in Violin Performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Last month, he completed his Performer's Diploma in Indiana.

On his experience living overseas for nine years, he says: "It's challenging but it's very rewarding. I've learnt and grown a lot as a musician and I've gotten the chance to learn from a lot of great teachers in America."

The bachelor returns to Singapore almost every year to see relatives and friends. He has also performed at a chamber music series at the Esplanade Concert Hall in 2005 and as a guest artist at the Goh Soon Tioe Centenary concert in 2011, where he performed a solo piece and a duet with his former music teacher Lynette Lim, whom he credits with inspiring him to become a violinist.

Ong hopes to make the quartet a career and to perform and teach.

"Hopefully, our performances will take us around the world. We're still young and we're excited to see where our careers take us."

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