An equal love for science and music

Metropolitan Festival Orchestra during a rehearsal for Sing50 in July 27, 2015.
Metropolitan Festival Orchestra during a rehearsal for Sing50 in July 27, 2015. PHOTO: BT FILE

At first glance, science and the arts may seem disparate but Dr Kevin Koh has shown that one can be an expert in both domains at the same time.

Apart from setting up Vivo Diagnostics in 2013, the 35-year-old - who learnt how to play the piano at the age of three - is the co-founder of the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra (MFO) in Singapore.

Set up in 2013, the orchestra, which boasts 20 to 100 musicians at any one performance, plays live soundtracks from movies such as The Lord Of The Rings and Walt Disney classics such as Cinderella.

So far, it has performed for about 85,000 people at venues such as the Star Performing Arts Centre and the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre.

Unlike the Singapore Symphony and the Singapore Chinese orchestras, the MFO is Singapore's first fully independent professional orchestra.

Dr Koh, who also plays the saxophone and violin,said that when he was studying for his PhD in biomedical engineering at Imperial College London, his coursemates were a musically talented bunch.

In 2008, some of them took part in a nationwide orchestra competition in Britain, and took top spot despite being the only institution in the final that did not offer a music degree.

Other contenders in the finals were Cambridge, Manchester and Southampton universities.

Dr Koh, who is MFO's executive producer, said: "Anyone can make and enjoy music in the same way that anyone can study and apply science in their everyday lives.

"But to perform both at the highest levels, years of professional training, dedication and constant work is required."

He said he rarely has the time to play the instruments nowadays. But if he does, it's just the piano, for about a few hours each month.

"It really does lift one's spirits," he said.

Carolyn Khew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'An equal love for science and music'. Print Edition | Subscribe