Plucky teen

Fourteen-year-old classical guitarist Kevin Loh is the first Singaporean to win a major global guitar competition

He is the first Singaporean to enter - and win - one of the biggest guitar competitions in the world.

And he is only 14.

Classical guitarist Kevin Loh impressed judges at the 2012 Guitar Foundation of America's International Youth Competition, junior category, clinching the first prize of $600.

At the competition, held from June 29 to July 1 in Charleston, South Carolina, Loh played pieces including Prelude No.2 by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Hommage A Tarrega by Joaquin Turina.

Despite his achievement, Loh is more excited by the fact that he got to meet his guitar heroes and make new friends at the competition. 'It was an experience like no other,' said the teenager, who is home for a two-month summer vacation.

At the convention which was part of the event, Loh met personal heroes such as Brazilian guitar duo Sergio and Odair Assad, and last year's winner of the main competition, Vladimir Gorbach.

He also leapt at the chance to befriend other young guitarists. 'It was rare to see so many other classical guitarists my age together,' he said. 'That competition was the highest level of music-making I have ever seen.'

He has just completed his second year at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in the United Kingdom, which invited him to audition after he was talent-spotted through his YouTube videos. He is the sixth classical guitar student in the school's history, and the first from outside Europe.

His Guitar Foundation of America win tops a long string of accolades, including the 2010 HSBC Youth Excellence Award for Musical Excellence. The latter includes a $200,000 prize which helped to cover his school fees and expenses at competitions and performances.

The musician has also performed at ChildAid and the Singapore Youth Olympic Games.

Last February, he became the first Singaporean to give a classical guitar concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall, where he raised $180,000 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and The Business Times Budding Artist Fund.

His impressive resume aside, Loh is just a teenager who spends most of the year in a foreign country, frequently Skyping his family to stave off homesickness and craving fried carrot cake.

'When we Skype, sometimes his four-year-old sister starts crying,' said his father Marcus, 44, an IT professional, who also has another son, eight. 'She doesn't understand why her big brother can't be around to carry her.'

Although Loh may be vacationing, he is juggling time with his family with workshops, outreach programmes and an Esplanade Concourse performance on Aug 15 and 16.

'Every time I'm back in Singapore I try to contribute to the guitar scene,' he said. 'And I really hope in the future I can represent Singapore once more out there.'

oliviaho@sph.com.sg