Determined to bring internationally acclaimed musicians to Singapore to impart their wisdom, a home-grown concert pianist is starting a new piano festival.
Pianist Wang Congyu, 26, and his French wife Julie Lu, 28, have put $80,000 of their savings into the Piano Island Festival, the first edition of which opens today and runs until next Monday.
"Singapore has a lot of potential and music talent, but young upcoming musicians don't get many chances to learn from overseas masters and make contacts," he says.
"I hope we can build a platform for more young musicians to perform overseas."
The festival brings together seven established pianists, including Michael Bulychev-Okser from Russia and Aimo Pagin from France, as well as American flautist Patrick Dillery, for masterclasses, recitals and lectures.
There is also a competition for young pianists, who stand to win cash prizes, scholarships for overseas music courses and the chance to give recitals abroad.
Wang is Singaporean and lives with his wife, who is in marketing, on Reunion Island near Mauritius. He was inspired to start the festival after he realised how costly it was to travel frequently to Europe for concerts and classes.
BOOK IT/ PIANO ISLAND FESTIVAL
WHERE: Concerts at Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, 1 Straits Boulevard, masterclasses at various venues
WHEN: Till next Monday, various times
ADMISSION: $30, $50 for concerts; festival pass for all events $500 or $400 (concession); observer pass for masterclasses, lectures and competitions $350 or $300 (concession)
"I thought, why not bring all the masters together in one place?" he said.
He has been planning the festival for the past two years and envisions it as an island-hopping event. Later this year, it will move to Reunion Island and then back to Singapore next year. While the couple's savings will fund the first two festivals, he is hoping sponsors will come on board for future editions.
Among the festival highlights are a Four Hands Piano Recital by Kim Bo-Kyung from South Korea and Nicholas Ong from Malaysia.
Belgian pianist Eliane Reyes will be performing a recital of Chopin waltzes, as well as the world premiere of Valse Triste, a slow waltz by contemporary French composer Nicolas Bacri.
Portuguese pianist Vasco Dantas, who has won more than 50 prizes in international music competitions, will be using his class to not just instruct students in performance pieces, but also share his experiences as a young musician and tips on competition preparation and career planning.
"I am very excited to learn more about this culture and about how classical music is developing in this region," says the 25-year-old, who is in Singapore for the first time.
While the number of masterclass students is limited, members of the public may observe the classes with a festival pass.
Wang hopes to draw an audience of 2,000 for the festival. The competition, which is split into three age categories of 10 and under, under-18 and above-18, has 50 participants. The grand prize for the above-18 category includes one week of masterclasses in Normandy, France, with acclaimed French pianist Jean-Paul Sevilla.
"I hope we can find the next Lang Lang in Singapore," says Wang.