Singapore violinist Loh Jun Hong comes out tops in New Zealand competition

Violinist Loh Jun Hong, 25, won the top prize of $8,440 in the Gisborne International Music Competition in New Zealand.
Violinist Loh Jun Hong, 25, won the top prize of $8,440 in the Gisborne International Music Competition in New Zealand. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LOH JUN HONG

Singapore violinist Loh Jun Hong, 25, took the top prize in the 2015 Gisborne International Music Competition in New Zealand last Saturday, bagging himself NZ$9,000 (S$8,440) and a solo engagement with Orchestra Wellington in 2017.

It was the latest accomplishment for Loh, who at 15 was the youngest Singaporean admitted to the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory - a record later broken by pianist Abigail Sin, who entered at 14.

This time, Loh was the oldest performer in the competition, which is open to players of orchestral instruments aged 16 to 25.

"There definitely was a feeling of nostalgia as I saw the younger competitors going through the things I used to go through when I was their age," Loh, who teaches at the School of the Arts and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, tells The Straits Times.

"It was also nice as some of them also looked up to me as a mentor."

The competition's second prize of NZ$5,000 was won by 16-year-old Matthias Balzat from New Zealand, who played the cello, while the third prize of NZ$3,000 went to Australia's Mary Osborn, 21, on the saxophone.

Juror Justine Cormack described Loh's performance as "poetic, soulful, assured and compelling from the first note to the last".

The violinist says he chose a selection of music to showcase different aspects of his musicianship - from the purity of Bach to the depth of Brahms to the virtuosity of Wieniawski.

When he performs with Orchestra Wellington in 2017, he will premiere a new piece by New Zealand composer John Elmsly written specially for him.

Loh, who went to the Juilliard School of Music for his master's degree, picked up the violin at age seven and now has a string of accolades and years of experience under his belt, including the role of concertmaster at the renowned Verbier Festival in Switzerland.

This is his first win since the Atlantic Symphony Concerto Competition in Boston two years back.

He has, in recent years, been focusing on his More Than Music concert series with Sin, which hopes to present classical music in a more casual and engaging manner. The series will present three more concerts in its season next year.

He says: "But ever since I got the Best Singaporean Performer award at the Singapore International Violin Competition earlier this year, I have been starting to look out for other contests to join. Next year will see me joining a couple more, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more good news."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore violinist comes out tops'. Subscribe