Top violin prize for nine-year-old

Samuel Tan beats rivals almost four times his age to win the grand Postacchini Prize in Italy

Young violinist Samuel Tan enjoys going for competitions because they offer him a chance to see other people playing the instrument. With him are his parents Jason Tan and Janis Low (both left) and his teacher Lee Huei Min.
Young violinist Samuel Tan enjoys going for competitions because they offer him a chance to see other people playing the instrument. With him are his parents Jason Tan and Janis Low (both left) and his teacher Lee Huei Min. ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH

A Mozart festival he watched on television when he was just two years old first piqued violin prodigy Samuel Tan's interest in the instrument.

His mother, bank vice-president Janis Low, 38, says: "He started to become very mesmerised by the orchestra violin pieces that were being played, and we decided to buy him a 1/32 fractional real violin after that."

She recalls how Samuel learnt the violin by himself and would frequently stand in front of the television and play along with a concert recording. He started attending violin lessons only just before he turned three years old.

Last month, Samuel, now nine, beat competitors almost four times his age to clinch the grand Postacchini Prize at the 21st International Andrea Postacchini Violin Competition held in Fermo, Italy.

He also topped his category, which was open to the youngest applicants aged eight to 11 years old. Previous young winners in the contest include Moira Petra Cauzzo from Switzerland, who won in 2011 at the age of eight, and China's Jing Zhi Zhang, who won in 2010, then nine.

Divided into four age categories, this year's competition attracted 130 applicants from 39 countries aged eight to 35 years old. The coveted Postacchini Prize is awarded to the overall winner across all four categories.

Former Singaporean prize-winners include Gabriel Ng, who won the Postacchini Prize in 2007 when he was 13, and Loh Jun Hong, who won third place in his category in 2006 at the age of 15.

For his showing at the competition, Samuel received a violin by Francesco Piasentini modelled on a 1700 Domenico Montagnana, a bow made by Walter Barbiero and a €1,300 (S$2,207) cash prize.

While some children may suffer from anxiety when performing in front of large crowds, the Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) pupil has never had an issue with stage fright. "I like going for competitions because I get to see other people play," says Samuel, whose mother accompanied him to the contest.

He has a younger brother, six, and a sister, eight, both of whom used to learn the violin and piano respectively but have since stopped. Madam Low says: "When Samuel started taking lessons, he was the only one of our children who would practise regularly on his own."

He is currently taught by local renowned concert violinist Lee Huei Min, 31, also known as Min Lee, at Wolfgang Violin Studio. He enrolled at the school when he was five years old and was previously taught by her mother Ms Annie Lee, 65. Both mother and daughter are programme directors of the violin school.

The elder Ms Lee says: "Samuel had a strong natural instinct from the start and playing the violin came easily to him."

He was in Grade Six by the age of five and was playing violin concertos of advanced repertoire by then. His first international competition was in May last year at the 55th Kocian International Violin Competition in Prague, where he won second prize in the category for ages 10 and younger.

This was followed by double honours at last December's National Piano and Violin Competition, organised by the National Arts Council biennially.

Samuel, who says Mozart is his favourite composer, was awarded the top Goh Soon Tioe Outstanding Performing Award and clinched second prize in the violin junior category.

Ms Lee Huei Min says Samuel has stopped taking violin examinations and her focus is to prepare him for upcoming concerts and competitions. "Samuel has the potential to have a huge music career, but the most important thing I want for him is to continue to enjoy music."

Despite being put under the spotlight at such a tender age, he is just like any regular child. He practises his violin for only two to three hours a day and enjoys spending the rest of his free time reading books such as the Geronimo Stilton series and watching cartoons on YouTube.

While he says he would like to be a doctor or scientist when he grows up, he has not ruled out being a violinist as well.

Madam Low says: "He is still young and hasn't decided whether he wants to pursue music as a career, but we will support him in whatever he chooses."

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