Piano prodigy Abigail Sin returns

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 30, 2013

Singapore piano prodigy Abigail Sin toured eastern Europe at age 14 and topped her graduating class at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory four years later.

Now 21, she has played in London's Wigmore Hall and with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Next, she will headline the Singapore Conference Hall's new Asian Pianist Recital series with a concert on Sunday.

This series will highlight exceptional performers from Asia, unlike the annual Singapore International Piano Festival, which brings in top pianists from around the world. Performers in the Asian Pianist Recital series must feature piano compositions from their country of origin or from the Asian region in the programme.

Recitals by two other pianists are planned for later this year, but details will be confirmed only in June, says a spokesman.

Sin is thrilled to be chosen, especially when the piano recitals are a first for the Singapore Conference Hall - a venue synonymous with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

"The piano recital is something very special. The closest to it is a one-man show or soliloquy in theatre and the repertoire is so amazing," she says.

Her programme for the evening includes a 10-minute Si Fallor, Sum by 27-year-old United States-based Singaporean composer Emily Koh. She played a shorter version for her own graduation ceremony from the conservatory in 2010.

"It shows a different texture for the piano. There are some very interesting dreamy moments. I think it will be quite an effective piece," she says.

She will also play Bach's Capriccio On The Departure Of A Beloved Brother - "a very gracious sound and very loving" - and Chopin's Sonata No. 2 - "one of the great Romantic composers".

While she enjoys performing, she hopes to teach one day. With a master's degree from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, she could have gone on to obtain a doctorate but is instead doing a graduate diploma at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory under head of piano studies Thomas Hecht.

She does not want to hot-house her development - the eldest child and only daughter of a legal counsel and former bank worker won an HSBC Youth Excellence Award at age 11 and spent the $200,000 prize money on a Steinway piano.

She was only 14 when she left Methodist Girls' Secondary School and started her music degree at the conservatory. Around the same time, she topped Individualis, an international piano competition held in Ukraine, which led to five recitals in Ukraine and also engagements in other Eastern European halls in places such as Lithuania.

Topping her graduating class in 2010, she won a Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal and went on to do her master's degree in London. It was a bit of a culture shock, she says. "A lot of the concerts here are organised by the conservatory, but in Guildhall it was like: 'Here's the city, go find your own opportunities.'"

And she did. In 2011, she won the Derek Butler Trust Scholarship for post-graduate music students and netted her a concert at Wigmore Hall.

A few months later, the BBC Symphony Orchestra asked her to help them rehearse and during last year's Olympics, she and fellow students played at the City of London Festival.

Back in Singapore since late last year, she hopes to form similar partnerships and ensembles with other returning musicians and meet the local audience through recitals.

She recalls a post-concert talk in London that left her in tears as a member of the audience told her that she had cheered him up on his daughter's death anniversary. "Talking to your audience, you meet really interesting people. It just makes playing worthwhile."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 30, 2013 

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