Arts Concert Music Preview Singapore

Music Is: Humble Beginnings – T’ang Quartet at 30 concert

One of the best known and most accomplished string quartets in Southeast Asia, Singapore’s T’ang Quartet is marking its third decade with the first concert this year on 22nd April at Victoria Concert Hall. Classical music enthusiasts and fans of the Quartet have much to look forward to.

The award-winning ensemble – also Quartet-in-Residence at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music – will begin the celebration with a programme that goes back to their humble beginnings – their intent distilled in their selection of a quartet work by Haydn, an Austrian composer of the classical era known for his part in the development of chamber music.

T’ang Quartet will perform two pieces – Haydn String Quartet Op.76 No.2 “Fifths”, and Borodin String Quartet No.2 in D Major (programme notes, page 6). Tickets are now on sale. Humble Beginnings is part of the Quartet’s new anniversary programme – with up to four concerts as well as a commemorative coffee-table book, T’ang At 30.

Known for their bold interpretations of the more modern works in the classical repertoire, now with their maturity and experience, they will endeavour to tackle the major works of the great masters such as Haydn, Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven while keeping their edge in performing contemporary works and new ones by living composers.

Founding member Ng Yu-Ying says: “It is time for us to go back to the music that inspired us to become musicians, and these are the champions of chamber music that made us want to become a professional quartet 30 years ago.”

The Quartet, adds founding member Ang Chek Meng, will also to extend their reach of classical music, even beyond the concert hall and also to collaborate with artists of different genres and disciplines, to reach out to new audiences.

For the past 30 years, the group’s musical dexterity has delighted audiences locally and globally. What started out in 1992 as a unanimous purpose to break new ground in the sharing of music to a larger audience has grown tremendously. T’ang Quartet’s creative output is an artful blend of East and West, old and new, seamlessly, reinterpreting classical work for contemporary fans while appealing to traditional audiences.

The upcoming outing will formally introduce T’ang’s new members – Han Oh and Wang Zihao. The former has been with the Quartet for two years while the latter joined less than a year ago. Wang says: “It is a huge honour for me to be part of the T’ang Quartet, which I held great admiration for when I was a student at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and to play with musicians of such a high calibre.” And the “new” Quartet’s unmistakable charisma and connection as one, mirrors their signature sound: soul-stirring, sharp and modern.

The Quartet almost ceased to exist when the two current founding members, Ng Yu-Ying and Ang Chek Meng, were involved in an accident when they were studying in Rice University, Texas, in 1997-1998. Yu-Ying, who was driving on a narrow road, lost control of their car and it went off the road and rolled down the slope. Miraculously, the two violinists escaped with minor injuries. The Quartet have always wanted to remain a Singapore ensemble. In 1998, they were offered a position in the United States but turned it down even though Chek Meng, whose wife was expecting at that time, was prepared to leave the Quartet. The other members decided to stick with him.

Han Oh became a violist after he auditioned unsuccessfully for the Singapore Youth Orchestra as a violinist after taking lessons sporadically over a period of two years. He was later offered a position as a violist and it came with a tuition scheme under a musician from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and he studied for four years under T’ang Quartet’s (retired) founding member Lionel Tan.

The T’ang Quartet posed topless in a shoot for a local magazine (8Days) in 1993 shortly after their debut the previous year. It was, together with the interview, an effort to dispel the “fuddy duddy” image of the classical musician, but the image of the cool rockstar/boyband stuck with the Quartet for a long time after that.

Humble Beginnings – T’ang Quartet at 30 plays on 22nd April 2022 at Victoria Concert Hall. Tickets available from Peatix

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