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Musical partnerships: focus on Malaysia

2014 has been a busy year for music education initiatives in Malaysia as Ryan Lewis, our Malaysia National Consultant, reports. ABRSM has been proudly supporting a wide range of music making and learning activities in Malaysia this year. These include competitions and festivals, international courses and events, and new professional development opportunities.

Competitions and festivals

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of music competitions taking place across Malaysia. This reflects a growing interest in and enthusiasm for music education in the country. There is also a desire to provide more opportunities for young musicians to perform and to compete alongside their peers.
The Steinway competition
In March, ten highly talented young pianists took part in the semi-finals and finals of the second Steinway Youth Malaysia Piano Competition. The competition, which was organised by Bentley Music Sdn Bhd and sponsored by ABRSM, featured musicians between the ages of 12 and 16. The audience was left spellbound by the high standard of playing from these young musicians. They all performed with such professionalism and confidence. As one of the competition judges it was a privilege for me to listen to the contestants as they tackled some very challenging pieces and demonstrated a range of musical strengths. Everyone played with great poise and maturity, expression, technical mastery and showmanship. It was an exciting and close final! The winner of the competition was 12-year-old Celestine Yoong Qian Yi from Selangor, who played a stunning programme of Mozart, Chopin and Ravel. Celestine then went on to represent Malaysia at the Steinway Regional Final Asia Pacific Competition held in Singapore in July. Vincent Ong

Vincent Ong, who came second in the Steinway competition in Malaysia

Pianists, strings players, singers and more
ABRSM also sponsored the Asia Music Competition. During June and July, promising pianists and string players from Malaysia competed for a place in the competition finals in Seoul, South Korea. The competition was supported by Graceful Piano Sdn Bhd and UCSI University, who are also organising the first International Piano Competition and Festival in Malaysia, with the preliminary rounds in September and the finals in November in Kuala Lumpur. Other competitions and festivals we were involved with included: the Malaysian Youth Music Festival in Putrajaya, organised by the Malaysian Youth Orchestra Foundation and now in its eighth year; Putra Idol, a singing competition organised by music students at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Selangor; and the second Kota Kinabalu Strings Festival in Sabah. The Strings Festival featured masterclasses and outreach programmes, as well as concerts with the Jesselton Philharmonic Orchestra and special guests.

Crossing international borders

Young Malaysian musicians have also been working with international artists both in Malaysia and abroad.
From Europe to Malaysia
In June, ABRSM supported the second EUROASIA Youth Music Festival and Competition in Kuala Lumpur. The festival was established to strengthen relationships, establish links and build a long-lasting interest in music. It brought together talented musicians, music lovers and music organisations from all over the world and was a wonderful way to bring the rich culture of European music to Malaysia. For students at the festival there was a focus on chamber music alongside instrumental teaching from professional musicians from France. These musicians also performed in concerts with the resident youth orchestra, Arioso Sinfonia. The competition element of the festival aimed to recognise young pianists and string players who showed all-round creative charisma and artistic excellence while performing an imaginative choice of repertoire.
Piano Academy in the UK
During August ABRSM, with Graceful Piano Sdn Bhd, sponsored auditions for the Overseas Masters Winter Piano Academy (OMWPA). The academy provides an opportunity for young pianists from Malaysia and across South East Asia to take part in a world-class study programme at the UK’s Yehudi Menuhin School. OMWPA was founded in 2010 by international Malaysian concert pianist and former ABRSM scholar Bobby Chen, and takes place every two years. Many young musicians have benefited from the programme over the last few years and gone on to study at some of the world’s leading conservatoires.

Professional development

Finally, ABRSM has awarded a grant from its International Sponsorship Fund to Borneo Reeds. This organisation is using the money to provide professional development and performance opportunities for wind players in Malaysia. For Borneo Reeds founder Howard Ng this is a very special and personal project. Together with an international panel of three wind players, Borneo Reeds auditioned and selected one talented Malaysian wind player to give a series of recitals, present classes to young musicians and receive personal and technical support from dedicated and experienced professionals. The recipient of the first Borneo Reeds Professional Development Prize was horn player Tan Chai Suang. Originally from Penang, and a recent graduate of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore, Chai Suang studied under Han Chang Chou, Principal Horn player of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

Tan Chai Suang
Borneo Reeds Prize recipient Tan Chai Suang

Three concerts were held in Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and Penang during August. Tan Chai Suang was also joined on stage by Lee Chun Howe (oboe), Foo Chie Haur (flute), Wong Chee Yean (piano) and Kenneth Teh (piano). Following the success of this first Borneo Reeds Prize, the project will run again in 2015, with support and funding from ABRSM. So, 2014 has been a really exciting year for ABRSM in Malaysia. We have worked with many organisations to support a wide range of music education projects. While they are all different, these organisations share many of the same aims. Like ABRSM, they want to encourage musical learning, progression and achievement, and to inspire more people to make music in Malaysia and beyond.

This article was originally featured in the October 2014 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.

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