Comprising Ng Yu-Ying (violin), Ang Chek-Meng (violin), Lionel Tan (viola) and Leslie Tan (cello), The T’ang Quartet has been diligently bringing their brand of chamber music to Singapore since the group got together in 1992. The group is currently the resident quartet of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and has released two albums to date. Ang spares us a few moments to talk about critics, the Singapore Biennale and their coming concert Black Russian by the T’ang Quartet.
If you had to identify one lesson that you have learned from having worked with celebrated artists such as Norman Fischer, Sergui Luca and Horia Mihail, what would it be?
That there is no substitute for hard work! All these great musicians still live for their performances and are always trying to improve although they are really established. Also, their love and respect for the music is not diminished even after so many years at the top!
And what is the most unusual praise or criticism that you guys have received?
Some have criticized us of being too “flashy” for the music. Some have criticized our costumes for our concerts. We have also received praise from Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus Quartet. He said: “I didn’t know they play chamber music so well in Singapore.” As if we still live in trees!
For the Singapore Biennale’s opening party, you guys were playing inside a tent. Some people said it was a bit pretentious. Any comment?
It was a collaboration with installation artist Ana Prvacki. I guess the point was to have musicians playing within a confined space and challenging the norm. Well, as much as we care about people’s perception of what we do, it’s all beyond our control! But I guess that’s what art is all about right? It’s about provoking a reaction from the audience!
How are you guys finding the experience at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music so far?
It has been really hectic yet satisfying! The general standards of students are amazing! It has always been our mission to help the next generation of string quartets. We hope we can guide them along and help some of these students build a career in chamber music.
Tell us about your coming concert Black Russian. What’s the concept behind it?
It’s been a long year of traveling and performing, so this is our little festive offering to our Singapore audience! The concert is titled Black Russian because we are playing a piece by American composer Michael Daugherty about an African-American communist sympathizer Paul Robeson who was given an honorary citizenship by the Soviet Union. In it, you will hear Paul Robeson on tape singing along to the String Quartet. The rest of the concert includes a very energetic and folksy work by Prokofiev. Of course there will be familiar favorites like Shostakovich’s Elegy and Polka and Tchaikovsky’s sensuous Andante Cantabile and other “white” Russian compositions!