The ABS-CBN Spotlight Series successfully held a classical concert called The Young Soloists at the Hyundai Hall, Arete, Ateneo De Manila University on July 20, 2019. Backed by the ABS-CBN Orchestra under the baton of Gerard Salonga, the featured soloists were violinist Adrian Nicolas Ong and pianist Jet Stephen Chong who performed pieces from Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff.
Lyric Piano Corp provided the Shigeru Kawai grand piano for Jet Stephen Chong’s performance; a worthy instrument indeed for the rising virtuoso.
Chong began piano lessons at the tender age of 5, and has since participated in numerous competitions, winning awards from the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) and the UCSI International Piano Competition in Malaysia among others. His command of the instrument has led to a full scholarship in the National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.
The road ahead looks very bright indeed for the young classical wizard. For all his prowess with “serious” music however, he hints at possibly expanding his creative palette to include perspectives from contemporary genres. With youthful enthusiasm, talent, and the deserved academic support at his disposal, it is clear that Jet Stephen Chong has, believe it or not, only just begun.
You started piano lessons at age 5, but do you remember what it was that attracted you– a toddler in those days–to the piano?
I don’t remember the very first time I put my fingers on the keyboard. I didn’t actually start playing the piano because I wanted to. My piano journey didn’t start out like any other’s. I was just introduced to it because my brother wanted to play the piano and so my mother enrolled both of us for piano lessons. But then, over the years, my brother already stopped playing piano. He even tried learning to play drums and guitar, all while I was still pursuing piano, improving steadily, growing to love it.
Do you remember having difficulties playing at that age, or was the piano essentially your toy and playground?
Piano was like a toy for me back then where I can play with my fingers and produce music. My mom, who still plays the piano leisurely, noticed back then that I seemed to have very good fingers and so she tried letting me play the pieces that she’s been struggling to play like a Two-Part Invention. I learned it much faster than her and with not much struggle; that’s when she realized that I may have musical talent.
What was the first song or melody that made you want to play music?
The first song that made me want to further pursue piano playing was when I heard Chopin’s First Ballade. I was so mesmerized by this piece from beginning to end, making me want to work harder so that I’ll be able to play it when I am older.
What has so far been the most challenging piece you ever learned or played?
The most challenging piece that I’ve played so far is definitely the First Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op 23. I think it is a piece suited for more mature players but when I was offered the opportunity to play it with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gerard Salonga, I couldn’t say no. I pushed myself to make sure that the piece will be ready before the concert. I was exhilarated when the concert turned out to be a success.
Any non-classical artists you listen to, and have you ever thought of applying your classical technique to more contemporary styles of music?
I like listening to songs by Arctic Monkeys, an indie rock band, and Two-Door Cinema Club, an indie pop band. Actually, I’ve been planning to try playing by ear so that I can play my favorite band’s songs on the piano but I can’t seem to find the time yet. Also, I would like to try venture into jazz improvisation, if possible.
Who is your favourite composer, and favourite pianist?
For now, my favorite composer is Schumann because he has a lot of beautiful melodies contained in those big suites of his and I get to portray different characters and personalities in his pieces which I think is challenging yet fun.
Daniil Trifonov is my favorite pianist so far because a lot of the pieces I’m learning now were also played by him, so I usually watch his recordings and videos for reference.
If someone your age wants to get deeper into classical music, which compositions and composers would you recommend?
I would suggest Chopin nocturnes. Their melodies are clear, the harmonies beautiful, and overall very relaxing. I have a lot of non-musician friends who said that they like classical music in the first place because of the Chopin nocturnes.
If you could work with any musician or ensemble, who would it be and why?
If I could work with any musician or ensemble, it would probably be to play a double piano concerto with any major orchestra, as long as I’m playing with Daniil Trifonov since he’s my favorite pianist!
Do you have interests outside of music?
I like reading novels, usually suspense and horror. I also like watching movies, swimming, and playing badminton.
What preparations are you undertaking for your scholarship?
Right now, I am actually already in Singapore, attending orientations, opening a bank account, applying for student’s pass, having medical examinations, among others. All of them are covered by the conservatory, which I am extremely grateful for. During my free time, I’ll try to get to know as much people as I can and practice hard for my first piano lesson here with Sir Albert Tiu in Singapore.
Lyric wishes Jet Stephen Chong all the best and will always have our support.
Shigeru Kawai pianos and Kawai acoustic and electric keyboards are available at Lyric. Contact a sales agent at one of our branches for more information.