They spoke about it

Album information

For their first album, some artists might feature repertoire they performed to win an international competition; others might select rarely heard works. But Kerson Leong chose still another route: a series of encores treasured by violinists of both years past and today. “I find that sometimes you can say a lot with very little. I thought that encores, which anyone can relate to, could be the ideal way to introduce myself,” he states in an interview.

Kerson Leong carefully handpicked the works. “I looked at Heifetz’ and Kreisler’s transcriptions and wanted also to introduce some pieces that people may not have heard as much”. For example, the haunting Hebrew Melody by Arnold Schoenberg’s friend Joseph Yulyevich Achron, a favourite of Jascha Heifetz, or Medtner’s Fairy Tale, a piece his accomplice Philip Chiu knows well in its original version for piano. “I wanted to balance flavours, to juxtapose lesser-known pieces with some that people would instantly recognize and could relate to.”

When asked if he has favourites, he chuckles and carefully avoids the question. “As an artist presenting these pieces, you must always treat them according to their own unique nature,” he says. “Of course, you may have favourites, but you try to put yourself in each pair of shoes, so to speak, and do your best to bring out their essence”.

Kerson Leong’s rise to fame has been nothing short of meteoric in recent years. Since winning the Junior First Prize at the 2010 Menuhin Competition at the ripe old age of 13, he has also garnered top honours at the National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition and the OSM Standard Life Competition in 2013, the Canadian Music Competition’s Stepping Stone in 2014, and the Young Soloist Competition of the Radios francophones publiques in 2015. He was also named classical music’s Révélation Radio-Canada 2014-2015. “My life definitely changed drastically after the Menuhin Competition. There were more and more invitations to perform, and I got to travel to Europe for the first time. It changed my life and made me see the world in a bigger way”.

For the season 2015-2016, he studies at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Belgium, with Augustin Dumay. “In Europe, there is such a reverence for classical music. When I play Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven in Germany, for example, composers who came from there, you can feel such deep respect, while in North America, people are much more enthusiastic”.

Though he has lived with the violin for most of his life, he feels he will never grow tired of it. “You can of course talk about how the sound is so close to the human voice, but for me, a musician constantly searching, the instrument gives you such an infinite feeling of where it can go, it offers you so many things to discover, and you never stop discovering, never stop improving. It is a steep learning curve, but that is what makes it satisfying. It is challenging, but that is also what makes it fulfilling”.

Though this album features intimate repertoire for violin and piano, Kerson Leong also loves chamber music and playing with an orchestra. “Every repertoire brings out a different side of me. I especially love chamber music, because when you get to do it with more and more people, like with Philip Chiu, there is a special communication going on”.

Brahms is one of his favourites. “I love all composers, but if I had to name one, it would be Brahms. [Two Hungarian Dances are featured here.] In particular, his chamber music connects with me at such a deeply personal level. In the Menuhin Competition, I played his First Sonata in the final round. I remember that in the process of choosing a sonata for the competition, I instantly fell in love with it. This is a very sentimental piece for me, but I love all three sonatas, his chamber music, his symphonies, his serenades… I definitely want to feature Brahms at some point on an album because I’ve lived with his music so much”.

In 2016, he makes his debuts with several orchestras, both in Canada and abroad. He is also a special guest at the 2016 Menuhin Competition, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the legendary musician’s birth. Other projects include several recitals and the premiere of a new work for violin, string orchestra and chorus. Kerson Leong strongly believes “contemporary music is something that requires immense imagination and courage. I really welcome it, because it offers such freedom for expression and creativity”. Two qualities he certainly has.

© Lucie Renaud

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Kerson Leong
Philip Chiu
Johannes Brahms
AN 2 9160 Bis

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