“I design my programmes according to what I want to say as a person”
Ahead of the Hong Kong Music Series in London this July, Frances Wilson interviews maverick pianist and director of Music Lab, Kajeng Wong.
Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
My father played the piano. I fell in love with the instrument’s sound once I heard it at an early age. It was the pursuit of life’s meaning that led me to pursue a career in music.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My teachers were, of course, my biggest influence. Beside them, my audiences – whom I play for; and the composers, whose music we play.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To not stop.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
My first recital in college, titled “Seasons of Life”, marked my signature of presenting music with a context that connects the composers, their music, my thoughts and the audience.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Schumann’s Fantasy, Beethoven’s Op.111, Liszt Sonata, Bach’s keyboard partitas.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I design my programmes according to what I want to say as a person. So far, it had been “Seasons of Life”, “Tribute to Death”, “Fast & Difficult” and “God or No God”. For me, my programmes should comprise of more than choices of music: they should have something intellectual to offer my audiences.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I think every concert hall/venue has its challenges. The best and biggest hall must be beautiful in sound, but it’s a challenge to hold it intimately and effectively. The smaller is more exposed, but more intimate.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I love pieces that have infinite layers to dig deeper into, such as the immortal Schubert’s late sonatas, Brahms’ Klavierstucke, Schumann Kreisleriana… For listening, I particularly enjoy Mozart’s concertos. I find them refreshing and rejuvenating in their spirit and depth.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Grigory Sokolov, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Radu Lupu… among others.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
To be honest with you, I don’t remember or recall my past concert experiences. Each of them were unique, a conversation with the artists who were performing. But if I had to say, a performance of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-flat, D960, by Claude Frank.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To know the nature of classical music in the whole spectrum of a society, and to know why we still play, or not play music.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to be sustainable in my projects and musical pursuits. Be free and courageous to realise my dreams and thoughts.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To be content with imperfection.
What is your most treasured possession?
My relationships with good people around me.
Kajeng Wong performs his Fingerman, an exploration of the concept of God in an experimental classical piano recital on 10 and 11 July at Wilton’s Music Hall, London.
KaJeng Plays Schumann Fantasy