The magic of music

The magic of music

Former SCMP Student Musician of the Year tells Mabel Sieh how he expresses himself best through music

Alvin Wong was the SCMP Student Musician of the Year in 1998. He was a Form Six student at St Paul's Co-Educational College then. Today he is an established cellist who lives in New Haven in the US state of Connecticut, and is about to move to Australia to teach at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne.

As the traditional Chinese saying goes, Wong's destiny as a musician could have been set in stone at the age of three.

"My mum told me that, when I was three, I went up to the piano and started playing nonsense and wouldn't leave. I'd be running around all day, but when I practised my piano, I'd sit quietly and patiently for five hours," says the 32-year-old musician. Wong has a Master of Musical Arts degree from Yale School of Music and is a doctoral candidate there.

What winning the SCMP award meant to me

"The award was certainly an encouragement as it recognised my potential and talents," he recalls. "But I was also aware how small Hong Kong was. Though I'd won many local competitions, I had no idea how talented I was [compared with others outside the city]."

That's why he turned down the offer to study medicine at the University of Hong Kong and went to study music in the United States.

"I thought it wouldn't hurt to give it a try and see how far I could go [in music]. And I knew very clearly that if I had given up music right then, there would be no turning back, and I'd regret it for the rest of my life."

What music means to me

"The answer is simple: it's my life. I can't imagine one moment without music. Even if I became deaf, I would have music in my head.

"I think I will hear my own requiem when I am on my death bed."

Wong believes music has a magical power to communicate.

"It empowers me to communicate with people, nature, myself or God alike. There are so many things I can't express with words, but I can use music to say what is on my mind or how I feel about certain things.

"Music also brings people together. Through music I have met people from different walks of life, and there is always something to talk about. I can only wish that when people go to war, they'd use music as their weapon."


No stranger to success, Wong has been invited to perform with distinguished orchestras and conductors around the globe, and commissioned and premiered new cello works by international composers. However, he remains down-to-earth.

"Success is being able to achieve what one wants to do or be. In our world, success is often measured in a materialistic way by questions like 'How much money do you make?' 'How big is your house?' or 'What car do you drive?' But if you want to be an artist, materialism is the first thing you need to give up.

"I'm extremely lucky to have attained the position at the University of Melbourne. But my goal doesn't stop here.

"I want to nurture a generation of musicians and artists who would use their talents to connect people in the community. That's what our society needs right now."

What qualities the Best Performing Artist needs

"You need to be technically fluent and possess a sense of beauty. But your skills will improve over time. Most important is the 'performing' part. You need to be able to communicate with the audience and cultivate a relationship with them on stage."

And for young people, whether or not their musical: "Nothing is impossible. Pursue your dream with all your heart and effort."

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