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September 2016
The Winning Conductor Who “Serves the Music” - Sit Ngai-cheung, Adrian (Music)
Alumnus Sit was awarded first place in the 1st International Conductors' Competition Augsburg, which was participated by more than 40 renowned musicians from around the world in early July. We have invited Adrian for an in-depth interview to tell us more about his success story.

Q : Why do you think you won this competition?

A : All art forms are in one way or the other subjective and I have not yet received the comments from the adjudicators so far. I started learning several musical instruments since I was young but there seemed to be little ground for breakthrough. Not until I started learning conducting. It all came so natural and stage freight was no longer an issue for me. I believe performance on the spot, seameless communication with the orchestra to induce synergy between the musicians, being able to bequeath a soul to the music piece and bring the symphony to another level are all important considerations in conducting competitions.

Q : Contestants only get to meet the collaborating orchestra for the first time after arrival at conducting competitions. How do you prepare and practise with the orchestra within such short period of time?

A : This is exactly the most challenging part. We have to build a trusting relationship and rapport with the orchestra when we first met. The approach I adopt is not to be too aggressive or pushy at the beginning. We then proceed to practise the music piece for the competition after some basic exercises. At this stage, we communicate with players through gesture, facial expression, eye contact and body language the way you would with a new friend. This requires proficient skills and patience. The conductor should also maintain a humble attitude along the way. It is of utmost importance to keep the communication succinct and to the point since the time we get to spend with musicians is very short.

Q : Which teacher would you consider the most inspiring to you on the road of conducting?

A : I would say it is Mr. Tam Tze-fai. He is the conductor of the HKBU wind band and guest conductor of the University symphony orchestra. I first started playing French Horn in his amateur wind band after getting to know him. Back then I was not even an HKBU student. He leads me for further exploration along the road of conducting step by step and I have been very grateful for what I have learnt from him all along.

In addition, Mr Garry Walker, my Master’s Degree teacher at Glasgow was another influential figure to me. He definitely made me a better conductor. Without him, I would not be able to achieve what I have achieved today, including winning the competition. I feel that I owe my success to him.

Q : What was the most challenging part when you were learning music and how did you overcome it?

A : I did not have much difficulty learning music. Rather, it was not an easy sail for me academically. I did not do well in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) and took the pre-Associate Degree programme, Associate Degree programme and the bridging two-year bachelor’s degree before I was admitted to the HKBU 3-year Music undergraduate programme. But this could be a blessing in disguise. If I were admitted to undergraduate programme right after HKCEE and the Hong Kong A-Level Exam, I might not be mature enough to treasure the opportunities.

Q : Unlike playing other musical instruments, conducting is not necessarily a ‘practice-makes-perfect’ career. Not to mention it is difficult to get to practise conducting with different orchestras frequently. Can you share with us how you ‘practise’ conducting?

A : There are two levels for practising conducting. First, one needs to understand the music piece. It usually takes at least 4 hours just to think it through and get to understand its background. And then come one’s own interpretation of the piece and deciding where and where not to stress. It would take at least ten more times the time and effort if one is to memorize the piece by heart. The other level is to interact with the orchestra on the spot. But the opportunity is rare. After all, it is not easy to summon a full symphony orchestra all the time and this is the biggest limitation when I practise conducting.

Q : How would you describe the role of the conductor in an orchestra?

A : Music is the medium of emotion while musicians are the vehicle of music. In that sense, conductor is the coordinator among the musicians. No doubt every musician is very familiar with the instrument they play. But it would be up to the conductor to decide where to stress, what to stress and for how long so as to best illustrate the emotions expressed in the music piece. Coordinating the various instruments for bringing out the best of the piece is also part of the conductor’s job. It is like an experienced restaurant manager who knows exactly when a customer needs what and serves the meal, refills drinks and cleans up the table with perfect timing. Therefore, I think the role of a conductor is to “Serve the Music”, the same way a restaurant manager serves customers.

Q : What is the greatest challenge for a conductor on stage and how do you overcome it?

A : Every musician thinks differently but all feel that the instrument they play is important to the music piece. The most challenging task for a conductor is to have the musicians put down their egos, unite and serve the music together as part of the team. The essence lies in communication. The conductor should never take a snobbish attitude but be humble and give comments and advices to musicians on an equal basis. Musicians and conductor are both indispensible part of the orchestra.

Q : Which conductor do you admire most and why?

A : It’s Johannes Brahms. The music scores he wrote do not only touch the audience’s hearts but also give me goose bumps! Moreover, I have new inspirations every time I listen to them again. There are plenty of rooms for conductors to interpret the pieces and this is really challenging.

Q : What is your next goal after winning the award? Do you intend to make music your lifelong career? What will be your direction for future development?

A : I will be taking a Postgraduate Diploma course in Music in Austria starting from September. I aspire to become the resident conductor of an orchestra as my career. As for my dream, I would like to be the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and I would have no regrets!

Back to The BUddy Post September 2016

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