Information Services Office   19.9.2012


Louise Kwong wins three prizes in an international singing competition
(Photo by Keith Hiro)
Louise Kwong greeted by applause after performing Bach's Cantata BWV 51
(Photo by Keith Hiro)
Newsletter No. 403 > Thus Spake... > Budding Soprano Louise Kwong on Vocal Studies

Budding Soprano Louise Kwong on Vocal Studies


Music graduate of 2009, winner of the Second Prize, the Soprano Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2012 International Singing Competition ‘Ferruccio Tagliavini’

How do you feel about the busy schedule in Hong Kong this summer?

I sang in Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor under the baton of maestro Helmut Rilling on 19 August, and will sing the soprano solo in Mozart’s Requiem, a Bach cantata and a motet tonight (2 September). I will return to Amsterdam tomorrow for the new semester and come back two weeks later for the Hong Kong Oratorio Society’s Haydn and Britten concert. Such a busy schedule is quite unusual and demanding for me, as each work requires a different tone quality and interpretation.

How did you become acquainted with music?

My mother is a keen karaoke singer and I loved to hear her sing when I was a little girl. She enrolled me on the Hong Kong Children’s Choir. When I was seven, I asked for piano lessons and got started. But then I stopped for one year because I found it too difficult. I am glad my mother insisted that I resume lessons until I sat for the HKCEE. If not, I would not be able to appreciate the accompaniment when I sing, and my interpretation would be incomplete. I chose music as my major in my undergraduate studies. My parents did not interfere with my choice, nor did they ask me to consider whether I could make a living by studying music.

You used to appear as an alto or mezzo soprano. How come you’ve been singing more soprano roles recently?

Nearly all high school girls love singing the high voice. Since I belonged to the few who have a better low register, I was assigned to the low-voice part. I was trained as a mezzo soprano in my teens. Singing with a rich timbre made me feel secure, and it sounded more expressive. It was not until two years ago in Holland that I learned to have a balance between head and chest tones.

What is it like studying at CUHK?

The undergraduate programme focused on building a strong academic foundation weighted with general education and languages. The late Professor McClellan of the Music Department taught me Western opera, and he was an outstanding scholar. I lived in Wen Chih Tang. I remember sneaking in through the back door of the department’s studio at night, which was practically ‘open’ around the clock. We would have fun there until 3 to 4 am, singing and playing instruments.

And what is it like studying in the Netherlands?

I obtained my master’s degree at the Conservatory of Amsterdam where practice was the emphasis. Besides learning French, German, Italian and drama, I spent most of my time practising voice. Opportunities for performance were plenty. I’m not the academic type and so a conservatory suits me well.

What is a typical day like in Amsterdam?

I wake up around eight or nine in the morning. The first thing I do is turning on the rice cooker before taking a shower. I like to have rice for packed lunch because it is more substantial. At the conservatory, I practise, have lunch, then practise again and have lessons. I go home around six and prepare dinner. I live a simple life there. I can focus on my study because there aren’t many activities to distract me.

How do teachers at different stages inspire you?

Ms. Chan Siu-kwan taught me voice from Secondary 4 till I graduated from CUHK. I enjoyed every lesson with her. It takes a beautiful voice, and most of all, musicality, to be a good singer. You have to feel the music and understand what it asks from you. As a young girl, I learnt everything—interpretation, imagination and musical senses—from Ms. Chan, and I am still benefiting from her teaching now. I joined the Hong Kong Children’s Choir at nine and was inspired by its Music Director Kathy Fok. She used vivid imageries to help us understand the technical requirements for singing, and it proved to be effective. Under the coaching of Ms. Sasja Hunnego at the Amsterdam Conservatory, my techniques have improved tremendously over the past two years. She is good at giving me specific instructions, and designing customized exercises for me to correct my mistakes. Having gained some experience and grown with age, I have become more capable of understanding more technical issues. I met her at the right time.

Have you met any bottleneck during the course of vocal studies?

Oh yes, in the year I spent in the UK for my postgraduate diploma. I had difficulty in singing high notes and my low notes were too breathy, but I didn’t know how to improve. I was stuck and frustrated. Then I began to get some hints under the tutelage of my teacher in the Netherlands, and I began to read more.  Finally my problems were solved. I used to rely on my instinct when I learned, now I know how to apply theory more.

Tell us how you won the singing competition in Austria in April.

I didn’t aim at winning at all. I had to sing seven songs altogether. Since I didn’t think I would make the finals, I left an aria from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera to it. It requires a heavy voice which is not my strength. I was stunned to see my name as one of the finalists. I told myself, ‘Let it be, just try your best.’ Maybe it’s my daring attempt and hard work which had impressed the audience and the judges. I was told later by Richard Bonynge, one of the judges, that I could have won the first prize if I did not choose that song. But I was already very happy with the second prize because I was competing with singers four to five years older than me, who had good command of their mature voices.

Do you enjoy competition or performance more?

While I will certainly give my best for both competition and performance, I do enjoy competition more. The anxiety over what results I’ll get will give me great drive. The audience of a competition is usually more excited and involved because they want to see how you squeeze the last ounce of your effort. As for performances, I don’t always get the chance to sing my favourite pieces because the programmes are usually designed by the organizers. But that also helps to expand my repertoire. During the past couple of years, I have sung more Bach.

How will you walk your future path? When will your first solo recital be?

I want to spend more time overseas, to gain more performing opportunities and learn from more experienced artists. I love teaching. I have taught voice and choirs at my high school, and I love to offer my help if my juniors at CUHK need it. When you teach, you’re forced to reflect deeply, to present your views in different ways and develop different solutions to suit the ability and personality of individual students, and in doing so, you may come to discover something helpful to yourself. I think it’s not yet time to give a solo recital. I need more time to gain experience, to hone my skills and to enrich myself. Five years from now, maybe.

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