Profile: 2nd Prize winner of the 2008 Dimitri Mitropoulos International Competition, Singaporean conductor Joshua Kangming Tan’s rise to prominence on the international scene has been marked by recent sensational debuts in Carnegie Hall, Shanghai and Taiwan.
Joshua was featured as the top Singaporean musical talent to watch for in 2009 by Lianhe ZaoBao. He has won numerous awards and scholarships, including the Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation Award, NAC-Shell Scholarship and is the first ever recipient of the Charles Schiff Conducting Prize from the Juilliard School for outstanding achievement. Joshua has come to the attention of the leading conductors of today and has studied with James DePreist, Charles Dutoit, David Zinman and Kurt Masur.
He has conducted the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Singapore National Youth Orchestra, Juilliard Orchestra, St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, and his successful debut with the Singapore Lyric Opera in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors in December 2005 led to immediate annual return engagements. In 2006, he was conducting fellow under Charles Dutoit with the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. In January 2007, he gave the world premiere of Kelly Tang’s opera, Intrigues of the Qing Imperial Court.
In the summer of 2008, he was awarded a fellowship to the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen under David Zinman. He was also showcased in a Spotlight concert in Harris Hall at the Aspen Music Festival, where his performance of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat was broadcast live on KAJX radio.
Joshua was Resident Conductor of the National Center for Performing Arts Orchestra, Beijing. From the year 2013, he has been in the position of the Associate Conductor in Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Joshua is a graduate of The Juilliard School and the Eastman School of Music (High Distinction).
Q1. In many Asian countries, population structure is often gravitated toward younger generations. This condition is obviously promoting the energy of growth and development. Then, within cassical music, a field of art based on a traditional background, what is the meaning of "youth" against "tradition" or "established value"?
Joshua: Personally I do not view classical music as being set against a traditional background. Many people forget that composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Wagner, Stravinsky, or any composer whose music is still being performed today, were all trailblazers. Classical music is continually evolving, a living and breathing art. Yet these so called 'traditional' music is still being performed today not because it is an established value but rather they speak directly to a person, irregardless of time, age, location, language etc. I believe such notions are preventing many from coming to a classical music concert. Musicians and organizations have to find ways to demystify and break these barriers down. There is absolutely no reason for youths to be against classical music. Its an art form that speaks directly and not some sort of political institution.
Q2. Compared to popular music, which changes its expression or form dramatically and quickly between different generation, classical music is based on the same "score". In order to understand and interpret the original score, do you think "age" or "generation" make difference?
Joshua: Once again, if one compares classical music to popular music, it is very clear that the former is the one that changes very dramatically and quickly instead of pop. Just listen to the music of Shostakovich vs Schnittke, or Barber vs Adams, you will hear a very drastic change.You can find countless examples in classical music. However not so for popular music which is essentially still built on very basic harmonic progressions that has remained literally unchanged.
We are all products of our time and environment. Interpretation changes as one matures but that is very normal. Any true artist will always be seeking to improve on his performance over time. We make different discoveries all the time and understand a little more about performance practice as time progresses. I feel age and generation do play a part but a very small part. What really makes a difference is humility, curiosity and keeping an open mind.
Q3. If you think "youth" would affect or make difference, what could it be? Do you think "you" yourself is also in a new, young generation who would be different from the past generations?
Joshua: See above,
Q4. Do you think your identity as a Singapórean affects when you read, interpret, and perform classical music, which has been produced and established in the Western world?
Joshua: I do not think so. What affects me are the experiences I have been through and my continual thoughts on the music and trying to understand the life experiences of those composers whose works I perform.
Q5. In your career, you studied music under the instruction of James DePreist, an African American conductor born in the United States. In the tradition of classical music, his presence is quite unique and rare. We see the influence of black music in classicla music through jazz and other styles, which came from the "outside" of the main stream or standard of the classical music of the time. The presence of DePriest could be a consequence of the new direction promoted by a new foundation and background of the United States in contrast with the European culture. Do you think "Asian" background to be a new foundation or background to promote new form and meaning of classical music?
Joshua: Once again I think this question shows the misconception that many have about classical music. There is no 'mainstream' or 'standard'. Throughout time composers have always been influenced other genres of music. Art reflects life and therefore, composers will invariably color their music with other genres that they have come into contact with. Debussy with gamelan, Beethoven with Turkish, Ravel with jazz and these are all European composers!
DePreist was an exceptional artist, musician, conductor and great human being. These are the very reasons why he was so successful as a conductor and so well loved by those who had the good fortune to work with him. Not because of certain direction being promoted during his time.
I do not think that Asia will be the new foundation or background. Music is an art form that cuts across barriers. It is very meritocratic and if one is good, racial background should not matter.
Q6. In order to expand the foundation of classical music in Asia, what do you think is the most important thing or element?
Joshua: Promoting classical music and making it accessible to youths. We have to constantly try to expand and educate our audience base. This is not only unique to Asia itself.
Q7. Lastly--if more people become more common to learn, and enjoy classical music in Asian countries what do you see as a possibility and influence?
Joshua: A concerted effort to make it accessible to all and getting rid of the notion that it is a highbrow art form meant only for the educated or privileged. Classical music is for everyone.