During the Sarawak International Festival of Music and Arts (SIFMA) 2022, held on December 3 and 4, 2022, BorneoTalk had the chance of sitting down with US-based Sarawakian pianist, Esme Wong.
Esme Wong made her solo debut at the age of 12 at the Trinity College of London Awards and holds degrees from Luther College and the University of North Texas. She joined Nashville Opera as a 2020 Mary Ragland Emerging Artist. Her past appearances include being an assistant conductor at Red River Lyric Opera, coaching faculty at Druid City Opera Workshop at University of Alabama. Described by the Dallas Morning News as an “adept collaborator…with vibrant urgency”, Esme has toured the world, from Vienna’s Konzerthaus to New York’s Carnegie Hall.
During SIFMA, Esme performed a passionate rendition of Danza Del Gaucho Matrero from Danzas Argentinas by Alberto E. Ginastera.
As a world-class performer, how does it feel performing back in your hometown for the first time?
- When I heard the national anthem ‘Negaraku’ and the state anthem ‘Ibu Pertiwiku’, I almost teared up because it’s so touching to be able to be home, performing with my fellow Sarawakians. It’s truly an honour and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to perform on this platform.
What do you love about SIFMA 2022?
- I love the diversity that they brought in. Even though we live in Southeast Asia, we still have a lot to learn from other countries, especially our neighbours like the Philippines and Vietnam. It’s amazing to get to know different professionals in the same career. I also love that our local performers are featured, because I feel like sometimes people forget that our local performers work very hard to shine in their area.
What made you pursue a career as a musician?
- My mom is a piano teacher, conductor and vocal teacher, so that kind of easily and naturally blends into my own personality. I remember being in the Sarawak State Symphony Orchestra (SONS) choir and meeting a lot of other performers. I was also a pianist for the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, where I was exposed to many different types of music like chamber music.
How do you find inspiration in your performances?
- I mainly do classical music, which is the root of all kinds of music. Before attempting a piece, I always look up the background and the story behind the music. My job is to deliver that message and that story to the audience. The audience don’t have to know, for example, who Chopin is, who Mozart is, as long as they understand the music conveyed through your playing, it’s a successful performance.
Can you tell us more about your career in the US?
- As a performer, I try to bring more social awareness and spread the love of music, which is why during Covid, I started the 14 days of Asian awareness initiative through my social platforms. It actually received quite a lot of media attention and was even featured in local newspapers. This led to collaborations with other performers, namely renowned opera singer, Renée Fleming for her 2021’s SongStudio Digital Showcase. I was the only Malaysian in the group, paired with Helen Zhibing Huang from China. Together we performed the ‘Song of the Red Bean’, accompanied by a compilation video of our homes in Kuching and China, shown at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
What are things about Sarawak that you’d like to share with the world?
- I’m proud of our harmonious living. We have so many different ethnicities and races living together, and we’re always proud to feature indigenous talents and their music. Also, the food! Sarawak food is too good! My husband used to say to me, “In Malaysia, we eat like it’s a celebration everyday!”