Homecoming: US-based Malaysian violinist set to make his big MPO debut


Low is currently studying at the Colburn Conservatory of Music and is based in Los Angeles. He will return to Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25 for a performance at the DFP. Photo: Dewan Filharmonik Petronas

When he was three, violinist Low Zi Yang, 19, was already playing the piano. But it was when he was four, he said, that his aunt suggested to his father that the toddler should play the violin instead.

Little that Low knew then, that the instrument would go on to shape his passion and vocation.

As one of Malaysia’s leading young classical musicians, the violinist has performed in Asia, North America and Europe and recently won second prize in the Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition in Trondheim, Norway, with the Trio Tokava, a group formed this year in Los Angeles (also featuring American pianist Nadia Azzi and Taiwan-born cellist Eugene Lin).

Low had won first prize in several national and international competitions including the Virtual International Competition Malaysia, Ipoh Music Festival, Brilliant Talent Discovery Awards International Music Competition, Malaysia Youth Music Festival Competition, EuroAsia Violin Competition and Singapore Raffles International Music Festival.

"Looking back, I realised that I didn't really like the violin when I was first introduced to it, but over time, it started to grow on me, especially when I got the chance to play in an orchestra with other people," he says in an email interview.

Low is currently pursuing his undergraduate studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, with musical advice from accomplished musicians like violinist Martin Beaver, pianist Fabio Bidini and cellist Clive Greensmith.

Music with friends

Low says as a toddler, his life was already filled with music, playing the piano and violin.

"A few years later, I started playing in local orchestras and making music with friends, which made me like music even more,"

As his passion and talent grew, he participated in music festivals and competitions.

"And then five years ago, I decided to audition for the Colburn’s Music Academy and that's how my music journey in North America started. Now I am in my second year here," he says.

On Nov 25, Low will perform at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) where he will play Sibelius’ Violin Concerto In D Minor. Under the leadership of MPO resident conductor Gerard Salonga, the concert is part of the MPO’s 25th anniversary celebration.

In 2017, Low became the youngest concertmaster for the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO), MPO's youth arm and it was at its 10th anniversary concert that he surprised the audience with his violin skills, becoming the surprising star and propelling his name in the local classical music scene.

Following that, he was featured as a soloist in the MPYO tours to Singapore and Hong Kong, and has given solo recitals in Asia and North America.

'I'm very lucky'

Despite his achievement, Kuala Lumpur-born Low doesn't consider himself as an outstanding violinist.

"There are so many good musicians in this world; but I feel I’m very lucky because I am able to receive music education and have people to support me since I was very young to be who I am today," he says.

Low performs on a 1718 Francesco Ruggieri violin, on loan from Singapore's Rin Collection, where some 500 violins, cellos and violas are loaned to musicians around the world. Photo: Dewan Filharmonik PetronasLow performs on a 1718 Francesco Ruggieri violin, on loan from Singapore's Rin Collection, where some 500 violins, cellos and violas are loaned to musicians around the world. Photo: Dewan Filharmonik Petronas

His father, he said, placed him in his music class.

"While I didn't choose it, I love music and that's why I keep playing it until today."

He says for parents with financial ability and who feel that their children are interested or are talented in music, their support for the young musicians is invaluable.

"My father sat in all my lessons and recorded them, watched them with me when I practised during the years of learning the instrument. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parent's support," he says.

After more than a decade of playing musical instruments, Low now draws comparison between music and life.

"I feel that playing music makes me think about finding the meaning of life because in music, we give meaning to every note, line and phrase, which is also the same about living. We wouldn’t be 'living' if we don't give meaning to every second of our lives," says Low.

"Observing and appreciating life's little moments – just like in music– has helped me grow to become happier and to know what I want and what’s best for myself," he adds.

A file image of a 13-year old Low at the 'Elixir Of Youth' concert by the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in July 2017. Photo: FilepicA file image of a 13-year old Low at the 'Elixir Of Youth' concert by the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in July 2017. Photo: Filepic

Low performs on a 1718 Francesco Ruggieri violin, on loan from Singapore's Rin Collection, where some 500 violins, cellos and violas are loaned to musicians around the world.

An avid chamber musician, Low has also worked with world renowned cellist Marc Coppey. Chamber music has a special place in his heart, having played in string quartets, piano trio and piano quintet.

The art of communication in music and with colleagues, beautiful musical structures and emotions that are shared with others are among the qualities of chamber music that have fuelled his love for it.

"The feeling of getting some good work done during a practice session is definitely very therapeutic," he says.

"And to able to feel and appreciate music drives me to be a better musician every day."

Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra performs Sibelius Violin Concerto, featuring Low Zi Yang and conductor Gerard Salonga, will take place at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, KLCC on Nov 25 at 8.30pm. More info here.

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