Maestro, 80, aiming to set record as oldest solo violinist to perform live

Woon will celebrate his 80th birthday by conducting a concert, whilst also delivering several solo violin numbers.

MUSIC maestro Datuk Woon Wen Kin will be the star of his 80th birthday celebration concert in Penang this Sunday.

He will conduct the Penang Symphony Orchestra (PSO) to play a few of his popular pieces in the show starting 8.15pm at Dewan Sri Pinang.

It includes his Malay Dance Suite, arranged using five types of folk music in the 1980s.

It was the first time traditional melodies were tailored for orchestra.

“The symphony sounds are very rich, and you get all the elements. Every time I conduct abroad, I’ll introduce this piece to foreign audiences.

“The concert here will be a light-hearted affair with a mix of eastern, western and Malaysian sounds,” the octogenerian added.

The first half of the programme also includes Tribal Dance of Yao, and Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus Overture.

For the second half, Woon will pass the baton to Tham Meng Kong, a former schoolmate who is now a prolific conductor and educator based in America.

Woon will instead play two solo violin numbers — Meditation from Jules Massenet’s opera ‘Thais’, and Romance from Dmitri Shostakovich’s ‘The Gadfly’ movie.

That is set to earn Woon recognition as the oldest solo violinist ever to perform live on stage in the country, from the Malaysian Book of Records.

“I wanted to prove that one is never too old to make music. In fact, many of the world’s best conductors go on till their 80s or 90s,” noted Woon.

His wife, Serene Yoon How Wan is set to deliver a soprano number, ‘One Day When We Were Young’. Also notable is ‘I Love Malaysia’ by Loke Yee Chong, which was orchestrated by Tham’s son Andrew.

Other pieces to be featured are Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’, Morton Gould’s ‘American Salute’, Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ and Jean Sibeliu’s ‘Finlandia’.

The orchestra will be around 100-strong for the night, complemented by some of Woon’s former students and comrades in music who are travelling back to Penang from overseas.

Woon, whose birthday falls on Oct 26, expressed that his dreams remain unfulfilled at the age of 80.

He ultimately aspires to elevate the PSO to become a semi-professional and eventually professional, organisation.

He also wants to set up a music conservatoire in Penang, which he feels is much needed to ensure the sustainability of orchestral music in the state.

The PSO, along with the Penang Wind Orchestra and Penang Junior Orchestra, come under the Penang Symphony Society, a non-profit organisation.

“Since the 1980s, we have trained hundreds if not thousands of top musicians from all over the country, some of whom have gone on to establish themselves in places like America, Canada, Australia and Germany.

“The best talents are no longer in Penang, as there is no scope for them here.

“In Western countries, musicians can command handsome salaries and enjoy high prestige and social status,” Woon added.

Proceeds from the concert will aid the Penang Symphony Society’s Fund.

Tickets are priced at RM40 for general admission, and RM20 for students.

They can be purchased at the venue on the day, at Woon Violin Collection in Chow Thye Road, via email at, or through its Facebook page @penangsymphonyorchestra.

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