Today, Lance is 25 years old, playing the trombone and studying music at the Musikhochschule in Dresden. As if that itself was not proof enough of his extraordinary talent, just one week ago, he was chosen to participate in a masterclass led by world renowned trombonist Christian Lindberg. MALAYSIA INSIGHTS had the chance to talk to Lance Wen Hong Low about his music and living in Germany.
Lance, which part of Malaysia are you from and when did you started studying in Germany?
I am from Seri Kembangan, Selangor, Malaysia and I started my Master in Music this March/April only. I just finished my first semester.
When did you start playing and what was your first instrument?
I started trumpet when I was 11 by joining my school’s brass band (school name: Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina Serdang Bahru 2). Then I switched to trombone during my first year in Tsun Jin High School Wind Orchestra.
Why did you choose music? Was it by chance or did you have a connection to music as a kid already?
I was impressed by the music when I was watching the Star Wars Movie with my family in the cinema, can’t recall which episode was that, I only can remember that it was before 2003, because that year I started to play the trumpet.
Ya haha, and secondly there were only brass instruments and percussions in my primary school.
I think I am the only one in my family to get into music seriously professional. My parents are business men and assistant, one sister just finished her studies in Taiwan in design, and one sister is doing her practical to fulfill her studies in multimedia.
I believe you must be very ambitious because the trombone is not exactly easy to play. When did you realize that you have the talent to become good or even professional?
I didn’t realise I had any special talent until someone told me after I had been playing for 6 years. But I believe it was my strong interest and passion to become a professional player, even when I was still 11, that pushed me so far until today. I dreamed to be the player sitting in the orchestra playing that music.
After principal school, what were your next major leaps in your musical education?
I started my first trombone lesson with Eric Lee, principal trombonist of the National Symphony Orchestra of Malaysia. Then I gained my bachelor degree in music performance at the Soochow University, Taiwan, studying with the former principal trombonist of National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, Kuang-Ching Sung. During my university times, I also started to play Euphonium, and had lessons with Meng-Hsin Tsai, principal tubist of Evergreen Symphony Orchestra.
I was one of the members of the National Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan) Orchestra Academy, and also have been selected to join the Asian Youth Orchestra 2016 to undertake a concert tour in China, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan. I also was fortunate to have had invitations to be a guest player in the National Symphony Orchestra Taiwan, Evergreen Symphony Orchestra, KaoHsiung City Symphony Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and more.
That’s a quite impressive list. Why did you decide to study in Germany?
The reason I choose Germany to further my studies on music is, because this is the place where most important composers are from. The strong culture of classical music is just so convincing especially for music students like me who come from countries with poorer classical music scenes.
How did you apply and prepare yourself for Germany?
After I did my german language course I started to research online. School by school, I checked which professors/musicians are teaching in those schools, at the same time also asked many friends of mine who had been studying in Germany. I searched the professors’ names on google, YouTube, Spotify, etc, and then chose which schools I would go for an audition. That was in October, the month Malaysian students have their school final exams.
I came to audition in December and stayed here for two months, it was the first time I ever left Asia, as well as the first time ever seeing snow in my life.
Were the auditions hard to master, in your opinion?
Auditioning for music schools in Germany is never easy. Regardless of technic and intonation issues, I found that the style and the interpretation is what German musicians care most about. After I passed the auditions, luckily I got the letter of admission from Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber Dresden.
I understand you basically concentrate on classical music, although the trombone is also used in jazz music?
Yes you are right, trombone can be widely use in classical and jazz and even funk and pop. But the course I am studying in mainly focusses on classical music training only. We have the jazz department in our school also but I don’t belong to that department. After coming back to Malaysia from Taiwan, I actually could see there’s a large population of Malaysian musicians doing jazz, instead of classical music. But at the same time, we are having more and more classical music events happening in Malaysia. I am optimistic to believe that our musical environment is growing well.
So far, what are your impressions of Germany? Is living and studying here as you expected it?
Not exactly what I expected, but maybe this is just true for Dresden. Dresden has slightly less music events than other places, but the people and my friends here work very hard on their music, I would say it is a competitive but also friendly environment.
Compared to the teachers I had lessons with in the past, I can strongly feel that in general players in Germany are very picky on sticking as written on score, not much “self-interpretation” shall be applied into classic music. I can tell the difference from listening to my own recordings after few months here, my playing sounds somehow more polished now.
You just finished your first semester and shortly after that you joined a masterclass led by Christian Lindberg during the Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival. How did that come about?
The masterclass with Christian Lindberg was a really fantastic experience. He is probably THE trombonist, having recorded a lot of classical trombone music CDs, and many people like me grew up listening to his music. He is such a virtuoso and musical person, especially when we had the chance to learn from him in person, he was so full of positive energy.
You were one of only 8 participants, having been chosen from many dozen trombonists from all over the world. But not only that, you also had the privilege that your own composition was performed live during the concert. What is the story behind this, and when did you start composing actually?
I always wanted to do some arrangement or even compositions whenever I heard some really good music, especially in wind ensemble or orchestra, and chamber form (smaller groups). I had been doing quite a few arrangements mainly for brass and wind ensembles, which were mainly premiered by myself with my friends or my high school TsunJin High School in Malaysia, with the help of my dear friend who make it happened, assistant director of the school band, Eric Yap. I started to seriously compose around April 2017, which is not too long ago. So far my composition are mainly for trombone ensembles, but I plan to write more for brass, wind ensemble, or solo trombone with piano in the future.
So when I went to the masterclass, I was planning to let Christian Lindberg, a trombone virtuoso and composer and conductor himself, to have a look on my composition and arrangement to get some comments from him as well. When I asked him, he just said ”Yeah, let’s play for us tomorrow and we shall sort things out”. So we played it once for the Maestro himself, and he put my composition onto the concert program, which I hadn’t expected at all. He even played with us in the ensemble. What an opportunity and what a privilege for me. Lucky me, haha!
Thank you, Lance, for this interview!