At twelve years of age, the pressures of school would be enough to buckle the knees of most kids. For Brendan Goh, he's got his debut concert and a CD launch to think about as well. TOS listens in
First published on 14 Jul 2011. Updated on 15 Jul 2011.
Child prodigies wield an immensely powerful gift of shaming those before them who have spent the better part of their lives dedicated to a skill. Brendan Goh may have been hesitant to speak much, but for a 12-year-old he’s handled himself very well in front of audiences sitting behind his cello.
‘We gave him this little stool,’ Brendan’s mother Karen smiles, describing his first concert at the age of four. ‘And he fell off the stool. The funniest thing was he was very cool, he picked up the cello and sat down and said “Mummy, I think my strings are out of tune.” Right in front of the audience. He was oblivious to what was around him.’
Since his leisurely dabble with the grand-sized instrument, his training became more focused. Especially nowadays, under the eye of professor Qin Li Wei, a world-famous cellist.
'He’s very tough,' Karen says. 'That’s what we need when we’re training prodigies. We need to train them in a very tough environment, without giving them any loose strings. So what he is doing is very regimental…but it works better. He’s got a good temperament. He can accept criticism, which is rare at a young age.’
Back in 2007, the eight-year-old Brendan was whisked off to Europe to play for the very impressed Mayor of Salzburg, the hometown of Mozart himself. Best memories? ‘Nice and cold.’
Brendan’s household is surrounded by music. His mother is a founder of Tanglewood Music School and also plays the cello, and his dentist father Dr Wilson Goh wields the violin when not wiring teeth together. His little sister is learning the fiddle like her dad, but Karen assures me there’s no sibling rivalry. “So far so good. It’s been healthy.”
Attempting to play the full, 25 minute-long Hadyn cello concerto in C from memory for his debut recital Metamorphosis, the pressure of a looming concert seemed well concealed when he told me of his two-hour daily training sessions. ‘Mostly my favourite is the second movement. It’s quite fast. I like playing fast.’
But does he get nervous before a show? ‘Oh yes,’ Brendan laughs softly. When asked how he relaxes before performing, he simply says: ‘I just think of afterwards, after the show. My mind goes blank when I play.’
At the end of the year, Brendan will also be releasing an album, with proceeds going towards the Business Times Budding Artists Fund, a kitty enabling financially disadvantaged young musicians to receive proper support and reach a wider audience. ‘It’ll be a mix of light classics, like "Ave Maria" and "Flight of the Bumblebee",’ Karen says. ‘Something people can relate to, that people can enjoy.’
For a musician so young, it’s a shock to find out his instrument is over 280 years old. Karen’s private collection of cellos and violins, as well as a harpsichord, has allowed him to perfect a unique sound. But did Brendan notice the difference? ‘Yes, the older one is more like a squeaky sound.’
‘This is a 1730 Paolo Testore cello,’ Karen adds. ‘It’s amazing. This cello was sleeping in my friend’s house for about 40 years. Nobody has played it from then, so we thought we would wait until Brendon was the right age to play it. It took a few months, but as you play them they open up. Each instrument has a different voice.'
The final question I had to ask: What made him want to play the cello? 'I think my hands can play the cello better than the violin because I have big hands,' says Brendan, showing his hands.