Trio with Taiwanese wins Polish chamber music competition

05/18/2022 05:45 PM
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Members of Heathcliff Trio: (from left) violinist Ashley Tong, cellist Sebastian Kolin and pianist Jonathan Siahaan. Photo courtesy of Ashley Tong
Members of Heathcliff Trio: (from left) violinist Ashley Tong, cellist Sebastian Kolin and pianist Jonathan Siahaan. Photo courtesy of Ashley Tong

Taipei, May 18 (CNA) An ensemble consisting of British-Taiwanese violinist Ashley Tong (董奕纖) and two other musicians has won the first prize in the just-concluded 9th International Johannes Brahms Chamber Music Competition.

The Copenhagen-based Heathcliff Trio also won two special prizes in the competition held May 12-15 in Gdansk, Poland, for "the best performance of a piece by Brahms" and for "a concert at the Gdańsk Music Festival in 2023."

The group composed of Tong, British cellist Sebastian Kolin, and Danish pianist Jonathan Siahaan was formed in 2020 when the global COVID-19 pandemic began.

"Winning the prizes is great encouragement for a chamber music group that is only two years old," Tong said in a telephone interview with CNA after the trio returned to Denmark.

Regarding the first prize of 10,000 euros (about NT$313,000) awarded to the ensemble, Tong said "we have already decided to use this bonus for something meaningful for our trio."

According to the competition regulations, participants were required to prepare a piece of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the semifinals and a piece by Johannes Brahms in the final.

The trio announced as winner of the special price at 43:46; their performance at 1:37:01. From the YouTube channel of Akademia Muzyczna w Gdańsku

The Heathcliff Trio entered the final with the Brahms Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Tong said, "This is the first piece we played together when the trio was formed and it has been with us at every stage."

"Once in a while, we would play it, and this time, winning the prize for best interpretation of a work by Brahms is a great achievement for us," she added.

Tong said she and Kolin were classmates at the Yehudi Menuhin School in the United Kingdom and had known each other for more than 15 years.

She became acquainted with Siahaan at a music festival in Denmark and the trio decided to form a chamber music group together in late 2020. As a result, Kolin moved to Denmark, reflecting his determination to pursue their musical dreams together, Tong added.

However, the ensemble was formed amid the COVID-19 pandemic when most concerts were canceled and all music practice rooms were closed.

Fortunately, they were able to tide over the effects of the COVID-19 crisis and shape their music in the form they wanted thanks to government subsidies provided to students in Denmark, Tong noted.

Over the past two years, the trio has been invited to perform a series of concerts in festivals such as Oslo Chamber Music Festival, Hvide Sande Masterclass (Denmark), and JMI Chamber Music Campus (Germany), according to the group's official website.

In addition, it became the only trio to make it to the finals of the Royal Overseas League Chamber Music Competition last year, according to its Facebook page.

Born in 1993 in Taiwan, Tong started playing the violin at the age of 7 and moved to the United Kingdom to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School when she was 16 years old.

After graduating from the school, she studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Kunst Universität Graz. Currently based in Copenhagen, Tong is a pupil of Peter Herresthal at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.

Tong's father is former HTC Corp. North Asia President Jack Tong (董俊良) and her brother Henry Tong (董子維) is also a violinist.

(By Chao Ching-yu and Evelyn Kao)

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