Interview: The classical music world of Min Lee

Interview: The classical music world of Min Lee

Singapore’s very own Min Lee tells us all about her love for the violin and the rise of classical music
Singapore's violinist Min Lee
Min Lee will play the famed S$12.6 milion Brahms Stradivarius violin, accompanied by pianist Vaclav Machas, at The Arts House

If history has taught us anything, it was that the age-old classical music scene has been dominated by the eccentric and the brilliant. Singapore's musical child prodigy Min Lee will be part of that very rich history when she takes to the stage with the 300-year-old Brahms Stradivarius violin crafted by handcrafted by the great Antonius Stradivarius during his "golden period" of 1720-28.

CNNGo speaks to Min Lee about her musical roots and what goes on in her iPod playlist.

CNNGo: We know you have been trained to play the violin since you were two and enrolled into Yale at 14. How hard was it for you to cope with such pressure at such a young age?

Min Lee: At that young age, you don't really feel the pressure. I was just so focused on my art and being the best violinist I could be. But, growing up, I was lucky my professor and parents didn't push me into too many concerts too early. Most times, pressure comes more from unrealistic expectations of a child who may not yet be emotionally matured to cope. I escaped that.

Singapore's violinist Min LeeMin Lee started playing the violin at the age of two and gave her first public performance at five.

CNNGo: Who were your main influences from your early days?

Lee: Probably my mother. She started me on the violin when I was two, left for the U.S. with me when I was nine and was learning together with me on my violin journey... it's been a real adventure. After that, my professor Erick Friedman at Yale, who not only taught me many things about the violin, he was also a life mentor.

CNNGo: You’re performing soon at The Arts House with the Brahms Stradivarius violin. How do you feel being part of a selected group of people who have been allowed to play with this particular instrument?

Lee: It's a real privilege for a violinist to play on an instrument with its 300 year history and intriguing acoustical mystery. I'm really looking forward to the concert!

CNNGo: A lot has been said about supporting "local music" with the spotlight on bands like Electrico. What about classical music in Singapore, which is a much less mainstream musical genre?

Lee: Classical music does not have the mass reach of rock music but it holds its ground in the face of many crossover currents. In Singapore, the classical music demographic is positive. While the grey-haired audience dominates the Western concert halls, the majority of our local audience is under 45. I've noticed this in my own concerts in Singapore and it is great to see this many young people out there.

CNNGo: With you being a big star in the classical music industry, has it helped any other Singaporeans break into the classical music scene?

Lee: Talent development is the key and definitely something I'm interested in. One of the biggest changes I've seen since I left at nine has been the parents' attitudes towards the idea of their child being a professional musician. When I left Singapore to pursue the violin, people were surprised and skeptical! However today, many parents are quite supportive of their children taking the leap into this seemingly less "secure" profession. This is very positive for Singapore.

CNNGo: When you’re not practicing your violin skills, what do you do in your free time? Are there any projects away from music that you’re involved now?

Lee: I'm enrolled at the LKY School of Public Policy doing my Masters in Public Policy. I'm in my last year, so it's been really busy the last few months, with papers and presentations. During my time, off I like to catch up with my friends and just have coffee or movies.

CNNGo: What would you see yourself doing if you were not a violinist?

Lee: Right now, I cannot yet imagine my life without my violin!

CNNGo: Besides classical, what other kinds of music do you listen to?

Lee: I tune in to most genres of music. In a world of music where rock dominates, it is interesting to listen to something that has such mass appeal. But I have to admit, my entire iPod playlist is classical. Even when I'm out for a run, that's what I'm listening to.

CNNGo: Lastly, any advice for aspiring Singaporean classical musicians?

Lee: Look for your true mentor, wherever he is in the world, and believe in yourself.

getting there

The Romantic Violin on The Brahms Strad
The Arts House
1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore
tel +65 6332 6900