Jeremy So is inspired by great teachers – and not only those who teach music. It takes someone special to dedicate their life to passing on their knowledge and passion to the next generation.
Where were your born? Hong Kong
Do you still study & where – when will you finish? I did my undergraduate degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, then a couple of postgraduate degrees at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.
Are you a full-time professional musician? I spend most of my week (including weekends) at the Conservatorium High School tutoring piano and chamber music, and accompanying as one of the two staff pianists. Besides that, accompaniment also makes up the bulk of my freelance work. It’s sometimes tricky finding the time and energy to practise at the end of the day.
What drew you to become a musician? When I graduated from high school, I almost ended up studying a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney. It wasn’t until two months before starting university I realised that after so many years of playing and studying music, I simply could not even imagine not being a musician at all.
Do you sometimes perform in an ensemble? Performing in an ensemble is as satisfying for me as flying solo, with its own additional challenges and rewards, so whenever a good opportunity arises I’m super keen. Unfortunately, many of my friends are still overseas, either continuing with their studies, or busy with their performing careers in various ensembles and orchestras.
I’ve never been especially fond of piano ensembles though. One piano makes enough noise!
What is so special about the piano and its music? The piano can play multiple notes at the same time with greater ease and effectiveness than almost any other instrument. While the most common application of this is harmonic texture, it’s the possibility of rhythmic games which I find special. The piano etudes of György Ligeti, for example, create aural illusions such as different simultaneous tempi.
What else can you play? I played the violin for one year and dropped it because I couldn’t make vibrato happen. The organ brought a little more success and I managed to pass my fifth grade exam!
Do you sing? Absolutely not – unless you count choral singing during high school.
What are your hobbies and why are you passionate about them?
I spend more time than I should admit playing computer games. But as far as I know, there’s a popular misconception about games and those who play them – not all games are those you would play simply to pass the time on a commute, and not all dedicated players are constantly holed up in their rooms for hours yelling at strangers over the internet. For me, a game which has a compelling narrative, memorable characters, wonderful visual and aural design, and deals with confronting themes can provide escapism in the same way a good novel does, and is just as much a work of art as a good film.
Do you do a lot of travel? Where have you been overseas in the past few years? Not as much as I would like to. After spending three years in Manchester, in more than one sense of the word, I would feel guilty about going away on holidays. In the past few years I’ve also been to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, Bangkok and San Francisco. One reason I enter competitions is that it allows me to travel with a clear conscience!
What are your goals over the next two years? Establishing a regular music ensemble, learning the rest of Ligeti’s Études pour piano, entering a contemporary music competition, learning another language to a conversational level, moving out.
Which musician inspires you any why? Without naming anyone specifically, some of my friends with whom I have worked have been constant sources of inspiration. I admire their persistence and dedication to what they believe in, even when encountering various setbacks. There is so much we pianists can learn from the way a violinist reaches for a high note, or a flautist has a physical connection with the trajectory of a phrase.
Which composer’s music do you love and why? During my undergraduate years I had a bit of an obsession with the music of Alexander Scriabin. I started with the early works and eventually ended up writing a dissertation on two of his late sonatas. There is a feeling of flight in many of his works to which I was attracted. More recently, it has been Leoš Janáček, because of his fantastic and colourful turns of harmony, and György Ligeti as mentioned above.
Do you play sports? I have never been particularly interested or any good at sports and absolutely hate cardio, but I’ve been doing a bit of strength training for the last year and a half.
Name 4 of your favourite things to do to chill out/have fun: Eating out with friends, playing games, enjoying the sun (especially after three years in Manchester), sleeping.
What’s your idea of fashion/what do you prefer to wear? As I work at a school, I’m usually just wearing a nondescript shirt and trousers, or concert blacks if the day requires. Most recently I’ve been going through a Paul Smith phase, but my favourite shirt is a Simon Carter with a Liberty print consisting of dodos, mushrooms, ducks, crabs, frogs and parrots.
What car do you drive? A 2002 Volkswagen Bora V6 4Motion. (Black sedan, manual transmission, 2792cc engine with a maximum output of 201hp.) After getting my full licence I wanted to learn manual, so I had a couple of lessons before buying this car fifth-hand. It’s a lot of fun to drive, even if I have spent more on repairs and maintenance within six months than I originally paid for it!
How do you relax and unwind from rehearsing? By the time I get home there’s usually only enough time for reading a few articles in bed!
How do you care for your back etc. (to stop injuries etc)? Despite my age my back is in reasonably good shape, but I routinely stretch my fingers and arms before playing. I pulled a tendon in my wrist six years ago while preparing for another competition and was worried that I might never play again. Although I recovered in a little over a month, the experience was educational.
Do you love the movies? I go about once a year. This year I’ll probably go see the Star Wars film.
List at least three bars / favourite spaces to hang out in Australia and why? Sideways Deli Cafe in Dulwich Hill, Dachshund Coffee in Gladesville, and Ground Control at Circular Quay. My speech slurs and I have a headache until I’ve had my morning coffee.
What is your favourite alcoholic drink? Once again, after living in England for three years, I can’t go past a good beer.
Favourite meal / food / fruit and why? Brunch / cafe food / whatever goes with the cafe food I’ve ordered, because it combines the best options for breakfast and lunch with the efficiency of only sitting down for one meal.
Do you compose your own music? No, I prefer to interpret the music of the people who dedicated or are still dedicating their lives to it.
What do you hope to get out of this Australian National Piano Award? The motivation and means to keep on sharing music through performance.
How long have you been rehearsing for this event? I’ve had some of the repertoire for more than a decade, but in a more direct sense I suppose I only started rehearsing for this when I put in my application!
How did you hear about the Australian National Piano Award? As a pianist having studied at an Australian institution, it was a bit hard to miss!