Praised by Musical America for the “depth and sincerity of his musicality”, the Singaporean conductor Kahchun Wong first came to international attention as the winner of the 5th Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in 2016, following in the footsteps of Gustavo Dudamel, who immediately invited him to the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a Conducting Fellow for the 2016/2017 season.
Kahchun was born to Chinese parents and raised in Singapore, one of the youngest but most ethnically diverse populations in Southeast Asia. Having also spent considerable time studying in Germany and training in the United States of America, this vibrant exposure to a rich and contrasting cultural diversity has transcended the boundaries of nationalism, making him a citizen of the world and empowering him with a unique perspective to embrace Eastern and Western cultures together onto a larger vision of the global community.
Kahchun has been invited by the New York Philharmonic to lead its Lunar New Year Gala in February 2019, being only the second conductor in this annual tradition after the eminent Chinese conductor Long Yu.
In the 2018/2019 season, other highlights include his debuts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow State Symphony, Hamburger Symphoniker and the Tonkünstler-Orchester. In Japan, he will lead concerts with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony, Kyoto Symphony, Nagoya Philharmonic and Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.
Wong also returns to the Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse with two separate programmes featuring Gustav Mahler's 1st Symphony and a symphonic portrait of the American composer Moondog, as well as conducting Bruckner's 9th Symphony with Staatsphilharmonie Rhineland-Pfalz for its first subscription concert of the season in Mannheim.
After a remarkable last-minute debut with the Nürnberger Symphoniker in October 2016, Kahchun has been swiftly elected as its next Chief Conductor from the 2018/2019 season, becoming one of only a handful of Asians in the world to be entrusted with this musical leadership role. In addition to subscription concerts at the Meistersingerhalle and orchestral tours to Asia, Germany and Italy, he also makes an annual appearance at Klassik Open Air, which is considered to be the largest outdoor event of classical music in Europe.
Kahchun’s career has also thrived closer to home in numerous appearances with leading Asian orchestras. In June 2016, he stepped in at short notice for the indisposed Jesus Lopez-Cobos for three consecutive subscription debuts with the China Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony and Guangzhou Symphony, and has since forged a close relationship with them, alongside numerous orchestras in Japan such as the Tokyo Philharmonic, Tokyo Symphony, New Japan Philharmonic, Kanagawa Philharmonic, Kansai Philharmonic, Osaka Symphony, Hiroshima Symphony and Kyushu Symphony.
An accidental encounter evolves into a lifelong passion for music
A protégé of the late Kurt Masur, Kahchun had the privilege of sharing the podium with him on multiple occasions in his final years, inheriting a repertoire of canonic masterpieces by Austro-Germanic and Russian composers. He has also assisted Valery Gergiev and Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Philharmonia Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Ivan Fischer at the Budapest Festival Orchestra.
Wong was sent by his math teacher to fill the ranks of his school brass band as a cornet player when he was 7 years old, setting off a musical journey through youth orchestra and the Singapore Armed Forces, where he served in the military band as a trumpeter for two years. After completing his compositional studies at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore and the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, he was accepted into the conducting class of Christian Ehwald at the Hans Eisler Musikhochschule in Berlin.
Advocating inclusiveness, respect and empathy for all
Wong believes in the power of education to inspire and uplift, mirroring his own journey as a musician from a young Southeast Asian country. Together with Marina Mahler, the granddaughter of Gustav Mahler, they have co-founded Project Infinitude, a grassroots initiative that introduces classical music into the lives of children from diverse backgrounds.
In 2018, he has embarked on a year-long intensive partnership with the non-profit agency Child at Street 11, working with children between the ages of 2 months to 7 years old. Having personally witnessed the tangible successes of Ivan Fischer's Cocoa Concerts in Budapest and New York, Wong has adapted this sensory-friendly and inclusive series to the suburbs of Singapore with a local flavour - the Red Bean Concerts, where children and their families get a bowl of heartwarming red bean soup after a performance by leading musicians from top cultural institutions.
The climax for Project Infinitude arrives on 4 August 2018: The tiny but strong voices of our children will be heard through a recording by 80,000 people live at Klassik Open Air in Germany, singing the Malay folksong Dayung Sampan (paddle boat), which will then be connected to a performance of Wong's community composition "Sunny Island March", originally commissioned by the Ministry of Education for the Singapore Youth Festival in 2017.