A True Prodigy...!!

December 28, 2011 at 11:24 PM · This young boy is so special, he's definitely more than just intonation and skill. Unbelievable emotions coming out from such a young player, reminds me of Milstein. Heard so many young soloists of today but I've probably never heard someone who has as much emotions like this boy - Kerson Leong, winner of Menuhin Competition Junior Group of 2010. His playing literally tells you forget about intonation and technique, enjoy the music!

Replies (44)

December 28, 2011 at 11:49 PM · He seems so becalmed and his music has such maturity. I see exactly what you mean - I think he's been featured here before (must check) and am sure he will be many times again. Thanks for the link!

December 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM · lots of work and good education as always... Not saying that is something bad. All the best to a boy who looks more serious than he probably should at that age. Maturity I don't find in this.

December 29, 2011 at 01:59 AM · How do you hear "emotion" in ones playing? Do you have a set of criteria or it's simply a feeling of "this sounds good to me"?

I have been listening to violin recordings for years and still unable to hear "maturity" in someone's playing. Sure, I like some recordings over others but that's all I can say.

Maturity is such an abstract concept. Does it mean he sounds like an accomplished violinist? Or you can actually feel that his emotion is mature through his playing?

December 29, 2011 at 02:35 AM · let me suggest, that the "maturity" and "emotion" in those pieces is invented by the composer, not by the boy. Obviously he plays quite good, but there is not something special to me in his playing besides he must be quite young (maybe 10 or so). I think he should play other works wich show more his technical abilitys rather then let him show his "serious faces" and make him play with almost pathetic expression, while staying quite on the surface.

I am sorry for being so critical, and I respect his work and he will hopefully be great sometimes, but I will never understand why parents or/and teachers want to have their children in public and successful as soon as possible. It is a tricky thing to handle. Now they are young, but just two years later his age will not help him anymore. I always prefer people who work for an serious longterm goal. Being something special in the classical music business today is as hard as it can be. Competitions are full of wonderful young artists, but they will never all be soloists. Trying to be the young asian prodigy is not a good choice anymore since there have been lots of them before and more impressive than this boy.

I don't want to put him down, he is on a great way, but he is far from being a "prodigy" in the mass of hard working (asien) children.

Let them grow and then show what they really can do. 16 years:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjjS2d-6OzE

December 29, 2011 at 03:49 AM · Greetings,

I agree with Simon here. I can`t hear any great interpretative depth other than perhaps what he has been told to do. many of the passages which should have a marvellous line have no shape and there is much fragmentation which I don`t see as interpretation but rather artifice. Not denying his talent but he isn`t in the Milstein class to my ear.

I may be deaf though.

Cheers,

Buri

December 29, 2011 at 04:21 AM · Actually, I'm very impressed so far with this boy. Does anyone know anything about him? The technique, the intonation, the vibrato are all pretty spot-on. And his choices of fingerings, phrasing, nuances, etc. even if they are completely following his teacher's advice, are convincing and organic. It doesn't sound like "oh right, my teacher wanted me to go up on the A string here" etc. He makes them his own - and that is an aspect of maturity.

Beyond that, defining maturity is like the judge who had to rule on what was pornography as opposed to, say, nude art. He said that he couldn't reduce it to a formula - but he'd sure know it when he saw it. As to emotion? Come on! I'm reminded of the time Lous Armstrong was asked to define Jazz. He replied "if I have to define it for you, you'll never know."

December 29, 2011 at 06:16 AM · Now bellow are what I call matured performances played by another young Canadian prodigy, Timothy Chooi:

As some of us may recall, Kerson and Timmy both went to Menuhin Competition Oslo 2010. Kerson was 13 and Timmy just turned 16 then. A bit of disclosure: I may be biased as Timmy and I shared a same teacher before he went to Curtis while I'm keeping my day job. But listen for yourself and see if you can tell the difference in terms of maturity and intepretation between the two fine young violinists.

December 29, 2011 at 06:21 AM · I wouldn't mind playing like that, but I actually think that the term prodigy is most unhelpful to use for anyone. It is a very heavy mantle to hang on a child, whatever their talent may be.

December 29, 2011 at 06:44 AM · Christian, I heard this line of argument and it may have some validity in some cases. But the young prodigies whom I've known really don't care what other people call them because they are so driven and focused on their music and learning. They know when they are doing well or not so well and that's what matters to them the most. The rest is just noise. Sigh! If only I could be so clear-headed as these kids are!

December 29, 2011 at 07:02 AM · Greetings,

Simon, one aspect of your post I don`t fully understand. What is your objection to him playing Bach? He certainly isn`t butchering it so why shouldn`t he play a lot more ? I am wondering how else a young talent can grow as a musician except by playing great music.

Cheers

buri

December 29, 2011 at 07:46 AM · Unlike other profession like sport racing where performance can be measured by objective time, it's hard to distinguish and objectively say who is better in the music world.

In my opinion, after you reach a certain technical ability, the success of your career will purely depend on factors other than your playing...

December 29, 2011 at 07:48 AM · Also @ Simon:

"Competitions are full of wonderful young artists, but they will never all be soloists. Trying to be the young asian prodigy is not a good choice anymore since there have been lots of them before and more impressive than this boy."

Some will be soloists for some time and others may become chamber musicians, which are more or less soloists. But do you really think being a young prodigy is just a matter of someone's choice? I've seen some of these kids, on their own initiative, want nothing more than playing the violin well and do the best they can in classical music world no matter how better other are also doing in this small world. This is called true passion and in pursuit of one's true dream. This to me is amazing! We should all be proud of them and at the same time try to learn something from it.

December 29, 2011 at 08:52 AM · I'm not sure why I'm so hooked by his playing that I even started this topic. Great technique? Maturity? Tone? I don't know, but when I listen to him, I feel like I'm listening to music, without all these "oh his intonation this or bow grip that, this passage should be like this or that". I feel that the music (or simply the sound coming out from his violin) go straight into my heart. I heard the same thing as I would when I listen to Menuhin, Milstein, Heifetz, etc.

For the 2nd video I posted, I actually watched the rehearsal (I'm supposed, same place, same setting/players, but casual shirt) of the item, which is actually the first video I watched. Even with the subpar sound recording quality, it still hook me and that's why I searched and watched his other videos.

December 29, 2011 at 09:17 AM · I hear what you hear Casey - others don't so maybe this is a learing experience for me at least. Did you also listen to the invited performance? Thats where I was impressed by his calmness - even when he had to slow down somewhat in the faster passages.

It will be very interesting to see how Kelsey matures over the next few years. Anyone know who he studies with?

December 29, 2011 at 01:44 PM · @Buri: I said nothing against him playing Bach. At least I didn't mean to do that. My problem with the two videos is just, that they both are melodic and calm pieces, wich cannot show all his abilities. But I am sure he has some virtuosic repertoire too.

@xixi: I know that to play like this you have to love violin playing! And I know that children love to play violin very much in general. But it is not only this factor that matters. More important is the social background. Because if your parents cannot afford the time and money for regular lessons (with a good teacher) and guided practice sessions (more than 2 times a week obviously) and not buy you an wonderful violin like his... well, than you may sound like a regular 12 year old boy playing violin. Doesn't matter how much passion there is behind. That level you can only reach under certain circumstances and passion is of course the premise. But if it would be the deciding factor, there would be lots of good violinists coming from lower to middle class families, wich isn't the case unfortunately!

December 29, 2011 at 02:22 PM · Simon: its interesting to relate what you say to countries other than the US. The point is that in many countries, in particular the comunist (and perhaps socialist) ones, a very promising child athlete would have tremendous opportunities to develop to world class. However, violin is rather different since it seems to be necessary to spot that ability at a very young age - (say by 6), prior to a time the child would draw attention of the state. Its easy to spot a child that runs well but how do you spot one with the potential to play such an instrument? Hence, they would still probably depend on resources, parental interest and training circumstances!

Its actually interesting to compare which social systems have produced the most virtuoso violinists (per populace). Actually, I have no idea what the answer would be! Perhaps 'jewish' ;)

December 29, 2011 at 08:14 PM · This is what I call maturity:

click here




December 29, 2011 at 08:24 PM · Vanessa - really?

Yixi - re Timothy, I think I'd better go home and practice. Oh wait, I AM home - silly me!

But seriously, I don't think we have to make comparisons between very talented kids. Let's see how they develop...

December 29, 2011 at 11:53 PM · @Elise: I think it is the same in every country just with a different taste. Most "talented" Chinese, Korean (I know the south are not communists) and Russian students come from families with a high social status and strong financial background.

There are systems that try to help the not so well situated children. But no matter how talented a child is, without the care and effort of the parents, there will be no major success that early on. if parents are working class, they work for the money and have not much time left to fight a kids resistance from time to time and watch every step they make. I studied in germany music and I know that in a major music school you will hardly meet someone, who has to afford his own money for an instrument for example, and most students walk around with very good instruments purchased before the studying actually has started. And a good Instrument is an underestimated advantage! But time and care of the parents is the most important value! And not many parents can care, if they have to work a lot for their money. Especially in the so called communist lands. Kapitalism is our world religion, thats a sad fact. Fortunately is music art and not made for comparison. You should also don't care too much about my opinion. if you enjoy the boy playing, have fun. I too enjoy it, but I look at it a little different maybe.

Music should be made to excite people and to tell storys, not to make people argue about the skill of the musician. I am sorry I started this criticism. But maybe if you have not mentioned the word "prodigy" everything would be quite different ;)

December 30, 2011 at 12:10 AM · Ralphael, you are right. Probably I shouldn’t compare, and I'd better go home to practice now after listening to these performances again. Oh wait, am I comparing again?

December 30, 2011 at 02:49 AM · Simon I agree in essence with what you wrote - I think its implied in my previous post that parental help and financial circumstances are probably important everywhere. I wonder if there are any waifs that made it to stardom?

one point I must make though: it was not me that used the 'prodigy' term - it was the OP. Its such a pregnant egg I avoid it at all costs. Indeed, being called a prodigy would seem to be more a label for burnout than success. Trouble is its not only the popular press thats besotted with this concept its violinists and the whole violin competition 'industry'. IMO if they truly cared about musicianship there would be no age limits....

December 30, 2011 at 04:16 AM · Greetings,

yep. Elise didn`t use the dreaded `P ` word. What`s great about this young guy is because he has a solid technique in place he is simply playing without artifice as a ten year old. ( A prodigy would be similar to an adult by my definition). He doesn`t have that much to say yet but instead is -showing- innocence and purity. That I think is what touches people . It`s why we all need music more than ever.

Cheers,

Buri

December 30, 2011 at 05:07 AM · Sorry, I used word prodigy, the dictionary meaning of which is "a young person with exceptional qualities or abilities." If the word has been overused or has acquired negative connotations, then I don’t know.

Semantic aside, what we have here are a couple of exceptionally talented young violinists. They are on internet because they've become public figures through various public performance, competitions and numerous award-winnings. In other words, they are on a career path that is in the public eyes, like it or not. They are admired by many and so should they. They also have great potential and a long way to grow. I guess this maybe a key reason why we are interested in engaging in this conversation here.

By the way, Buri, I don’t know you have run into this type of situation: Among very serious young violinists, many need a lot of teaching/couching to progress, but once in a while, you’ll find one or two of them who pretty much are capable of teaching themselves at a very young age. I’m talking about the young age around 9 to 10 years old. Their teachers openly admit this factor. I couldn’t figure this out myself but it is quite amazing to witness.

December 30, 2011 at 05:10 AM · Mature enough? PS LOL at Vanessa (at least I hope you were joking, the dancing music box is awesome!)

December 30, 2011 at 05:28 AM · Greetings,

>By the way, Buri, I don’t know you have run into this type of situation: Among very serious young violinists, many need a lot of teaching/couching to progress, but once in a while, you’ll find one or two of them who pretty much are capable of teaching themselves at a very young age. I’m talking about the young age around 9 to 10 years old. Their teachers openly admit this factor. I couldn’t figure this out myself but it is quite amazing to witness.

Well, yes. but then one does not necessarily equate `seriousness,` with talent. It`s just a mindset. Everyone on this site is `serious` about the violin but that doesn`t lead to equality (a syou know) . Most of the time it is this ability to problem solve on one`s own that marks out the younger player as `mor etalented.` in my opininon. I think ther eare quite a few factors at work her ethat make the difference. These include things like the ability to listen objectively to oneself; the ability to create ones own model of sound /music and cross compare the reality with that model until they meet up; the abilty to absorb visually what one is seeing from an expert other and so on. the more one has of thes eabilities the more one can self-teach, but at the same timethe kind of self coaching you talk about is largely after the fundamentals have bene put in place and that is, I think where the teahce rha sa very strong rle. the violin is just too complex...

Cheers,

Buri

December 30, 2011 at 06:09 AM · Surely Vanessa's example is more mature than this guy! ;)

December 30, 2011 at 06:23 AM · Buri, thank you for the explanation! That makes sense and certainly takes away some of the mystery. I recall AS Mutter described her self-teaching after her first violin teacher passed away and won a top national competition. Recently I met a 9-year old who was without teacher for months and effortlessly went on wining a provincial top prize in her age group. This kind of talent is rare.

Joice,good one! lol!

December 30, 2011 at 08:56 AM · Simon

Your comments about study in Germany are interesting. In the UK its probably similar, students get hold of adequate instruments to use, and with some they have quite nice instruments on loan.

But more important than that is good teaching, in my opinion. Of course a tiny minority (the so called highly talented)will do extremely well whatever teacher they have. Teaching here varies a lot, and the are some very good teachers, but they are in the minority. Most teachers here do not bear scrutiny.

December 30, 2011 at 11:58 AM · Buri wrote: "What`s great about this young guy is because he has a solid technique in place he is simply playing without artifice as a ten year old."

That exactly it - the 'calmness' that I noted above. Perhaps one can break down 'maturity' for different aspects of playing - or rather being: you can be intellectually mature but emotionally childish. Vanessa's wonderful example may scream immaturatity from 100 angles - but there may be an underlying financial maturity - if only in her handlers!

To get back to our protagonist, Buri's later post raise some of the additional aspects required for violin mastery which I agree (in illuminated hindsight :) ) will have to develop. Obviously his strengths matched the expectations of that particular jury - maybe a scandinavian conservatism of sorts? It will be interesting to see if he fares as well at the next competition.

December 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM · Quote Peter Charles: "Teaching here varies a lot, and the are some very good teachers, but they are in the minority. Most teachers here do not bear scrutiny."

Can tell you the same about germany. Few good and serious about teaching. Many just retired from playing in an opera orchestra or something.

Sadest thing is, the so called best teachers just take the best students, those with the good education, the best sounding instruments and the good teaching background. Then they pretend to teach them and stamp their name on them. They don't care about music too much anymore, it's a business like mafia! If you are in, you have to kiss regularly axes to stay there. If you are out, you will never get on some stages or get some of the support, wich is officially availible to everybody, but in reality just for the students who don't need the help anyways.

Maybe its not so wise from myself to write this in public, but I am lucky to know, that these teachers are simply not necessarily connected to quality teaching and that is what I care for.

December 30, 2011 at 02:17 PM · Good for you Simon, tellin' it like it is. Nothing changes if we accept the status quo....

I'm reminded of Robert Parker, the wine critic who years ago stated that french wines were not up to the glory of their famous names. That led to a revitalization of the entire industry (and earned him a Legion de Honneur award) - I think he saved them from themselves. The germanic culture has been to classical music very much as the french have been to wine. From what you write it seems they may need a similiar kick-in-the-vat to get them back on track...

December 30, 2011 at 02:46 PM · Ok if you want to hear more from it:

The orchestras are still great in germany (at least some). In these orchestras are also some of the best teachers. Some Professors let their students accompany himself and call themself a soloist afterwards. I think it must be the other way around considering the fact, that most students at some level play better then their profs.

I am not very confident about the music business in general. Also I am not sad about it because I don't see myself as a part of the industry, or at least I have my own way.

One thing about german professors must be said too: they are mostly not german. Many are russian and polish influenced. So they can teach you great technique, but when it comes to bach for example some have very old fashioned ideas about fingerings and bowings. I heard good students play Bach in a way heifetz used to do it. Heifetz might be a role model but playing bach like him nowadays is like playing tschaikovsky without vibrato.

Speaking about the difference to the US I would say that in US schools really care for their teachers and pay them according to what they can do(at least thats what I heard). In germany you have the professors, wich earn a lot of money and fame, and you have the docents, who are people hired from outside the school. Those docents do the real work. I had my best lessons with them! And you know what, they get less money then I do teaching at a music school little children! And they are qualified as hell. They play actively in major orchestras for example, or they are active performers on a freelancer basis. I tell you that they are the ones who make the system roll! And on the other hand they are treated like ship, payed like the cleaning personal and fired at will. But there will always be the ones who care for art and the ones who care for money and fame. One can only hope that some with money care for art too and don't let themself being blinded by big names and trademarks, wich after all doesn't mean anything.

Often in a competition I want to know with who the students study. Sometimes it is written and I am always amazed, that they all study with the same 3 or 4 names ;) but they play so different that you can tell, that the main influence comes from their former teachers. Not saying all students from one teacher has to sound the same, but usually if yomeone really works with you, he will leave some mark of his ideas in you, wich isn't a bad thing at all!

I am curious how the situation depending the dozents in US really is, anybody want to tell me?

December 30, 2011 at 03:30 PM · Simon,

wie wahr...

December 30, 2011 at 05:37 PM · lolol Joyce! That's great!

December 30, 2011 at 05:40 PM · A couple of people have referred to this kid as "a 10-year-old" but the poster who put up video of another kid says that he was 13 when he won the 2010 competition. Looking far younger than one is gives a kid a certain advantage, due to the cognitive dissonance between appearance and ability. If he was tall and gangly with peach fuzz on his upper lip, acne and hair that won't stay put, like many 13-year-olds, would people think the same of his playing?

December 30, 2011 at 07:10 PM · my hair still won`t stay put...

December 30, 2011 at 07:47 PM · Between that and the Hello Kitty underpants, what shall we do with you?

December 30, 2011 at 08:23 PM · I`m waiting for kitty to go bald.

December 30, 2011 at 08:23 PM ·

December 30, 2011 at 08:37 PM ·

December 30, 2011 at 10:13 PM · Hmm... the route to success... So,,,, do you think they would buy a 5'11", 10 yr old if I wore pigtails, pop socks and a tartan bib skirt??

December 31, 2011 at 12:34 AM · Jonathan Frohnen:

LOL at least I thought a 6-7 year old in general won't make that kind of serious face like brianna kahane! I always giggle every time I see her playing violin like that. My previous comment was not about her playing style, though, but more about that face, it's so funny for me to see a lil girl act like that. If she was an adult and made that kind of expression, I'd think it's obvious, but a 6-7 year old girl......

The boy in that video posted above didn't even make such expression like brianna, yet his playing is mature, I meant, if I listen to the pieces he played without knowing that a young boy's playing it, I'd think it's played by a woman/man.

February 22, 2012 at 06:01 PM · Here is a recent update on this young Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi:

CBC puts his name next to Vengerov and Znaider:

http://radio3.cbc.ca/#/blogs/2012/2/In-Concert-Hot-Ticket-Vengerov-Znaider-and-Chooi

February 22, 2012 at 10:14 PM · His brother, Nikki, is also a fantastic player and is about to graduate from Curtis. He showed me around Curtis and gave me free tickets to see the orchestra perform with Hilary Hahn when I was down in Philly last February. What a great night that was!

Quite a talented pair, those two.

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