By Jake Tharan, AP Journalism Intern and Student at Arapahoe Community College
Our March 10th concert “A Night at the Movies – Final Frontier” will feature selected works conducted by the winner of the Vincent C. LaGuardia, Jr. Conducting Competition: Ho-Yin Kwok. During a conversation over the phone, Ho-Yin allowed his colorful personality to exude when describing how a sort of domino-effect led to him conducting and how conducting a piece goes beyond simple preparation. He contrasts being a conductor to being a musician and explains what it means to be able to conduct for an evening with the Arapahoe Philharmonic.
Despite his penchant for conducting, Ho-Yin does not come from a family with a musical background. In fact, it is quite the opposite: “I wish, I wish. None of my family members know any music. They listen to popular culture; none of them play an instrument.”
Instead, Ho-Yin learned to play an instrument during primary school where it was mandated that students learn how to play an instrument. When he was in secondary school (or the equivalent of high school) the conductor of his institution was fired and they simply needed a conductor. Since Ho-Yin was the concertmaster at his school, he was hired. He found himself in a similar situation when he went on to college, where he was also hired to conduct. “It was sort of just one thing led to another.”
From there, Ho-Yin gained quite an extensive conducting repertoire. He obtained Master degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Iowa and has been twice-named Conducting Fellow of Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina. He has also conducted the Berlin Sinfonietta as well as the Hong Kong Baptist University Symphony in Southern China and concerts in Hong Kong Cultural Centre.
Ho-Yin maintains that his favorite works to conduct are always the ones that he happens to be studying at the time; “my favorite music to conduct should always be the music that I’m working with. It changes and it also has to do with your understanding of a particular composer.” He elaborates: “some composers allow freedom of interpretation – it’s the responsibility of the conductor to dig deeper and uncover the meaning of the piece.”
For Ho-Yin, uncovering the meaning of a piece means taking every aspect of the music into account. “It’s a matter of everything. It’s always an art, not a science. You are serving the art; that is your goal. You have to feel the music and feel that you understand it. It’s also based on informed decisions. I always try to study the score as much as I can, so that I can understand the composer’s intention.”
In addition to studying compositions for disciplined conducting, Ho-Yin is also an active violinist. He attests to the desire for perfection when using an instrument as the vehicle for reaching such a state of achievement. “I consider myself a very imperfect musician. I really love playing violin, but as I grow up and see so many great violinists, I get frustrated with my own playing. It’s never the sound I want and I have a feeling that I will never be able to achieve what is in my own mind.”
However, he concludes that perfection is easier to come by when you are the sole architect in its construction: “when you’re an instrumentalist, perfection can be easier to attain because you have the instrument in your hands and you can do whatever you want with it. However with conducting, you have an ensemble and other people to work with.
Playing an instrument, you can make your sound wholly your own, however with an ensemble, it’s not as easy to attain perfection because you’re working with 80 people.”
As for working with other musicians, Ho-Yin is excited to undertake this task with the Arapahoe Philharmonic. He views working with other musicians in an orchestral setting as a chance to show the AP ‘who he is.’ “This is a very good and very rare opportunity. I can play my violin anytime I want, but it’s a rare opportunity to conduct.”
“Renting an orchestra is more expensive than renting an instrument,” he says. “This is a really meaningful thing for the Arapahoe Philharmonic to do. It’s great for young conductors. I’m very grateful to the Arapahoe Philharmonic for doing this.”
Join us tonight as Ho-Yin Kwok takes the conductor’s platform to show the audience who he is.