As a full-time secondary school student, teen violinist Selina Tang can only devote herself to music part of the time. But she has been selected to compete at the prestigious Menuhin Competition in April in Oslo, Norway.
The contest founded in 1983 by legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin is held every other year and is open to young musicians below the age of 22 from every country. More than 150 applicants vied for entry to the 2008 contest. This year, the competition ‘received more applications than it can accept participants’, according to the organisers in a statement on its official website .
Selina, 15, a Singapore permanent resident, will be one of 42 musicians competing for prizes worth from 5,000 kroner (S$1,200) to 60,000 kroner. More highly prized are the intangible benefits: Not only do these young musicians get to compare themselves with the best talents in their age group, but they will also be heard and judged by acclaimed artists such as violinist Maxim Vengerov.
Selina is a big fan of his and listens to his CDs for hours.
Even though it is the school holidays, the Secondary 4 student at Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) is sleeping barely six hours a night as she juggles studying with violin practice and weekly lessons with her teacher, Alexander Souptel, concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
The soft-spoken teen does not admit to fatigue, saying: ‘There are times when I feel the pressure, but I keep telling myself that I’m doing what I love, and that helps.’
It also helps that RGS has exempted her from some in-school tests and also granted her a three-week leave of absence so she can focus on the contest.
The elder daughter of a businessman and a homemaker – she has a younger sister who plays the cello – Selina was born in Britain and has already made a name for herself there. At eight, she was a finalist on a TV talent contest, Britain’s Brilliant Prodigies, and also won the first prize for piano and violin three times in the annual North London Music Festival (2000, 2001 and 2003).
Not long after her family moved to Singapore, she took third prize in the National Piano and Violin Competition in the junior category in 2005. The biennial contest held by the National Arts Council appears in the early resumes of many noted local musicians. She took second prize in the senior category of the same contest last year and has also performed twice at the annual ChildAid charity concert, in 2006 and 2008.
Her teacher Souptel describes her performance as ‘incredible’.
‘Her musicality is fantastic and she is also intellectual. She always knows what to do,’ says the 62-year-old, who is optimistic about her chances at the competition next month.
Selina herself is more uncertain. Being unable to ‘completely concentrate’ on either studies or music’, she says, makes her feel like ‘I’m sacrificing a bit of both’.
‘I’m worried that I’m not getting enough preparation for the competition, but I’m going to go there and enjoy myself,’ she adds.