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Classical music

Pitch perfect: Hong Kong prodigy Hannah Tam Wan-ching wins international violin competition

Hard work, talent and determination make her first from city to win Kulturstiftung Hohenlohe

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 3:12pm

Most 12-year-old children would probably tell you their biggest dislike is eating their vegetables. Or possibly going to bed early.

But Hannah Tam Wan-ching is not like most people her age. Her biggest dislike is bad pitch; in fact she hates it.

What sets her apart doesn’t end there. This month, the child prodigy became the first Hong Kong winner of the 17th international violin competition Kulturstiftung Hohenlohe in Germany.

“I can’t stand bad intonation because it hurts my ears, so I practise up to four hours a day before or after homework,” the Form One pupil at St Paul Co-ed told the Post.

It was that drive – along with her violin professor, a supporting pianist, a smiling tiger mum, hard work and talent – that has allowed her to achieve success at such an early age.

Her mother, Iris Chow Man a self-described tiger mum, “though a smiling one”, recalled the first sign of Hannah’s special gift.

I practise up to four hours a day before or after homework
violinist Hannah Tam Wan-ching

“She was three and one day complained from inside the bathroom about her brother’s bad intonation. So I recorded his playing and asked his teacher about the intonation, and the answer was ‘bad’,” Chow said with a laugh.

Like many parents in the city, Chow put her children in music classes at age five in the hopes of securing admission to a good school. Hannah’s natural gift for the violin began to shine. She claimed first prize at an annual school festival for participants under age 19 – and she was just nine.

“Hannah is very willing to learn, that’s the number one thing,” said Michael Ma, the head of strings at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. He has been teaching Hannah since she was seven.

“I believe in the theory of a solid triangle for success with the student at the top and parents and teachers at each of the two corners in the bottom,” he explained. “Hannah’s case is an example of that.”

Maria Jee, Hannah’s piano coach and one of the three official accompanists at the competition, noticed there was something different in the girl’s playing during three rounds of contest against international competitors for the under-15 category.

“Hannah has everything but she’s often holding back something when she plays in Hong Kong,” she said. “But she’s relaxed and opened up during the competition and spontaneity is very important in a live performance.”

The audience factor, Chow added, was why Hannah was “holding back”.

“She told me if she expressed herself musically in front of a local audience, they would laugh at her and she felt very uncomfortable about it.

“But the audience at the competition was informed and Hannah felt appreciated and hence giving all of herself in the music,” the mother said, citing one audience member who shouted bravo at the end of Carmen Fantasy in the second round. Many in the crowd treated Hannah as a star, asking her for her autograph.

The win in Germany earned her a prize of 1,800 (HK$16,790) and a performance with a local orchestra. Next us is her local debut with professionals including cellist Trey Lee in November, followed by a performance with the Hong Kong Philharmonic next February.

“Whatever Hannah does in the future, I hope she always enjoys her work without pressure,” Chow said.