5 Questions with Henry Wong Doe

Auckland-born, US-based pianist Henry Wong Doe has made a trip half way around the world to perform with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra and to visit family.
From his MIQ hotel, Henry reveals some of his fondest memories, what to listen out for in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and the other musical instrument that he plays.

How do you feel about performing with the MSO?
It’s my first time playing with the MSO and I’m looking forward to it. I have really fond memories working with Uwe [Grodd, MSO Music Director] in my University of Auckland days. At that time, I also played French Horn in the University Orchestra, and really enjoyed working with Uwe then. I also attended a summer school alongside some APO members which he conducted, that was a really fun event too.

Some of my fondest memories include playing Brahms 2nd Symphony, also working on the Alumni recording the University released, with Haydn and Hoffman Flute and Harpsichord Concerti. Of course the highlight for me was playing Prokofiev 1st Concerto at my [University of Auckland] graduation concert with Uwe conducting. Uwe also graciously played at my benefit concert (Prokofiev Flute Sonata) at the [Auckland] Town Hall Concert Chamber before I went to the US. So yes, it’s really great to be working with him again after all these years, and on such a wonderful piece. I can’t wait!

What do you enjoy about the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto that the audience should listen out for?
It’s one of the staples in our repertoire! I love how emotional and charged it is, especially the opening running scales in the solo part and the exciting cadenza, but also how [Beethoven] contrasts this with beautiful lyrical melodies, not just in the second theme but in between a lot of the virtuoso scales and flourishes.

One of the highlights for me is how Beethoven creates mystery and suspense when the orchestra reenters after the final trills of the cadenza. It’s a really magical, “hair-raising” moment. There is a lot of interplay and communication between piano and orchestra throughout this piece, which is one of the things I enjoy about concerto playing. When you are a pianist you play alone a lot, so it’s really fun to engage with other instrumentalists, whether the orchestra as a whole or just a subset of instruments. I also love the tenderness of the middle movement, and the humour and playfulness of the third.

For the aspiring pianists, what do you do or say to help them play their best?
Definitely go out and enjoy yourself when you perform. Of course work hard in preparation, have clear musical goals, but when you perform, trust in your preparation and enjoy the moment because every performance is a unique experience. Each time you step on stage, create something special that reflects you as an artist.

What are you most looking forward to when you’re home?
With all that is involved with coming to New Zealand these days, I knew it would be a good idea to come back with enough time to acclimatise after my quarantine. I’m really looking forward to seeing my family and friends for sure, it’s been quite a while.

You mentioned that you play the French Horn. Do you still play and what was the last piece you played?
Yes, I really enjoyed playing horn because it meant I could be involved with ensembles such as the Auckland Youth Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra and the University of Auckland Orchestra. I also did a lot of wind quintets while I was at University – that was fun too. Playing the horn ultimately improved my ensemble playing as a pianist, and also working with a conductor for a concerto. I also got to enjoy a lot of great orchestral repertoire that pianists never really get to appreciate, for example Mahler, Brahms and Tchaikovsky symphonies.

As for my last performance – my French Horn colleague where I teach, Heidi Lucas, encouraged me to play horn at her recital a couple of years ago. Heidi pulled out some arrangements of Bach Inventions for horn duet as a suggestion, and we ended up playing two-part Invention No. 14. As for horn solo, it’s been quite a while, but I really love Villanelle by Paul Dukas – that was one of my favourites!

Henry Wong Doe will be performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Brahms 4 concert on Saturday 3 July, 7.30pm, Vodafone Events Centre.

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