An interview with pianist Beatrice Lin and horn player Kartik Alan Jairamin: what does it take to be a professional musician?
For some of us, the nimble, bright notes of a piano or the lively, rich sounds of a violin are the first sounds to come to mind when we think of western classical music. We rarely think about the soft resonant timbre of the horn or the role it can play in bringing a composition to life. Long-time musical collaborators Beatrice Lin and Kartik Alan Jairamin seek to remedy this with their upcoming performance Not Just Another Hunt! – Music for Horn and Piano.
A part of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s Munch! Lunchtime concert series, it features a varied repertoire of classical pieces from Mozart to Messiaen. Jairamin, a professional horn player, hopes that this will give audiences an “appreciation for its (the horn) versatility and sound, which often gets overshadowed by other more mainstream instruments in the western classical genre.”
A seasoned international and local recitalist, Jairamin has also formed a local collective of professional horn players, the Singapore Horn Sounds, and a horn and piano duo, Duo Continuum with pianist Zhou Muqiao. He strives to make the horn an accessible instrument for all through his performances.
One of his musical collaborators, Beatrice Lin, is a prominent local pianist known for partnering with Singaporean and international musicians in recitals and music festivals. Lin’s own chamber music group, Incursion Trio, was founded in 2008 and celebrated its 10th anniversary with a concert tour overseas.
The A list spoke to Lin and Jairamin about their recent musical collaboration and their journeys as local classical musicians.
What was the inspiration behind Not Just Another Hunt! Music for Horn and Piano?
Jairamin: Both Beatrice and I have been collaborators for a long time and we have done music for horn and piano before. This time we wanted to present an unconventional repertoire which explores the sound of the horn a lot more. Seeing that it would be a lunchtime concert, a more palatable area of easy listening music was programmed.
To be completely frank, we just wanted to make music together and share our love of musical conversation.
Lin: We’ve been planning a recital for a while since the start of the pandemic. It’s one of those things we ruminated on during our video calls. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity when Esplanade offered us the chance to play in their magnificent concert hall.
Violinist Siew and pianist Lin performed Pierné Violin Sonata, Op.36 at the Esplanade Recital Studio in 2017.
How did you choose the pieces that made it into the concert? What was your creative process?
Jairamin: Just as how a food menu is designed, we started first with the ‘Main course’ – what would be the heaviest work performed. After that, we selected a good opening, much like an appetizer, and then a fun and happy closing just like a good dessert.
Lin: I left it to Kartik Alan to decide! The Schumann was a definite go as it was a piece we tried to do remotely – me recording the piano part and then sending it to him to record over or with it. What were we thinking? There’s so much freedom and rubato in Schumann’s works that it was virtually (pun intended) impossible.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
Jairamin: I was aiming to be an architect but that did not work out from early on. So the next best thing I could do was music. I was fortunate enough to have had good training in my youth and interactions with professional musicians. One such person was Han Chang Chou (the principal horn of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra) who was my brass teacher and then my horn teacher when I was a teen. He did not force me into this career but rather showed me the possibility. I decided to make this my career because it’s a wonderful feeling to wake up each day knowing that ‘work’ is a passion of yours.
Just to add on, I love how music touches the hearts of its listeners. As a performer, we can feel it on stage when the audience gets very engaged in what you are playing and go on an emotional journey with you.
Lin: Music found its way into my heart and mind. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. I wouldn’t really call it a career as it presupposes an upward trend of sorts as in other professions. The only “upward” trend I can find is something that grows inwards, gnawing at my soul as time passes. That is enough for me. As for the rest… as it comes.
What first drew you to your instrument?
Jairamin: It was by accident really. I was being mischievous during my brass ensemble class and playing my friend’s horn. In walks Mr. Han who saw me playing the horn and started to ask me to play a scale. It was a C major I remember. He then said “Ok. Next year you play horn.” And so I did, with much excitement. The rest is history.
Lin: That’s an interesting question. I’ve always been told this story by my parents, that the violin was going to be it for me at age 4 since my elder sister had already started on the piano. However, I defied all odds and started imitating her at the piano that they gave up on their decision. I did learn the violin later though, at age 9. I’m not sure what drew me to the piano at that age. Can’t be the colour of the keys, I’m sure!
In 2020, Horn player Jairamin performed a selection of European Quartets with fellow members of the Singapore Horn Sounds in the National Arts Council’s From The Living Room series.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
Jairamin: Food! Good food. It inspires me to create programs that are palatable to as many people as possible. It makes me think about pairing items, creating balance in portions, and exploring “special” ingredients. Apart from that, I do love spending my time watching other performers and performances from around the world.
Lin: Reading books by inspiring people, staying quiet, and listening to nature.
How has being a musician shaped your experiences in life?
Jairamin: I take pride in saying that I view the world in more colour. Being a musician means you are more in touch with your emotions and mind. More specifically your imaginations and dreams. I think far ahead in my life just like how in a piece of music we need to know the end and then build the story towards it. Problem-solving is also another skill of a musician that can be used widely in everyday life. We spend a great deal of time thinking about solutions to one problem or different approaches to a phrase in the music. All of this engages our minds in a creative manner on a daily or even hourly basis.
Lin: As a collaborative musician, my role involves working and performing music with anyone and everyone. Focusing on fulfilling the job reminds me what our goal in life is, that is, putting aside differences at the moment and working together to produce the best possible result under the circumstances we are in while maintaining our individuality and personality. Balancing mutual and self-respect is an important factor in music-making as well as in society.
What has been the greatest challenge of your career so far?
Jairamin: Building an audience that sees the benefits and beauty of classical music is very difficult. It’s an ongoing quest for me to bring people closer to music.
Lin: Accepting that you just aren’t able to convince everyone that art is not the same as entertainment.
What do you consider to be the most important idea or concept to impart to aspiring musicians?
Jairamin: Be patient and pace yourself. It’s easy to feel like to are falling behind, but rest assured that your time to shine will come when the time is right. Until then, work on perfecting your art with small steps. Always remember who you are and do not become someone you are not.
Lin: Stay open-minded and inspired. Keep to your ideals while welcoming different opinions from others.
Get tickets to Not Just Another Horn! – Music for Horn and Piano here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
(Photos: Esplanade, Tania Jacobs)
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