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Let the Strings Go Free: The Lyricism and Physics of Violinist Kerson Leong

Ottawa native Kerson Leong performing with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra.
Kerson Leong performing with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. (Photo: Jay Paul)

I wasn't thinking about nailing this certain passage, I wasn't thinking I have to get every single note right. I wasn't thinking about the pressure. I was only thinking about the story and what this music that I was playing meant to me.

Kerson Leong grew up in a musical family, and got his first violin at the age of four. 

“It struck a chord with me. First of all, it was just, physically a pretty rigorous instrument, even if you're just scratching away at the beginning,” said Leong. 

When Leong was 13, he was selected as a competitor in Menuhin Competition Oslo where he won junior first prize. Around the same time, his father - both a music lover and a scientist - started teaching Leong about the physics of the violin. 

“My dad started experimenting with certain concepts and sort of using me as his guinea pig, which was great fun actually, just in terms of learning about what the string does when it's vibrating and how to excite it,” said Leong. “Learning about those concepts and sort of experimenting with my dad has led me to form my own way of interpreting that and applying it in my technique. And it’s still fascinating, it’s ever-changing, but I think it’s had a very distinct mark on my playing so far.”

Winning the Menuhin Competition in 2010 was a turning point in Leong’s musical life. Since then, he’s won numerous awards, soloed with orchestras across the globe and performed “Visions,” a composition written specifically for Leong, at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium. The occasion was Yehudi Menuhin’s 100th birthday. 

Kerson Leong performing with Kensho Watanabe and the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal in 2018.
Kerson Leong performing with Kensho Watanabe and the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal in 2018. Leong currently plays on a 1741 Guarneri del Gesù violin courtesy of Roger Dubois and a rare instrument lending program from Canimex, Inc. (Photo: François Goupil)

Educating young musicians is a passion for Leong, who has taught master classes at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the University of Ottawa, and Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfound. He also created a YouTube series called Art of Etude where he shares tips and techniques “through the vehicle of etudes or caprices.”

Learn more about Kerson Leong’s work on his website and Instagram


Credits: Russell Gragg recorded our interview with Kerson in Toronto. The episode was produced by Catherine Komp and Peter Solomon. If you liked what you heard, please rate and review Making Menuhin in your favorite podcast player.