From mechanical engineering to composing for the Philharmonia Orchestra, Austin Leung has been traversing new territories since his early student days in Hong Kong. In this blog he shares with us what he learned from the RPS/Philharmonia Composers’ Academy, and why world music matters to him.
“World music is a kind of cultural heritage which, like a capsule, stores the history of different communities and regions. By incorporating the genres into new works, we can give a renewed value to history in our current generation. From this we get the feeling we’re crossing boundaries and space-times, bringing people together who have existed throughout the ages into a piece of work.”
As I write this, I cannot believe that my time in London is coming to an end. I came to the city two years ago to do an MMus at the Royal Academy of Music – my first time ever studying abroad. Back in Hong Kong, where I was still an Engineering student, the idea of leaving my country for my studies had never even crossed my mind. Like everyone else, I wanted to graduate from a local university, find a steady job and basically “survive”. The purpose of studying was never about gaining new knowledge for the sake of it, but for finding a better job and having a nice, easy life. However, after I discovered music in my second year of my undergraduate degree, everything changed. My whole outlook to life shifted and, fast forward a few years, I found myself in London.
One month after returning from Oslo, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my trip. The first night that I arrived in early January, I sat in my apartment looking at the calendar on my phone and saw that it was day 1/49. I was excited to finally be in Oslo, but 7 weeks was already starting to feel like a very long time… In reality, the weeks absolutely flew by!
I was out there to study privately with a number of different teachers – primarily soloist Tine Thing Helseth, Brynjar Kolsbergsrud (Oslo Philharmonic) and Roeland Henkens (Den Norske Opera/Ballet). During my 7 week stay, I had a total of 17 trumpet lessons and found each one inspiring.
I was given much food for thought about my future. One lesson I had was with American trumpeter and composer Tony Plog. Tony’s advice is to “follow your bliss” – to do what really inspires you and what makes you happy… “a career will usually follow!” As a new freelancer, I am enjoying taking on all sorts of opportunities, as I never know what they’ll lead to or who I’ll meet. However Tony’s motto has also made me more conscious of where I want to invest my energy.
There was a lot to process from the many lessons and discussions I had and I found that I loved the independence and freedom of living in my own apartment. It was about 10 minutes by bus from the centre of Oslo and I enjoyed hosting friends for dinner and exploring many parts of the city. I was fortunate enough to be given access to Oslo’s English Church (St Edmund’s) where I practised every day and also played in a couple of their services.
A recent United Nations report shows Norway as officially being the happiest place on Earth… and I can totally believe it. Oslo is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to and I didn’t come across one unfriendly Norwegian person during my entire trip. The sunrises and sunsets were picture perfect and the snowy scenes and cityscapes could have been from postcards. I didn’t learn much of the language in the end (since almost everyone there speaks impeccable English) but, being blonde, I was very often spoken to in Norwegian!
I’m so grateful to the Royal Philharmonic Society for supporting me and my trip – both financially and personally. I originally received the Julius Isserlis Award towards studies in Germany but I ended up taking a different route and was supported by the RPS throughout. It’s been a perfect example of one door closing and a better one opening, and I couldn’t imagine a more wonderful experience than my trip to Oslo.