Jonathan Oh, Artistic Curator
I’ve been playing music all my life; been teaching and performing professionally for close to 20 years; and been an audience member countless times. But actually being behind the scenes is a completely different ballgame. There’s a saying that the team here in JB often falls back on, whether in frustration or amusement or both:
“Seram baru seronok*!”
Here are four simple observations, on four simple ways that the festival is seram and seronok in equal measures for me (but hopefully just a lot of seronok for you).
On Infinity and Beyond
We’ve welcomed the best Malaysian musicians, as well as wonderful talents from Singapore, Thailand, Austria, Japan, Spain, and France onto our stage. We’ve sold out concerts big and small and hosted royalty and dignitaries. The feeling of being a part of something like this in indescribable. No words come to me when I recall the standing ovation for the NSO’s New World Symphony in year one of the festival – but in my mind, there’s an image of wide, open space; a shiver of uncertainty; and a tingling sense of awe.
On the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
But perhaps a more accurate reflection of the day-to-day running of the festival would be the wide, open sea. There are days where it’s tranquil waves and warm waters and magnificent sunsets. Then there are days where it’s like Titanic, but with an infinite amount of icebergs; Or like Jaws, but an extended version crossover with Sharknado.
Challenges are aplenty each year, and people have come and gone – but in the midst of these turbulent voyages, we remain blessed by the kindness of our partners, supporters, and true friends who keep our ship steady and sails full, as we make our way towards the sunrise over the horizon.
On the Road Less Traveled
Some seram and not-at-all seronok moments: Once, we dealt with a geriatric piano with hungover keys and pedals. Another time, we had to soothe multiple egos before things got violent – over the simple matter of stage lights. There was a year where we forgot to bring music stands (all 50 of them!) for an orchestra rehearsal. Four years might seem like a long time, but the road goes ever on and on.
On the Final Frontier
In my years of being a musician, a teacher, and a curator, there has been one constant: Whenever I meet new people and tell them what I do, someone will make it a point to inform me: “I don’t understand classical music. It’s not my thing.” Peculiarly, as I write this, just thinking about it brings me right back to my first point; to that very same image of wide, open space, and new worlds beyond the realm of the physical that are closer to home than we expect. We did, after all, recently succeed in charting a course for a new Malaysia – a milestone that once upon a time seemed so impossibly far away.
First impressions may be hard to change, but if the last four years has taught me anything, it’s that it does take courage to make peace with ambiguity – but there is much to gain from embracing the unfamiliar, and simply staying curious.
Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. Seram, baru seronok.
*Literal translation: It’s not fun if it’s not scary.
One of Malaysia’s leading cellists, Mr. Jonathan Oh has received acclaim for his active roles as a performer, educator, and curator. Highly sought after for live performances as well as recordings, Jonathan has performed extensively with orchestras and chamber ensembles in the region, including the ASEAN Symphony Orchestra, the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Malaysian National Symphony Orchestra.
A dedicated music educator, Jonathan established and tutored the award-winning youth string ensemble Arioso Sinfonia in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, where he currently resides. He was appointed as cello tutor for the Permata Seni Muzik programme in 2010, and continues to teach at several institutions of higher education in Kuala Lumpur.
Currently, Jonathan remains an active member of The Sutera Ensemble and holds the position of Artistic Director in the Euroasia Association of Performing Arts, as well as Artistic Curator of The Classical Music Festival in Johor. He was recently appointed as the Regional Director of the International Relations Department at Thailand’s renowned, multiple award-winning orchestra Siam Sinfonietta in 2018.