Getting to Know Julian Wong ~ Fireworks Music Composer of Marina Bay Singapore Countdown 2015

Who is Julian Wong? 

He is an accompanist, arranger, music director and THE fireworks Music Composer in charge of this year's Countdown. 

Julian was a recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarship. In 2012, Julian orchestrated Mark Chan’s Flight of the Jade Bird, which opened the Singapore Arts Festival, and then conducted the same piece at the Hong Kong New Vision Arts Festival. Julian music-directed Lao Jiu The Musical and Day I Met the Prince for the Kuo Pao Kun Festival 2012. Other credits include National Broadway Company (Esplanade); If There’re Seasons, Liao Zhai Rocks (The Theatre Practice); The Last Five Years, Happy Robin, Into the Woods (Dream Academy); Own Time Own Target, Cinderel-LAH, Beauty World (W!LD Rice); December Rain, Shanghai Blues (Toy Factory).

As one of three Associate Composers for I Theatre, he has orchestrated the scores to several productions, some of which have been performed internationally. Julian has also arranged music for Prudential Singapore, Institute of Technical Education, and Singapore Management University, amongst many others. Most recently, he performed at both the Speak Mandarin Campaign and Bulan Bahasa 2014.

Julian is the music director of ChildAid 2014, and of the opening show of the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2015. He also composed additional music for the Dim Sum Dollies: History of Singapore Part 2.

We were privilege to have an e-interview to find out more about him...


RxR Magazine: When did you start composing – and what or who were your early passions and influences?

Julian: I wrote my first piece of music when I was 13 for homework, and then my first song when I was 16. I continued to try writing music through my teens, but I was horrible at it. When I stumbled into a music career in 2007, I started out as a rehearsal pianist for Mr Iskandar Ismail. One of my jobs was to compose incidental and transition music for plays/musicals, which he would then orchestrate. Gradually I was asked to compose on a larger scale, but I would never (and I still don’t) consider myself a composer.

RxR Magazine: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Julian: I am very influenced by classical music – my favourite composers include Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Stravinsky, and Ravel. I also grew up listening to the sounds of Danny Troob, Nelson Riddle, William Ross, and our very own Iskandar and Mark Chan. Their styles are very much imprinted in my musical psyche.

RxR Magazine: What were your thoughts when you were first approached to compose the fireworks music for Marina Bay Singapore Countdown?

Julian: I was surprised, because Iskandar knew I didn’t consider myself a composer. The brilliant Riduan Zalani had already composed the central drumming segment, and Iskandar wanted me to compose the music that would frame it. I kept turning Iskandar down, but he was persistent and determined. He asked me again and again for almost a month. In the end, I said yes because I didn’t want him to worry while he underwent another round of chemotherapy.

RxR Magazine: How long did it take to compose this 8-minute piece?

Julian: I studied all of the music that Iskandar had written for the past Marina Bay Singapore Countdown firework displays, and the types of pyrotechnics that were available. I then gave myself a bit of time to get some distance and plant ideas in my head. One afternoon, I went to a café in Plaza Singapura and scribbled the composition down on my manuscript paper. I took another day to orchestrate it.

RxR Magazine: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not composing music?

Julian: I try to keep my life as silent as possible when I am not working. I enjoy reading, swimming, and taking long walks.

RxR Magazine: What was it like working with the late Mr Iskandar Ismail?

Julian: Iskandar was quite strict with me. He instilled in me all the precepts that I have brought and continue to bring to my work and life. He never allowed me to be late for anything - whether it was showing up, submitting work or returning his phone call. He respected everybody, and he taught me that the first sign of respect you can show anybody is to be punctual.

He taught me that to be an artist is to conduct oneself with dignity, especially in today’s world of social media. A true artist does not make disparaging remarks about one’s work, launch veiled attacks on one’s colleagues or put down the musicians from any generation, younger or older.

I miss Iskandar the Maestro, who taught me who opened my ears every time we made music together. He was the consummate professional and a world-class musician, and I am so proud of his achievements. But I miss Iskandar the man more, who opened my heart and led by his shining example. His love stays alive in my heart, and I am eternally grateful to him.