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When he was 4-years-old, Stanley Leong set his sights on playing the cello.
The son of a noted music teacher, Leong had a number of musical experiences in his first few years of life and already knew his way around an orchestra.
“The sound of the cello, it just stayed with me. It was warm, intuitive,” Leong said last week during a telephone interview from Toronto, Canada. Musical instruments, he added, are simply tools that give people an added way to express “what they want to say — the cello fit what I wanted to say.”
Since then, Leong, now 18, has perfected his cello playing to become a successful competitive musician, earning worldwide acclaim and entry to some of the top performance venues in the world.
His music-making, however, “is not about external successes. It’s all about exploring the human dialogue, this very special art,” said Leong. “Fundamentally, it’s important to always remember what it means to be an artist…the messages your music conveys can be very fluid.”
Leong asserts he’s been aware of his relationship with his music — and has encouraged others to develop that same level of artistry in their own lives — from his earliest days as a cellist.
Leong’s younger brother, Kerson, 15, who began playing violin by the time he was 5, has also ended up a strong advocate for musical education and enrichment.
“It’s always our goal to inspire,” Kerson said. “There is an amazing amount of good” and personal growth that “one develops through Classical music or any art…any art that requires dedication.”
The process of learning an art form empowers the artists and teaches them to more strongly believe in their own abilities, he said. “It’s necessary for the young generation.”
Kerson’s own musical journey took a dramatic turn in 2010 when he claimed first prize in the junior category (under 16) of the international Menuhin Competitionfor young violinists.
Kerson gained a flood of notoriety for his win in the contest, founded 30 years ago in Oslo, Norway by Yehudi Menuhin, considered one of the world’s greatest violinists of the 20th Century.
Since then, Kerson has traveled the globe, meeting heads of state as well as the top movers and shakers of the music field and performing at the preeminent concert venues of the world — as a soloist, but often as a duo with Stanley and other times as a trio, alongside his brother and pianist mother.
The wild success of the Leongs, who live in Ontario, Canada,is the stuff that artistic inspiration is made of, says music director Fung Ho. That’s why he’s invited the brothers to play Jan. 13 at a free public concert held at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel.
The Leongs will be joined by the California State University, Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra and Arcadia-based Olympia Youth Orchestra, the latter of which draws players from throughout the Greater Los Angeles area.
Ho has led the two groups as a combined ensemble since 2010.
The Leong brotherswill be featured in the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello by Johannes Brahms, which Stanley notes is one of the few pieces in the Classical repertoire for a violin-cello duo and “represents a very brotherly thing.”
Set to start at 3 p.m., the Sunday afternoon concert will also include Beethoven’s First Symphony in C Major.
Hoalso serves on the faculty of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, which is located on the Cal State L.A. campus, and music director of the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra.
He hopes that seeing and perhaps even having a chance to meet the Leong brothers will inspire young musical artists here strive for the same level of artistic achievement.
Ho laments what he sees as a basic lack of interest in musical education at many of Southern California’s schools where financially-gutted arts enrichment programs have become the norm and whatever funding is left is funneled to the marching bands, which support the schools’ sports teams.
That shift away from traditional arts education has left a generation who “don’t value the process of learning,” Ho said. They’ve never been practically trained in how to reach their dreams.
“If I can get more people to hear our concerts,” Ho believes, more families will seek to learn music, and “that effort will enrich their lives” in so many other ways, besides artistically.
Stanley and KersonLeong, said Ho, “act as a good example of what kids can do.”
More information about the Olympia Youth Orchestra and the Jan. 13 concert at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse is available online at olympiaphil.org.
Violinist Kerson Leong, 15, (left) and Cellist Stanley Leong, 18. -Courtesy Photo and Story by Erik Derr