Darrell Ang MUS ’08, a conducting fellow at the School of Music, emerged from a competitive field of international students to claim the grand prize at last month’s Besancon International Competition for Young Conductors in France. Luckily for him, fashion did not factor into the judge’s decision.
“I didn’t even expect to go past the first round, so when I went to France [for the next round] I didn’t bring my coattails,” Ang said.
Of course, when he found out that he had been selected as one of the finalists, he had nothing to wear.
“I had to borrow my friend’s tails,” Ang said. “They didn’t fit me, but they did their work.”
The 29-year-old, who is originally from Singapore, arrived at Yale last year after several years of study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, from which he graduated summa cum laude. Ang entered the prestigious Besancon competition — one that launched the careers of many of his heroes — at the encouragement of his Yale professors and colleagues, he said.
Approximately 300 students worldwide applied alongside Ang for the competition’s 20 spots. Each participated in one of the four preliminary rounds held in New York, St. Petersburg, Beijing and Besancon. The final 20, which represented 14 countries, traveled to Besancon, where they were provided with an orchestra and asked to conduct a predetermined repertoire of music. There were five rounds of competition, each judged by a jury of renowned international conductors.
In addition to winning the grand prize, which included 1200 euros and guaranteed engagements with orchestras around Europe and Asia, Ang won the Audience Prize and was voted best conductor by the musicians of the Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France.
Ang credits his victory to Yale, but he arrived in New Haven in a manner he calls “serendipitous” — School of Music professor Shinik Hahm walked into one of Ang’s rehearsals while in St. Petersburg and immediately invited him to Yale.
“He has many things to offer on the podium,” Hahm said in an e-mail. “That is the strength which I found from the very first day I saw him.”
At Yale, Ang has been able to break free from the traditional education he received in St. Petersburg.
“Shinik has helped me find a different way to express myself in conducting,” Ang said. “I now realize how important it is to be a musician when you are conducting and not to be separate.”
Among Ang’s many admirers is Ezra Laderman, former dean of the School of Music and current president of The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
“He reminds me in many ways of a young Leonard Bernstein,” said Laderman, who is still a professor of composition at Yale. “He has charisma beyond belief. He has agility. He is flexible. And he has musicality in every gesture.”
Both Laderman and Hahm have a grand vision of the direction in which Ang is heading. Though he is still too young to have his own orchestra, Ang will be meeting with orchestra managements in Europe in the coming weeks. He will likely land other guest engagements as a result of the media attention he is gaining from the victory, Laderman said.
John Concklin MUS ’08, who has studied with Ang, is supportive of his friend and classmate.
“What I have found thus far in my career is that the ability to stand in front of a group of 80 or so highly trained musicians is something for which no one can really prepare you,” Concklin said in an e-mail. “Of course, any person can learn about the music, the motions or the philosophy, but in the end what it comes down to is if the person standing up there has it or not.”
At this point — coattails or not — it is clear to most that Darrell Ang has it.