Rebecca Tong, Junior Fellow in Conducting

Did you always want to be a conductor?

My parents love classical music and they always wanted their kids to learn instruments. I started with piano and later I discovered the violin. I moved from Indonesia to the United States for my undergrad in Michigan to study violin, but while I was there I became more and more interested in conducting. I like working with people and with conducting you get to work with so many people; so many different groups. After undergrad I pursued a Master’s in Conducting in Cincinnati.

How did you choose the RNCM?

I was aware of the Junior Fellowship in Conducting programme at the RNCM for a long time. I applied two years ago and last year they invited me to audition, so I went. That was the first time I came to Manchester. I was only here for two or three days but I liked the city. The audition went really well and I was really grateful to win the Fellowship. There are only two Fellows at any given time – a Junior and a Senior. It’s two years in total so next year I’ll be the Senior Fellow.

Do you have a favourite type of music?

I like working in different genres – from symphonic, opera and ballet music. Not many people are between the three styles but I feel that as a young conductor it’s important for me to put myself out there and just do as much as I can and not limit myself.

What are your musical highlights?

I took part in a conducting masterclass with the BBC Philharmonic last year. It’s definitely one of my musical highlights because I got to conduct Nimrod with the BBC Phil! The sound you get from the BBC Philharmonic is tremendous – it’s very colourful and rich, but at the same time they’re flexible enough to follow such a young conductor as me. It was really great.

Another musical highlight was assisting David Parry last year on Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress here at College. I also conducted one performance of the opera which was amazing. This December I’ll get to do the same thing, assisting Andrew Greenwood for the RNCM’s production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and conducting one of the performances. So I’m really looking forward to that.

Before I came to RNCM I also got to work with Jakarta Symphony Orchestra and become their resident conductor. Steven Isserlis came to work with us and I conducted Elgar’s Cello Concerto. He was very smart and knowledgeable, and getting to work with such a high-calibre musician was amazing.

How do you like Manchester?

The city is very vibrant and it’s growing very rapidly; there’s a lot art-wise and music-wise. Having the BBC Phil and The Hallé here is great – the opportunity to work with professional orchestras is invaluable, and something that I never experienced as a student in the United States.

After graduation?

My plan is to get engaged with a professional orchestra as a guest conductor. From there, make new connections and relationships and broaden my musical knowledge. I’d be happy to stay in the UK but it depends on the job – I’ll just have to see what happens!