Kevin Loh, a second-year master’s degree student in UWM’s classical guitar program, is racking up an impressive number of awards in international guitar competitions.
In June, Loh won second prize at the Guitar Foundation of America International Competition. This is the No. 1 competition worldwide, according to Rene Izquierdo, professor and guitar area chair in UWM’s Peck School of the Arts.
In July, Loh won first prize in the Boston International Guitar Competition and in the Jose Tomas competition in Spain. UWM alumna Leonela Alejandro placed fourth in Spain. At the end of July, Loh placed second at the 12th International Martinez Z-Guitar-Competition in Iserlohn Germany, while Alejandro placed third.
“This is another big landmark for Kevin’s career, our studio, and our music department,” Izquierdo said.
Playing from a young age
Loh, who was born and raised in Singapore, started playing guitar as a child, almost literally at his father’s knee. His dad, a self-taught guitarist, encouraged 5-year-old Kevin to learn to play the instrument as a fun family-bonding activity. “My mother was behind a camera recording all those precious memories together,” he recalled.
Loh decided to pursue the guitar more seriously when he was about 9 or 10 years old and began taking lessons from a teacher and participating in summer courses outside Singapore.
Meanwhile, his mother kept recording the fun family sessions as well as Loh’s public performances. As his family built up a collection of videos, they decided to share some on YouTube.
“This caught the attention of the Yehudi Menuhin School in the UK, who were extremely kind to then extend an invitation to audition at the school,” Loh said.
Blessed with opportunities
While the idea of studying overseas at his young age was daunting, Loh had a successful audition and ended up spending seven years at the school, receiving coaching from some of the world’s leading guitarists and musicians.
“I was incredibly blessed with so many opportunities, which opened my eyes to all the amazing things that were happening in the classical guitar and classical music world,” Loh said.
After completing compulsory military service in the Singapore Armed Forces, he earned his undergraduate degree in general music at Girton College, University of Cambridge.
“Although not a classical guitar degree, this gave me an incredible opportunity to receive a more holistic musical education which helped bolster my appreciation for music in all its many beautiful forms,” Loh said.
Wanted to study with Izquierdo
He came to UWM specifically because of its highly regarded classical guitar program and to study guitar performance with Izquierdo.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Rene at the Iserlohn Guitar Festival in Germany way back in 2014,” Loh said. “I was deeply inspired by his mastery of the instrument, his exceptional teaching and his kindness for sharing his passion with others.”
Loh and Izquierdo stayed in touch. “It was clear that it was not a matter of if, but when, I would pursue further studies with Rene, and I am thrilled it was for my master’s degree. I can’t wait to start the second year,” Loh said.
In turn, Izquierdo says: “I have rarely seen a talent like Kevin Loh. His musical maturity, execution and artistic poise are rare traits at such a young age.”
Traveling the world
Loh’s family and home base remain in Singapore, and he organizes concerts and events there whenever time permits.
Meanwhile, he keeps up a challenging travel schedule for concerts and competitions.
“I feel incredibly blessed that the job has allowed me to travel the world and experience and appreciate many amazing cultures as well as meeting so many wonderful people along the way.”
Music has the ability to bring people together, just as it was a bonding experience for him with his family, he said. He tries to share that passion with others, performing in a refugee camp and raising money for arts programs, particularly in underprivileged areas.
“Music is a gift that keeps on giving,” he said, and offers many lessons for young people. “The ability to practice regularly requires time management, goal setting and self-discipline.” In addition, “music teaches us empathy and compassion through the sharing and appreciation of different cultures. That helps us to bridge the gap with other communities to communicate and understand one another.”