Musical Exchange Programme, Meet the Star: Tengku Irfan
Malaysian-born Tengku Irfan has appeared around the world as a pianist, conductor, and composer, and has been praised by The New York Times as “eminently cultured” and possessing “sheer incisiveness and power”. Irfan has performed with orchestras worldwide with conductors Claus Peter Flor, Neeme Järvi, Kristjan Järvi, Robert Spano, Osmo Vänskä, among others. His musical journey began with the piano, where he started piano lessons at age 7 and developed an interest in composing shortly afterwards. He made his major debut at 11 performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in E flat (Wo04) with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Claus Peter Flor, where he improvised his own cadenzas for all three movements. In the following years, he performed with orchestras such as the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Juilliard Orchestra, MDR Sinfonieorchester, Minnesota Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, among others.
As a conductor, Irfan made his conducting debut in 2015 with the MusicaNova Orchestra for the premiere of his string orchestral piece Nocturne. Few years later, he conducted the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra for the world premiere of his orchestral piece What Does It Take to Dance? in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. He conducted the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra during their 20th Anniversary Gala Concert in 2018. In conjunction with this anniversary, Irfan was appointed as the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra Youth Ambassador. He was the runner-up and audience prize winner of the Los Angeles Conducting Competition in 2021. In July 2023, he is appointed the assistant conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States, where he will work with eminent conductor Sir Andrew Davis, along with soloists Gil Shaham and Hilary Hahn. As an assistant/cover conductor, he has worked with conductors David Robertson, Speranza Scappucci, Carlos Miguel Prieto, and Simone Young.
Irfan’s career as a composer has garnered three ASCAP Morton Gould Awards and a Charlotte Bergen Award with performances and premieres by orchestras and ensembles such as the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Virtuoso Singers, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Peoria Symphony Orchestra and the MDR Sinfonieorchester. His orchestral composition, titled Keraian, was premiered by the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, with Case Scaglione conducting. Irfan served as Teaching Artist Intern for the New York Philharmonic Composer’s Bridge Program.
Other highlights as a pianist include a solo recital at the la Virée classique Festival Montréal, on invitation from Kent Nagano. Irfan won the Aspen Music Festival Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2 Competition in 2013, and was resident pianist for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble for four consecutive years since 2014. He has performed on live telecasts on national television in Malaysia, and on popular U.S. classical music radio programs such as From the Top (when he was introduced by Emanuel Ax), WQXR, WGBH Classical New England’s Drive Time Live, Europe’s Klassikaraadio, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR.de), and Deutschland Radio.
Irfan was a double major in piano & composition in the Juilliard Pre-College and the Juilliard School, where studied piano with Yoheved Kaplinsky, and composition with Ira Taxin and Robert Beaser. During this time, he also attended conducting electives by Jeffrey Milarsky and George Stelluto. Currently, he is studying orchestral conducting with David Robertson at Juilliard. He is a proud recipient of the Juilliard School Kovner Fellowship Award.