RondoFest Music Festival 2022 | Interview with Kenny Ooi
For the first time ever since the pandemic has started, RondoFest Music Festival 2022 was held as a physical event from 6th to 9th September at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang, Malaysia. Organised by The Rondo Production, RondoFest is a music education festival that had participants engaged in collaborative music-making alongside internationally renowned artists. The festival’s programme featured 4 days of various lessons, workshops, masterclasses, and concerts.
As part of a media partnership, we interviewed the founder and CEO of The Rondo Production, Kenny Ooi, a social entrepreneur, musician, and producer from Malaysia. In this interview, Kenny reflects on RondoFest 2022 by sharing his experience regarding festival-making in a post-pandemic era and as well as his hopes for the future of music education industry.
- Rondofest 2022 is considered a first of its kind, involving string players and conductors across Southeast Asia to indulge in collaborative music-making alongside accomplished musicians. Why did The Rondo Production decide to launch such a festival?
Having gone the extra mile to take music lessons before eventually landing myself a full scholarship at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore, I fully understand the difficulty of studying music in Malaysia. When I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, I was given a lot of opportunities to perform abroad in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Italy and more. Through these experiences, I realised that music can be an excellent tool for community building. Whether you are a professional or hobbyist, everyone deserves an opportunity to learn and appreciate music. Hence, my team and I decided to organise a meaningful music education festival which encompasses a wide range of learning and performing opportunities. It is an event where music educators and students around the world will come together to create unity through music.
- What were some of the considerations and challenges that were encountered during the festival’s preparation process?
The pandemic exposed us to tests we hadn't imagined and taught us things about ourselves that we didn't know. As a result of the fluctuation of cases and regulations, much uncertainty has existed in the planning, preparation, and execution stages. The management team discussed and prepared more than three contingency plans to ensure the festival would run as smoothly as possible when COVID-19 cases arise. As the safety measures eased while the festival was running, we remained vigilant and practiced strict regulations to ensure the safety and health of our artists, participants, observers, audiences, and team members.
Similar to other large-scale festivals around the globe, securing sufficient financial support has become increasingly challenging. The core focus of our programme is lowering the tuition fees by working closely with sponsors and partners. Moreover, we provide financial assistance, including scholarships, so that the underprivileged can also access music education. The financial burden of organizing a music festival like RondoFest at this time has undoubtedly increased, as we had to factor in additional funds for a contingency plan.
We encountered many challenges prior to and during the festival, but the team and I have managed to overcome and adapt to them. In spite of the challanges, I am extremely happy with the success of RondoFest 2022. Our entire community, including participants, artist-faculty members, staff, volunteers, and patrons, have rallied around our commitment to transform music education and music performance.
- Were there any memorable situations or key takeaways from the event?
With RondoFest Music Festival 2022, The Rondo Production celebrated the triumphant return of live music festivals. While it was a summer of celebration, it also offered poignant reflections - on classical music's past and the Festival's journey of self-examination – as well as a glimpse into the future of music.
RondoFest 2022 marked the inaugural year of the Conducting Programme, led by conducting faculty, Jason Lai. This particular programme of the festival was the culmination of several months of research to codify and deepen the organisation’s commitment to nurturing young talents. The programme is designed to provide holistic training not only in conducting technique, but also to help in the career development, score preparation and audience engagement that often underpin the careers of young conductors.
RondoFest 2022 presented capacity-building programmes aimed at enhancing the understanding of how culture fits into local, national and international development strategies. Participants, observers, and artists at RondoFest 2022 bridge the language barrier through music; building understanding, communication, and friendly cultural exchange on a global scale. During RondoFest 2022, attendees engaged in arts and cultural exchange across six nations, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and the Netherlands.
- Why is it important for the community to have access and be engaged by high-quality music education programmes and initiatives?
Everyone should have access to a high-quality music education. Through music education, our society is able to achieve diversity and excellence in a variety of settings. Culture and creativity are built through music education. By doing so, children's health, wellbeing, and educational attainment are improved. Moreover, music enables young children to discover their own inner self, as well as develop emotional intelligence and empathy by expressing themselves musically.
The communities appreciate these efforts and are fascinated to see what musicians can do. It reminds us how important music is to people and how it can bring them together. This an unique opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life and to show how classical music is just as relevant in an increasingly inauthentic world.
- What do you hope to see from the music education industry in the next few years?
It is important to ask ourselves: what are the necessary needs to equip our music students with future-ready skills? As a music organization, we are committed not only to keep up with the needs of the market and society, but also to define and lead the way music and art matter to society today.
Music education should go beyond just evaluation and selection during the course of study, providing more opportunities for future musicians to develop skills that are more diverse. Educators and students should be challenged often to conduct "self-reality" checks to examine their roles in society.
In order to bring music education into the fabric of everyday life, it is crucial for us to form community partnerships. As an example, support programmes that bring live music to your community, from youth orchestras to festivals, from private music centres to public music conservatories. Working with young people to create meaningful connections for their own journeys is the most exciting endeavour. We are preparing the next generation of musicians to interact with audiences and serve their communities.
Founder and CEO of The Rondo Production
A native of Penang, Kenny Ooi is a social entrepreneur, active musician and producer in Asia. He has performed with various orchestras, chamber groups and masterclasses in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and many others. He founded the inaugural Penang International Brass Festival in 2019, and subsequently, The Rondo Production, with the aim of providing top-notch music education and performance in Malaysia.
His passion and effort led to the recognition by the Australian-ASEAN Council by the Australian Government as one of the top 20 social enterprises in Australia & ASEAN. In the same year, he was selected as one of the 30 Young Music Leaders by the Southeast Asia Directors of Music (SEADOM). In 2021, he was nominated as one of the Asia Youth Leadership Award by the ASEAN Youth Advocates Network. He was a scholar at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore, under the tutelage of Jon Dante and Lau Wen Rong from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
For more information regarding the festival visit: https://therondoproduction.com.my/