Adrian Ong and his ‘old friend’ the violin 

‘The X Factor is there.’ Photo by Lito Sy

By Maricar CP Hampton

Adrian Nicolas Ong grew up in a typical Filipino family that scoffed at careers in the arts for their children. Although they were in support of him playing the violin,  his parents would prefer that his professional career be in the field of medicine or health care.

“My parents were constantly reminding me that playing the violin was just a hobby,” he said when interviewed by The FilAm. “They wanted me to become a dentist.”

The Ong family lives in  Quezon City, where both his parents Jeanne and Alan Ong work as dentists. His younger sister Jamie is a classical singer.

Follow his dream he did. Today, Adrian, 22, is a resident violinist of the FilAm Music Foundation founded by award-winning classical pianist Victor Asuncion.

“Adrian has been on my radar for a few years now because he was already kind of making waves in the classical music scene even in the Philippines,” recalled Victor when asked how Adrian was chosen to become one of the foundation’s scholars. “I first invited him to play a concert for my foundation when COVID hit. We played a full concert but it was streaming. We did a webcast. Then he was heard by some of my artistic advisors for my foundation and so they recommended he be given the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall.”

The thought of performing at Carnegie Hall never crossed his mind, but Adrian is beyond grateful. He said, “The foundation has given me numerous opportunities to perform for which I am very thankful for.”

What the foundation does for its young talents is to encourage them to do their best and to foot part of the cost of their  performances. While some up-and-coming musicians pay rent at high-end venues like Carnegie, Adrian will be presented as a “young artist having his debut recital” at Carnegie Hall — at no cost.

4 years old

Adrian was 4 years old when he was introduced to the angelic sound of  violin music. He was in the lobby of a hospital and heard violin music on TV. He was so enamored with the sound that  he sort of became obsessed. He never forgot the sound. The violin was the only instrument he ever wanted to play. At 9, he started playing. His first teacher was Mellissa Esguerra.

Adrian and FilAm Music Foundation founder Victor Asuncion playing Beethoven at the Evanston Chamber Music Society Concert Series in Illinois. Photo courtesy of Victor Asuncion

“I can’t remember who was playing but what I do remember is the kind of music it was creating,” he recalled.

He auditioned and was accepted at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), where he trained under Gina Medina-Perez, a renowned violinist.  “She still inspires  me to this day,”  he said.

The PHSA is a special school located in Mount Makiling, Los Banos where young people gifted in the arts study on full scholarship and are given a stipend. At age 17, he  played with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra for  his performance debut in Manila.

His passion for music led him to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan where he finished high school on a full scholarship. His violin teacher there was Paul Sonner.

“It was not an easy decision for my parents to let me go considering the distance and the expenses,” he said.

Little did he know his dream of studying abroad was about to take off. “I really wanted to learn different techniques and styles of violin playing from renowned musicians who I can observe up close,” he said.

A dedicated and disciplined musician, Adrian spends up  to six hours daily practicing and making sure he plays “my old friend” with mastery and ease. It takes time and patience, sometimes almost a year to prepare for a recital.

He explained: “It can be an old piece that I studied years ago that I would revisit, and it feels like it’s the same but isn’t the same because of my new experiences. I would play it differently from when I was younger.” “Mental practice and meditation” help him focus before coming on stage.

With his parents Jeanne and Alan Ong and younger sister Jamie celebrating a family birthday. Photo courtesy of Adrian Ong

Adrian is currently a senior at Mannes School of Music at The New School in New York City. He is under the tutelage of Stefan Jackiw, a noted violinist who is part-Korean, part-German.

In between studies, he would do independent recording for private organizations. He recorded the single “Inay” for the Jesuit Communications Foundation which was nominated for an Awit Award in the Best Instrumentalist category. He recently won an audition to become a part of the prestigious Asian Youth Orchestra that is slated to go on tour in Europe and Asia this summer.

Musing on his future, he said, “The life of a musician can be very unsure, so I explore different avenues whether it’s chamber or orchestra or playing as a soloist and try to make the best out of it.”

Victor sums up what sets Adrian apart from some young artists.

He said, “He has this quiet maturity about him not just in his playing but also in the way he carries himself. He is a very intuitive musician and is really good in interpreting classical music. The X Factor is there.”

© The FilAm 2023

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