Adrian Ong : A Young Violinist's Philosophical Love for Music

Falling in love with music wasn’t a watershed moment for 24-year-old violin prodigy Adrian Ong. His affection for the art gradually blossomed after watching a televised violin performance when he was 4 years old. Immediately enamored, Ong’s journey began simply: he requested violin lessons as a hobby.

“I tried swimming and taekwondo when we couldn’t find a teacher for me. By the time we found one through a family friend, I was already 9 years old,” Ong recalled. Thankfully, his parents, Jeanne, and Alan Ong, supported his childhood dream, despite leaning towards dentistry.

Ong’s love for the art of music grew stronger after becoming a scholar at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) in Makiling. Later, he graduated with honors from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan under another scholarship. Ong also received a merit-based scholarship from the Mannes School of Music, where he graduated with honors.

Under mentors Mellissa Geronimo Esguerra, Gina Medina-Perez, Paul Sonner, Lewis Kaplan, and Yibin Li, Ong furthered his studies. He also attended masterclasses with master musicians Ilya Kaler, Almita Vamos, Charles Castleman, Philippe Quint, and Thanos Adamopoulos. Besides polishing his musical instinct over the years, Ong learned to fall in love with every piece he played: “Whatever I’m playing is my favorite. Currently, I’m practicing a waltz composed by Eugène Ysaÿe, so it’s now one of my favorites.”

The intended emotions of the composer make the melodies memorable for Ong. He added, “I take note of the emotions, even the humor or the campiness of the song.”

Because of the emotions behind the compositions, music inevitably transforms people. Ong always adored how music is an invisible art form that brings people together. “It’s based on feelings and what you can express through sound,” he lamented. Through playing the violin, he witnesses stories as told by composers.

“It’s interesting how I can peek into the composer’s life. I also imagine colors as I’m playing because of the story behind the song,” Ong shared. Partaking in every composition’s story, Ong would see colors or moods, depending on the sound he played. Music is heard by the ear, but somehow every harmony opens his eyes.

Having his orchestral debut with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) at the age of 17, Ong plowed through performance after performance. In May 2023, he played at Carnegie Hall in New York, achieving what seemed to be every classical musician’s dream. “I had my own show. It was very fulfilling,” he expressed. He even played alongside Filipino-American world-renowned pianist Victor Asunción, making the performance all the more meaningful.

Grateful was an understatement as to how Ong felt. He also found the experience insightful, solidifying Carnegie Hall as the highlight of his career after being declared one of the scholars of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ International Scholarship Program. “It’s really very inspiring to play, especially with this generation as your audience,” expressed Ong.

After performing with fellow CCP scholars Aidan Baracol and Mark Rocas at the Young People’s Concert in 2023, Ong looked forward to the future of classical music in the Philippines. He found it easy to connect with the concert-goers, disproving the age-old misconception that classical music is too complex for young audiences.

Ong elaborated, “It’s easy to understand as long as you’re willing to listen. You just have to keep an open mind.”

As part of the CCP’s International Scholarship Program, which provides financial support for academic and artistic learners who have achieved excellence in their respective art forms, Ong decided to make the most out of the opportunity. He would watch concerts and attend masterclasses for other instruments.

For Ong, the scholarship opened more avenues for him to learn beyond the violin. “Each instrument requires a different view of music-making. Different instruments have different philosophies behind them,” he explained.

Slowly building a name for himself internationally, Ong wanted to prioritize his homeland first. He attended Helping Through Music: A Benefit Concert for Childhope PH and Museo Pambata in 2023, where an instrument petting zoo was held.

Ong recalled feeling indescribable joy upon seeing children express interest in the violin: “I want to share what I learned here in the Philippines, with its next generation,” he declared. Following through on this promise, he began coaching and collaborating with the Philippine Suzuki Youth Orchestra, alongside Herrick Ortiz.

But Ong never really expected to get into PHSA, where his love for music finally influenced his career path. By the time he received the news, he was already enrolled in another university. Still, he followed his heart and immediately transferred. Playing the violin may have started as a hobby for Ong, but with each performance sharpening his distinct sound, his journey as a violinist became clearer.

“I think this is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life,” Ong said, smiling with fond certainty.

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