Noted pianist Ong Lip Tat dies at 57

Virtuoso pianist Ong Lip Tat died on Wednesday, aged 57, leaving behind a legacy of award-winning students and music-makers.

He had been admitted to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital five weeks earlier on Jan 23 and died of multiple organ failure, complicated by past diabetes, says a family member. A bachelor, he had two brothers and five sisters.

The wake is being held at Mount Vernon Parlour One and the funeral procession leaves at 9am on Sunday for Mandai Crematorium.

Musicians and arts writers hail Ong as the "godfather of piano" here for having taught musicians including Young Artist Award-winning composer Zechariah Goh and conductor Wang Ya-Hui, whose performance with the baton has taken top prizes in Europe and Asia.

"He dedicated most of his life to teaching generations of pianists," says concert pianist and freelance music writer Albert Lin, 34.

"Almost every pianist in Singapore now was a student of his or a student of a student."

Ong gave private lessons and was also with the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts' (Nafa) department of music from 2004, moving to a part-time position in 2008. He taught until he was hospitalised.

Nafa's head of keyboard studies Rena Cheung says he was a dedicated teacher who kept an eagle eye on his students and always had ideas to help their musical development.

"He would talk to me or send me text messages about students and concerts. He was very concerned about keeping up the musical standard of the department," adds Mrs Cheung, who is in her 50s.

She has performed with Ong in Singapore and overseas and says: "He was a very impressive performer, very able to communicate musical feelings to the audience."

Indeed, Ong was one of Singapore's piano prodigies, sharing the spotlight with stars such as Melvyn Tan.

He was the first piano soloist to perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at its inaugural concert in 1979.

He was hailed as a "formidable virtuoso" by Straits Times reviewer Chang Tou Liang, who adds that Ong was also incredibly modest. "He was generous with praise for other people," adds Dr Chang.

Ong took up the piano at age six under noted teacher Lucien Wang. He went on to the Royal Academy of Music in London and later the Hochschule in Hamburg, Germany.

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