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Posted by on in SMA Musician Profiles

As one of the key sponsors in the upcoming Melbourne Violin Competition we are taking a look at the founder of String Musicians Australia, Jennen Ngiau-Keng, and his motivations for getting involved in the creation of Melbourne's Premier Violin competition. 


My parents migrated from Malaysia to Melbourne to give my older sister and me new and different opportunities in life.

As a hyperactive child, my mother had difficulty dealing with my high energy levels and decided that I would commence piano lessons at the age of three. Playing music seemed to be a good outlet for my energy and expression. Soon after, I began learning the violin as well.

Being a sociable child, the Suzuki Method suited me well, as I was motivated by group lessons and Suzuki conferences. 

My first Suzuki teacher, Natalie Bergan, suggested to my mother that I start entering music competitions, and before long I was entered into many eisteddfods each year.

I always enjoyed performing, and competing in music competitions was no different. Performing on stage boosted my confidence in all areas of life.  

From 2002 to 2005, I studied at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) under the guidance of John Harding and Alice Waten. It was during this time that I won competitions including the Gisborne International Music Competition, the Kendall National Violin Competition and the Australian Youth Classical Music Competition.

After completing my studies at ANAM, I performed regularly as a casual violinist with orchestras including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

In 2007, whilst on tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, I set up an online business selling elevator shoes for men.

The business has now been running for over ten years, and with stores in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, it is demanding more of my time and energy than ever before. 

Though I don’t practise the violin like I used to, I acknowledge that many of my other skills are attributed to the methodical training as a young violinist.

The 2018 Melbourne Violin Competition is my way of contributing to the music community.

Having entered hundreds of eisteddfods and competitions, I feel I have what it takes to make this competition a success. I want the 2018 Melbourne Violin Competition to be fair, unique and beneficial for everyone involved. 

An enthusiast of The Six Sonatas and Partitas by J.S Bach, I have dedicated the 2018 Melbourne Violin Competition to these works.

The first stage of the competition requires the entrants to video record themselves performing any one movement from The Six Sonatas and Partitas BWV1001-1006 by J.S Bach 

The second stage requires the entrants to video record themselves performing any other two movements from The Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas BWV1001-1006 by J.S Bach.

Since the repertoire is solo, entrants can record themselves in their home or practice room without the need of a pianist. This not only makes it more cost effective, but also encourages them to take their time to view their recordings, self-reflect and re-record until completely satisfied that their performance reflects their personality, interpretation and capability.

For many, the recording process may take weeks or months, but the improvement will be significant and will result in a documented performance that the entrant is proud of, and will hopefully share with others.

There is a lot of value in this process and I’m confident that each entrant will gain from the experience whether they reach the finals or not.

An intention of this competition is to encourage violinists to enjoy and benefit from the practice of unaccompanied Bach. As a result, each entrant who does not progress to the next stage of the competition will be given useful and encouraging feedback.

Those who progress from Stage 2 will be required to perform for the semi-finals at Melba Hall, University of Melbourne on the 20th of October 2018. Each semi-finalist will be required to perform one complete Sonata or Partita BWV1001-1006 by J.S Bach.

From these performances, three violinists will be selected to perform the same repertoire for the finals concert the following day.

For the first three stages of the competition, the adjudicators are Sophie Rowell and Sarah Curro from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

The finals concert will be held at 2pm on the 21st of October 2018, at Abode Sky Lounge, 318 Russell St, Melbourne.

Sixty guests will attend, comprising of past and present members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, Australian String Quartet as well as string staff from the Australian National Academy of Music, The University of Melbourne and Monash University. The Age’s music critic, Clive O’Connell will also be in attendance. To view the full list of guest voters, click here.

The above guests will vote anonymously for their favourite performance and the finalist with the most votes will win $5,000 AUD. The other finalists will each receive $1,000 AUD. 

For all competition details visit




Posted by on in SMA Musician Profiles

1. Tell us a bit about you?

I'm a freelance violist based in Sydney. I perform all over Australia with different musicians and ensembles. In Sydney you can find me playing at weddings for String Musicians Australia or in concerts at Angel Place and the Sydney Opera House. I am often involved in recording movie soundtracks with symphony orchestra at Fox Studios, and I have recorded albums with Australian singers such as Jack Carty and Katie Noonan. I am a busy teacher as well as performer - I have several violin and viola students and the next generation show some serious talent! I'm also into yoga and pilates and in my "free time" I teach body balance classes a few times a week. This keeps everything in balance.

2. What instrument do you play?

 I play the viola, and a bit of violin.

3. What would be your dream gig?

 My dream gig would be a string quartet tour with Neil Finn, my childhood musical idol.

4. What is your favourite event that you like to play for at String Musicians?

Wedding receptions with a bit of dancing and fun. The best thing about playing at weddings is that everybody there is celebrating and there is a great atmosphere!

5.What are some of the best venues you have played at for String Musicians?

 Observatory Hill, Shangri-La hotel, Park Hyatt, Sydney Botanic gardens in summer, Cockatoo Island!



Posted by on in SMA Musician Profiles

1. What led you to play the violin?

I began learning the piano at the age of two. My older brother learnt to play so I was somewhat expected to follow in his footsteps. There came a point however that my mum decided that it would be a good experience for me to play music in a social environment, as the piano can be a solitary instrument. She thought she’d let me have a go at playing violin. Over the course of the next few years my focus shifted from piano to violin as I became more involved in playing in ensembles.

2. Tell us about your current career as a violinist

I'm a 24-year-old violinist from Adelaide, now living in Sydney, working with Opera Australia and String Musicians Australia. For the last two years with Opera Australia, I’ve performed some of the most challenging operatic works, including La Boheme, La Traviata, King Roger and contemporary works including Two Weddings One Bride.

As a representative of String Musicians Australia since 2011, I have performed for numerous weddings and corporate functions in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart, alongside Australia’s leading musicians. String Musicians Australia is renowned for employing high-class musicians from around the country.

Whilst I have performed mostly in string quartets with String Musicians Australia, performing with Opera Australia has given me a completely different performance experience. It has taught me that being part of a large-scale successful performance is a lot more than just coherence between the musicians, conductors and singers. It requires an immense variety of behind-the-scenes contributors that are paramount to the overall production.

In addition to this, I have been recently introduced to Sydney-based music producer and ‘Flow-Fi’ label Co-Founder ‘Aywy’. Through this collaborative friendship I have begun to find ways to use my skills to create my own music. I am learning about how others hear and create music, what fuels their inspiration and learning about the multifaceted industry. I have been inspired to work harder, smarter and with as many people as I can.

3. What are some of your favourite performance venues in Sydney?

I’ve performed at many venues in Sydney, including the Concert Hall, the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Town Hall. However, my favourite venue to perform at is Angel Place, City Recital Hall. The design of the amphitheatre and the acoustics make a unique and intimate performance experience everytime.

4. What size group do you prefer to play in and why?

I have no preference for the size of group I play in as each has it’s own pros and cons. My desire, in all the groups that I perform in, is to find that sense of satisfaction from contributing to something I love; something that will always be bigger than oneself.

5. What do you like most about performing for String Musicians Australia.

I studied with many of the musicians who represent String Musicians Australia, including the founder Jennen Ngiau-Keng. Aside from having a camaraderie built upon mutual experiences, the opportunity to perform with colleagues whom I still admire is very rewarding. There are a lot of talented musicians in Australia, but I like the fact that Jennen not only employs excellent musicians, but also ensures the musicians are reliable, positive and energetic.




For most wedding ceremonies the key moments where a song choice is necessary are:

  • While guests arrive
  • During the processional (entrance of the bridal party and bride)
  • During the signing of the register
  • During the recessional (at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony)

While the guests arrive:

Although our clients can select any genre of music to be performed, we generally recommend allowing the quartet to perform classical music before the wedding ceremony commences.

The celebrant will inform the quartet when the bridal party arrives. The string quartet will stop playing and prepare for the processional. Once given the signal from the celebrant, the quartet will begin performing the requested processional song. The most popular song for processionals is ‘Pachelbel Canon’ or ‘Canon in D by Pachelbel’. Other favourites include The Verve ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, Bach-Gounod ‘Ave Maria’ and Bach ‘Air’ from Suite No.3.

During the processional:

Brides do not need to worry about timing when it comes to the processional song. We will time our music to our lovely brides and bridal parties. For example, if the bride takes a little longer than expected, we will simply loop our music. Once the bride has completed her walk down the aisle and is comfortable in position, our string quartet will phrase off our music. There will never be any sudden end to our music.

At this point, our clients have the option to allow us to continue performing soft, slow, background music during the entire ceremony. There is no extra cost for this. It is lovely effect, but it is also vital that the celebrant is using a microphone if opting for this. It is also important that the bride and groom are amplified when delivering their vows. Otherwise, the string quartet can be silent during the vows and the entire ceremony process.

During the signing of the register:

When it’s time to sign the register, the string quartet will perform again. Since the signing of the register takes approximately 10 minutes, the client can select two songs for the string quartet to perform during this time. Again, there is no need to wait until the string quartet is finished before concluding the signing of the register. When the celebrant indicates that the signing has been complete, the string quartet will phrase off beautifully.

During the recessional:

At this point, the celebrant usually concludes the ceremony by welcoming the new couple as husband and wife. The string quartet then performs the requested recessional song for the couple’s exit.

At the conclusion:

Once the ceremony has concluded, the string quartet will continue to perform background music as guests mingle and exit. It is therefore recommended to hire our string quartet for an extra 5-10 minutes so that guests can enjoy the music after the wedding ceremony.

If photos are being taken afterwards, it is also lovely to have the string quartet continue to perform. The string quartet will perform more popular songs after the ceremony if requested by our clients.

It is then an option to book the string quartet for the wedding reception as well.

​A string quartet comprises of four instruments. These are two violins, a viola and a cello. The two most important parts of a string quartet are the top solo line and the accompanying bass, which are the 1st violin and cello parts. The two inner parts that allow for greater harmonies, are the 2nd violin and viola parts. We always recommend hiring a complete string quartet, as it allows for the fullest and richest harmonies. Most songs are written for a full string quartet, which means that trios and duos will be reductions, and as a result, will be missing harmonies and some moving parts. 
All our recordings on our website are of our string quartet. For those who are more budget conscious, we offer trio and duo options. A string duo consists of two instruments - a violin and a cello, whilst a string trio consists of three instruments - two violins and a cello. The range of music that a duo can perform is limited, so a violin and cello duo would be best for short bookings and only specific classical music songs would work as a duo. We'd recommend hiring a string duo for no longer than a 1 hour booking. A string trio is a better option to the duo, as it includes the 2nd violin part, which allows for an extra harmonic layer. 
Violins are the smallest out of the three instruments, and as a result, the sound produced is the highest pitch. Violins are played on the shoulder, with strings G, D, A and E. The viola is also played on the shoulder, but it is larger. As a result, the sound is lower pitched than the violin, with strings C, G, D and A. On the violin, the G is the lowest string, and on the viola, the C is the lowest string. The strings that are shared on the violin and viola are G, D and A. They are the same pitch on the viola and violin. While the viola has an extra C string on the bottom for lower notes, the violin has an extra E string on the top, allowing for higher notes. The cellos is the largest of the three fore-mentioned instruments, and is held between the cellist's legs. The strings on the cello are the same as the viola (C, G, D and A) but because of the longer length of the strings and larger area inside the instrument for resonance, it is pitched an octave lower.
Though a string quartet consists of two violins, a viola and cello, there is another instruments which can be added to make a string quintet. This is the double bass. The double bass is much larger than the cello, and so the double bassist often either stands or sits on a high stool to play the instrument. The double bass has the same strings as the violin, but in the opposite order (instead of G, D, A, E going upwards in pitch, they are E, A, D, G). As a result, the strings on the double bass are a 4th interval apartment, rather than a 5th apart, as is on the violin, viola and cello. 
We usually perform acoustically as a string quartet, string trio or string duo, however many of our clients have organised amplification to allow our sound to travel further. This can simply be done with microphones on stands setup near our instruments. Alternatively, we can also increase the size of the string band by having extra musicians per part. For example, hiring eight musicians would allow two musicians per part. That would comprise of 2 x 1st violins, 2 x 2nd violins, 2 x violas and 2 x cellos. This will add much more sound and a more impressive look. It effectively changes the small ensemble to become a small orchestra. 

Posted by on in SMA Musician Profiles


Performing in a string quartet is unlike many other professions. The hours are often irregular and the work can be emotionally and physically draining. So why do we do it?




String quartets comprise of four unique people with personalities that must equally mesh and deviate. Finding four personalities that can work in close proximity over a long period of time with an intense emotional output is a holy grail for many musicians, often a labour of love. 


Apart from technical details, which as with anything must always be discussed, there is an element of “magic” for lack of a better word that must exist when performing. Beyond the notes on the page, four musicians strive for many goals, including the following: 


  1. To communicate the intention of the music with integrity towards the composer
  2. To communicate every emotion in each section of the music to the audience as well as each other
  3. To communicate with each other on stage with music as the language


These three elements are often what string quartets strive for, and the intimacy that they cultivate between musicians and their audience is unique. 


When you hear your favourite music, there is an emotional and physical reaction to what you are hearing, thus heightening your senses. It is the same with taste, sight and smell. 


So the next time you see a string quartet perform, imagine they are four chefs, four visual artists, four perfumers, striving to inspire you through sound.



The Guarneri String Quartet was founded in 1964. They performed for 45 years together before finally disbanding in 2009. To find out more about life in a String Quartet, check out "Indivisible By Four" authored by Arnold Steinhardt, the First Violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet.

SMA Musician Profile - Cameron Jamieson



I started working for String Musicians Australia in Brisbane about 5 years ago. I’m really enjoying working with such a great team of players and I’m happy to be a regular with the company as this is the kind of work that really gets me going. I also love recording sessions for TV and playing with the MSO.

I’m originally from Brisbane but moved to Melbourne in 2012 and have really fallen in love with the city. That said, there’s certainly a part of me that stays in Brisbane and I love to go back to Queensland for some of Summer to see family and spend some time at the beach.

I’d have to say I associate travel with music strongly because it's taken me around the country and across the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great teachers and mentors over the years but can’t deny how great it is being your own boss and working out the best way to play for me and my style.

After 20 years playing the violin I’d say we’ve gotten to know each other quite well. This particular instrument, Charlotte, has been very cooperative over the last 5 years and has taken me through some pretty full on experiences

What a lot of people in the classical world don't know about me is that “by night” I write and produce electronic and acoustic music in various forms under the name ‘seejay’. Just yesterday I was laying down 22 violin and vocal tracks for a pretty strange film-score/pop rock fusion track. Not sure if that’ll see the light of day but it’s a lot of fun working with various real-life and digital elements in the studio. I’d say I don't have a specific style to stick to but certainly a recognizable sound. Those minor 7th chords, they’re everywhere, I can’t escape it. It’s almost embarrassing! I turn over a new album about once or twice a year which gives me goals and publishes the latest tricks I’ve learnt.

When I’m working, I’m usually grinning or laughing because I get a real kick out of performing with good people and there’s something particularly fun about the event string quartet business.

Cameron Jamieson, December 1st 2014

Stay tuned for more updates on Cameron and check out his fantastic work.


Posted by on in Events



String Musicians Australia musicians Jennen Ngiau-Keng, Yuhki Mayne, Nelson Yarwood and Anna Pokorny provided chamber music for guests as they waited to be seated for lunch. The Orchid Room, a beautiful follow on from Red Spice next door, provided a wonderful atmosphere for us to play excellent music for Damien and his guests.

Thank you to Damien Grace for having us again, we look forward to next time!


String Musicians Australia. 




Posted by on in Events




Welcome to the String Musicians Australia Backstage Blog

With musicians all across Australia, come backstage and meet the musicians that make us who we are. 

You'll find the latest updates on where we are and what we are doing as well as interviews, v-blogs and much more. 

Stay tuned for updates!


Posted by on in Events

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