MILWAUKEE — One of the best classical guitarists in the world is a student at UW-Milwaukee. His name is Kevin Loh.
In 2023, Loh won national and international competitions in Denver, Columbus, Minneapolis, Boston, and multiple in Spain. He got second place in Germany and third place at Guitarfest at Appalachian State University. Most impressively, he got 2nd place in the open division of the Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition in New York City. It is considered the most prestigious competition in the world for classical guitarists. He previously won first place in the junior and senior categories.
"I found it to be an incredibly enlightening experience just communicating what you want to communicate with your audience. And without thinking too much, and when you’re in the flow, it just happens, and the magic's there," Loh said.
For Loh, classical guitar speaks to his soul. He loves the music and the chance to speak the universal language with audiences across the world, music.
"When you perform on stage it can be a very vulnerable experience because you’re basically pouring out all the emotions that you’re trying to express and communicate when you play," Loh said.
I love my job. I interviewed one of the top classical guitarists in the world. Kevin Loh got 2nd at the most prestigious competition in the world (along with winning a dozen national and international competitions). So given that, I wanted him to play some blues with me. pic.twitter.com/3bfe7KFNUz
— James Groh (@JamesGroh_) September 14, 2023
His teacher at UW-Milwaukee, Rene Izquierdo, said that Loh is at the top of the guitar world right now.
"He's one of the best guitarists in the world right now. I'm talking about from all generations to young generations to my generation. He’s definitely one of the best," Rene Izquierdo, a professor of guitar at UW-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts, said.
Izquierdo has won his own fair share of international competitions. He has been teaching at UWM since 2004. He is partially the reason Loh chose UW-Milwaukeeover universities like Juilliard or Berklee.
"When you match talent with good education and then listen to music constantly at the highest possible level, it's just the right amount of spices to make greatness," Izquierdo said.
When you watch Loh play, it looks effortless. He is almost in a trance. He plays with ease which helps him focus on expressing the emotion of the song.
"Because all those technical capabilities are now solid, I don’t need to worry about that so much. And that allows me to - the technique is the means through which I communicate the ideas I seek to communicate," he said.
Loh is from Singapore and has been playing guitar ever since he was 5 years old. Loh originally took violin lessons. However, Loh said that he was too energetic as a small child for his older instructor. His teacher left the job and Loh's dad decided to put a guitar in his hands. He and his father would play duets while Loh's mom would film them. The videos were posted to YouTube and that's where Loh got his first break.
"I saw him on YouTube quite by chance. And you see a lot of kids playing on YouTube all the time, and mostly they’re not so good, to be honest. And something about him, he was probably 9 or 10, something about him one piece, in particular, one little passage was very musical was very intelligently musical," Richard Wright said.
Wright is a guitar instructor at the famed Yehudi Menuhin School which is a world-renowned music conservatory for young children outside of London. When Wright saw Loh play, Wright knew he would be a good fit for the school.
"His greatest skill is his attitude, his work ethic, you know. He just practices, works hard," Wright said.
Loh studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School, then he went on to study at Cambridge University and served two years in the Singapore military as part of his compulsory duty. Shortly after, Loh decided to attend UW-Milwaukee.
Now, Loh is on the competition circuit right which is why he has been able to amass so many awards this year. He will continue to fly across the world for the next few years. The next big event in 2023 is the Tokyo International Guitar Competition.
Once he is done with competitions, he will transition to performing and hopefully begin teaching in his home country of Singapore.