Melba Recordings

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Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

Vale David Tong

Saturday, 6 January 2018 - 7:47am

The death of pianist David Tong on December 23rd, at the age of 34 in a flying accident in Papua New Guinea has cruelly cut short a young life full of promise and potential and robbed Australian music of a shining talent.

David was a phenomenon whose approach to music-making was totally breathtaking, free and always an expression of his fiercely independent spirit.

Born in Macao in 1983, David moved to Australia when he was five and quickly showed a prodigious musical talent far beyond his years. Aged nine, he performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and at 12 won the Keyboard section of the Symphony Australia Young Performers Award.   After winning scholarships to the prestigious Melbourne Grammar and Melbourne University, where he studied with Stephen McIntyre, he won another award to study at the Juilliard School in New York.  

He performed widely with all six Australia’s major orchestras and appeared with leading ensembles around the world as well as in solo and chamber engagements.

David was brought to our attention by conductor Marco Zuccarini who overflowed with joy and surprise at the discovery of such a talent. Clearly, David was someone Melba Recordings had to record.  We owe a debt of thanks to Maestro Zuccarini for his recommendation. He writes “I had the pleasure to play a concert with David and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. It was such a pleasure to work with a deeply sensitive and very refined musician, but also a very sensible man, young and with the pleasure of life and making music.”

And so, in 2005, David recorded his debut recital disc, earning remarkable reviews for his “sheer brilliance” and “astonishing virtuosity”. Conductor Richard Bonynge hailed him as “the most poetic pianist I have heard for many years”.

Conductor and concert pianist Asher Fisch performed duets with David in New York, and remembers “very clearly that playing with him and spending a few hours together gave me tremendous joy. We played Dvorak, and in this kind of music you can immediately gauge your partner’s musicality, David was so good at it, I felt humbled. It was an honour and pleasure making music with him and I am so saddened that there was no other opportunity for us to make music again.  It is a horrible loss”.

David was a golden young man with the ability to do anything. In the field of classical music, superlatives are carelessly bandied around and become meaningless. These superlatives fall down when attempting to describe a talent of the magnitude and rarity of David Tong. He was a phenomenon whose approach to music-making was totally breathtaking, free and always an expression of his fiercely independent spirit.

David’s follow-up recording was with cellist siblings Pei-Jee and Pei-Sian Ng, and was received with enthusiasm worldwide, acclaimed as the “product of exceptional skill”, and “stunningly successful”.

Many were perplexed when a young man with talent sufficient to make the gods weep, would chose to change direction and pursue another career.  Why? He was always searching for more.  Whereas most would settle for a safe path, he became a commercial pilot with North Coast Aviation working in Papua New Guinea, bringing the same energy, passion and joie de vivre that had characterised his music making. 

David soared when he made music and he never looked down. There was no safety net. So it was fitting that when he decided to put aside his soloist aspirations he followed his love of flying, finding another outlet for his passion for life in the vastness of wild and dangerous landscapes.  

Experiencing David perform gave one the feeling of awe we have on seeing a great sportsperson in full flight – a hero achieving the impossible, evoking magic. David’s greatest gift, though, was not technical or physical: it was the unfailing and extraordinary poetry of his Soul which came through his fingers.

Rarely a performer comes along who has the lot – all the notes, effortless technique and sublime musical poetry. When confronted with genius, we wonder how it is possible for a human being to achieve such a feat.   David’s talent was inexplicable and beyond description. Those who knew and loved him are heartbroken.


ABC News:  'Daredevil virtuoso' concert pianist turned bush pilot David Tong killed in Papua New Guinea mountain crash

The Australian:  David Tong, pilot and concert pianist, dies in PNG crash

LOOP:  Maru sends governments condolences to pilot's family

David Tong Biography