As reported in The Australian, David Tong, a former concert pianist turned pilot, has died after his plane crashed in a mountainous area of Papua New Guinea.
Tong, who played with Australia’s state symphony orchestras and recorded for Melba Recordings, was born in Macao in 1983. His family moved to Australia when he was six where he began taking piano lessons. He appeared with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at age nine and won the keyboard section of the Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards when he was 12. After an extensive period of study with Stephen McIntyre at Melbourne University, Tong went on to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York where he won the Vladimir Horowitz scholarship.
The recipient of a number of prestigious awards, he won the silver medal at the inaugural 2008 Grand Bohemian Orlando International Piano Competition. He played with Australia’s major orchestras, went on an Asian tour with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and gave a number of solo recitals. Other engagements included a performance with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the 2002 Sydney Festival’s Domain Concert and appearances with the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra in Budapest and the Macao Symphony Orchestra. He also undertook a national tour of Australia with twin cellists Pei-Jee Ng and Pei-Sian Ng.
In 2005, Tong made his debut CD for Melba Recordings – an album of Rachmaninov, Chopin and Liszt. Recorded at South Melbourne Town Hall, it was released to considerable acclaim. Limelight said: “the remarkable album provides a snapshot of a brilliant young artist clearly destined for greater things”, The Sunday Herald Sun described it as “astonishing virtuosity from a young Melbourne pianist” and The Age said “Tong…is ready to take his place with the best pianism that this country has to offer”. He subsequently released a second disc entitled Phoenix Story on the Melba label featuring the cello sonatas of Rachmaninov and Chopin with cellists Pei-Jee and Pei-Sian Ng.
Tong, 34, had been working as a commercial pilot for North Coast Aviation for the past three years. As reported in PNG newspaper The National his plane crashed on December 23 in a remote location at the foot of the Sarawaged Range and though he survived, calling for help on his mobile, the rescue team took several days to reach him because of bad weather. His body was airlifted to Lae on December 29.
The pianist Zsolt Bognár was quoted in The National as saying: “It is with great sadness that I learn my old friend David Tong was found dead on Tuesday from injuries sustained in a plane crash. I remember first meeting him in Texas in 2001 and being struck by his sunshine-filled spirit, his strong Australian accent, and vivacious temperament. He was an incredible pianist with a breathtaking technique – I remember how he burst into my practice room and deployed Chopin Etudes with ease – and as a human being and friend he will be missed. What devastating news.”