A Year On, A Look Back: Highlights of the Season

A Year On, A Look Back: Highlights of the Season

By Haslina Hassan

Mar 2021

A year ago, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra dedicated its concert at the Gardens by the Bay on 15 March 2020 to all healthcare and transport personnel working at the frontline. The well-loved free community concerts were a highlight in the cultural calendar, usually drawing huge crowds to the Meadow. Then came the advisory to limit audiences to 250. Overnight, the SSO sourced for barricades to streamline entry points, and got a video crew to livestream the concert. This began our single-minded focus through a year of the pandemic to lift Singapore’s spirits through music.

When arts venues were shut a week later, the SSO cancelled all its remaining live concerts in the 19/20 season. A week after that, the SSO unveiled a wide-ranging four-day a week digital season, #SSOPlayOn!, that would keep Singapore company through the Circuit Breaker.

How do we measure a year? As the SSO looks back at the last 12 months, the orchestra is ever appreciative of all the support it has received. The SSO could not have played on without you. Thank you for the love for your national orchestra.

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" | #SSOPlayOn Video

March 2020

Following an exciting February filled with concerts such as the sold-out two shows with Japanese celebrity composer Joe Hisaishi, the SSO enters a March adapting rapidly each week to new safety measures being announced.

Following the 27 March 2020 announcement that closes arts venues to the public, the SSO switches its scheduled 28 March 2020 concert to a livestream broadcast.

“The Spirit of Serenity” concert remains etched in memory for the emotions it carried as a response to the uncertainty that lay ahead.

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" | #SSOPlayOn Video

April 2020

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra announces a digital season to lift the spirits of Singapore and bring the community together during the global COVID-19 outbreak under the banner #SSOPlayOn!

The #SSOPlayOn! season, featuring Singapore composers, live premieres, and even a classical music meditation series for mental health, is viewed half a million times during Circuit Breaker, and crosses one million views by Phase Two.

May 2020

The Singapore Symphony makes a Special Appeal to tide over a large loss in revenue, donations and sponsorships. The campaign raises over $75,000, helping to cover the costs of producing video and audio concerts across our online platforms.

Also in May, the SSO launches a special digital programme for youngsters: Musical Soundbites. Conductor Jessica Gethin hosts this interactive fun-packed exploration of Saint-Saëns’s much-loved classic, Carnival of the Animals.

We Will Get There Music Video

June 2020

The Singapore Symphony Choruses, celebrating its 40th anniversary, release a music video, “We Will Get There”, recorded from home by 149 choristers and musicians and featuring singer Joanna Dong. Mediacorp selects the video to rally Singaporeans as the city moves into the first phase of the post-circuit breaker period. The music video is watched over a million times since its premiere.

July 2020

Hans Graf begins his tenure as the new Chief Conductor of the SSO in the midst of the pandemic. After recording from home for three months, SSO returns to the stage sans audience to record two digital concerts in the concert hall. The orchestra also launches a campaign, “SSO Musicians Play for Invictus Fund” to help the Community Chest raise funds to support social service agencies through the COVID-19 situation. It is a way for the SSO to contribute to helping others in the community who are most affected by the pandemic.

Count On me Singapore Music Video

August 2020

The SSO’s annual National Day Concert, with Darrell Ang as conductor and Khairudin Saharom as host, streams online in this annual showcase of compositions by Singapore composers. The stream also features a music video of Count On Me Singapore starring pop singer Benjamin Kheng and safely-distanced musicians of SSO. The online concert culminates in Kelly Tang’s arrangement of the National Anthem for the small orchestra allowed on stage.

Julia has appeared as a guest percussionist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Ding Yi Music Company, Singapore Lyric Opera and The Philharmonic Orchestra in Singapore. She has also performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York in collaboration with the Mannes Orchestra, as well as the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra in Chengdu.

September 2020

The SSO ensures that the star of our President’s Young Performers (PYP) Concert 2020, 23-year-old marimba player Julia Tan, receives the full PYP experience. Her enthralling performance of the Marimba Concerto streams online. Julia also meets the President of Singapore, Madam Halimah Yaacob, who visits the Victoria Concert Hall for the special occasion.

All safety measures were enhanced – including cleaning of the venue, temperature screening, a three-metre spacing between performers and audience, a one-metre spacing between audience members and mandatory Safe Entry Check-In for all individuals entering the venue.

October 2020

The SSO performs in front of an audience for the first time since March, as part of a pilot scheme by the National Arts Council. The Victoria Concert Hall welcomes just 50 audience members for the concert ‘VCHpresents Chamber: Haydn’s Emperor and Tchaikovsky’s Emperor’.

From left to right: SSG CEO Mr Chng Hak-Peng; Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law; Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Transport and Adviser to Tampines Grassroots Organisation; and SSG Chairman Mr Goh Yew Lin in the Festive Arts Theatre at Our Tampines Hub with audience members.

November 2020

With the announcement that live performances for 100 people are allowed, a string quartet from the SSO plays at Our Tampines Hub’s Festive Arts Theatre, the first SSO community concert performance since the concert dedicated to frontline workers at Gardens by the Bay on 15 March 2020.

In the same month, for the first time in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s history, the orchestra’s concert film “Chorus of the Planets” (recorded 8 November 2019) screens in a cinema, in our collaboration with Shaw Theatres.

December 2020

The SSO returns to the Esplanade Concert Hall for its first live concert there since 5 March 2020. In the first ever SSO Christmas Fundraising Concert, Associate Conductor Joshua Tan leads the SSO to mark the holiday season. The concert is part of the pilot trial for the mandatory use of pre-event Antigen Rapid Test (ART) for large-scale live performances. Donors come out in full force to support the orchestra, and the concert raises over S$110,000 over two nights.

In the same month, the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) unveils a brand new look to commemorate its 40th anniversary, with a special video of the youth orchestra performing Holst’s Jupiter Hymn from the Planets.

January 2021

Maestro Hans Graf makes his first appearance in front of a live audience in his role as SSO Chief Conductor, joining the orchestra to conduct Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 and Piano Concerto No. 23 with soloist Albert Tiu.

Digital concerts are here to stay. #SSOPlayOn opens with one of the most popular online concerts to-date: Chief Conductor Hans Graf conducting the SSO in Beethoven’s heroic Third Symphony, and Shotakovich’s First Cello Concert with Ng Pei Sian, SSO Principal Cello, The HEAD Foundation Chair.

Menuhin competition winner Chloe Chua and SSO first violin Ye Lin performing Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.

February 2021

The SSO dedicates the “A Gift to the Universe - Celebrating Bach III" concert to its founding patron and former Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee.

The SSO and guest star Chloe Chua perform to the maximum allowed audience of 250 in this first of a series of annual concerts dedicated to Dr Goh, an initiative by the SSO Council.

March 2021

The SSO’s free community concerts return to Victoria Concert Hall, after a year. The SSO performs to an audience of 150 for the SSO Lunchtime Concert.

April 2021

To mark the first anniversary of the circuit breaker, the SSO dedicates the “Flurry of the Flute” concert to all healthcare workers in Singapore. Chief Conductor Hans Graf opens the live concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall with a special tribute on behalf of the SSO, expressing his admiration and gratitude to the frontline and healthcare workers for their contributions in the fight against COVID-19.

It has been an extraordinary year of challenges and change. As SSG Chairman resolutely stated a year ago,


As Singapore’s national orchestra, the SSO will do everything it can to bring joy, solace, inspiration and hope through music. We will not be silent.

Goh Yew Lin, Chairman
Singapore Symphony Group

With the gradual resumption of live concerts, the SSO looks ahead to sharing many more memorable moments as we prepare for our 21/22 Season.