Bravissimo! October 2019

Lee Foundation Supports Five Years of Organ Concerts

The Klais pipe organ — Singapore’s only fully mechanical organ, situated at the Victoria Concert Hall

After a four-year restoration and renovation, the Victoria Concert Hall (VCH) re-opened in 2014. Since then, the Lee Foundation has supported dozens of organ performances, where the lovely Klais pipe organ takes centrestage, both visually and musically.

The Beloved Klais Organ at Victoria

The Klais organ has strong emotional links with generations of audiences in Singapore. It was first installed in 1987 through fundraising efforts of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra Ladies’ League.

In 2010, as the VCH underwent a four-year restoration, every single one of the 2,012 pipes of the Klais was painstakingly removed and kept in storage.

Bringing Organ Music to the Community

When the VCH reopened in 2014, the organ was restored in its home, and brought back to life with the new VCH Organ Series, with a generous sponsorship from the Lee Foundation. Once again, the people of Singapore could admire the beauty and power of the Klais organ, with its awe-inspiring and delicate strains of music reaching old and new audiences.

Dr Margaret Chen was one of the members of the Ladies’ League who raised money for the organ in the 1980s. She went on to become the Artistic Director of the VCH Organ Series in 2015, and was instrumental in securing Lee Foundation’s support for the concerts.

“Our mission for this series is to present a unique aural experience for audiences who would normally not attend classical concerts,” said Dr Margaret Chen, the Artistic Director of the Organ series.

“We present accessible programmes that promote an understanding and appreciation of music through the use of our magnificent pipe organ. We also collaborate with artists and musicians of various genres to create ‘organ-plus’ programmes. These include choirs, ensembles, instrumentalist of both Eastern and Western traditions, and artists of different art forms such as visual arts.”

Dr Margaret Chen, Artistic Director
(VCH Organ Series from 2015–2019)
A VCH organ concert featuring organist Winfred Bönig and sand artist Lawrence Koh, whose live sand art was shown on screen accompanying the organ music

On top of that, the audience often pays nothing for these specially curated programmes with world-class artists, as many are free of charge, thanks to the annual donations from Lee Foundation. This has enabled retirees, young children with families, and groups from charities and other social service groups to enjoy an affordable music outing.

Activities for All Ages

Alongside the organ series, what has become very popular are the docent-led tours of the historic Victoria Concert Hall, also free-of-charge to anyone attending the organ concerts. These often include other hands-on activities where organ pipes are displayed and visitors can fashion their own ‘pipe organ’ from found materials.

If you’ve yet to enjoy our Klais organ, do check out the VCHPresents series for upcoming shows at the Victoria Concert Hall.

Organs of the VCH: A Timeline

1905 The Victoria Memorial Hall is completed, to mark the passing of Queen Victoria in 1901.

1931 The St Clair organ is unveiled in the Victoria Memorial Hall. The instrument is named after Major W.G. St. Clair, founder of the Philharmonic Society and the first editor of the Singapore Free Press.

1970s Victoria Memorial Hall undergoes a series of renovations — where a new gallery is added. The venue is renamed the Victoria Concert Hall.

1987 As the St Clair organ falls into disrepair, the SSO Ladies’ League fundraises for the building and installation of a new pipe organ. Donors and supporters of classical music, notably the Lee Foundation, step forward to provide financial support.

The St Clair organ’s façade is retained in the installation of the Klais organ.

The Ladies’ League commissions sculptor Brother Joseph McNally to create a pair of sculptures, Sheng and Pan, made from the remaining St Clair pipes.

Jun 2010 Victoria Concert Hall closes for an extensive restoration. The Klais organ also undergoes a refurbishment, sponsored by the Lee Foundation, where the 2,012 pipes are methodically removed piece by piece, repaired and stored in climate-controlled warehouses.

Jul 2014 Victoria Concert Hall reopens after its restoration.

Oct 2014 SSO Organ Series resumes, presenting on average of eight concerts a season, most of which are free of charge, with a five-year sponsorship from the Lee Foundation.

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