Published on 19 August 2019
By Bian He The Singapore Symphony Orchestra announced in 2017 the impending departure of the Music Director, and established a selection committee to identify successors. In July of this year, the orchestra announced that the Austrian conductor Hans Graf was the chief conductor of the orchestra.
Goh Yew Lin, Chairman of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, said in an interview with Lianhe Zaobao that it is not easy to find a music director who is willing to perform for more than 20 years. The orchestra needs a leader and has different needs in different eras.
The lead of the chief conductor symbolizes that a symphony orchestra is about to embark on a new musical journey, but it is also a wake-up call to test whether the orchestra can find its next pilot.
Since the announcement of the departure of the Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 2017, the Board of Directors of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra has established a selection committee for the orchestra to find a successor. Finally, in July of this year, the Austrian conductor Hans Graf was appointed as the chief conductor of the orchestra, and the orchestra began to fulfill its term from the new music season from 2020 to 2021.
Hans Graff, 70, previously worked as a music director at the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He also served as Music Director of the Salzburg Mozart Orchestra, the Basque National Orchestra and the Bordeaux National Orchestra.
The overall program of the music season is organized by Hans Sorensen, the artistic planning director who took office in January this year.
Long-term music director proves a tough search Since 1979, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra has always relied on a distinguished music director who is fully responsible for the arrangement of the entire season. Therefore, the orchestra experienced two long-term music directors. The first, Choo Hoey, took office in 1979 and held that for 17 years. The second, Shui Lan, took office in 1997 and was in charge for 22 years.
However, Goh Yew Lin, chairman of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, said in an interview with Lianhe Zaobao that it is not easy to find a music director who is willing to hold on for more than 20 years. Goh, who joined the Board of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 1990, has written music reviews for the Straits Times for 17 years, so he is well aware of the ups and downs experienced by the local music scene. He believes that the orchestra needs a leader and has different needs in different eras. He pointed out that Choo Hoey took office at the age of 45 and had extraordinary perseverance and determination to lay the foundation for the orchestra's repertoire and direction. Shui Lan was younger when he took office. He was only 39 years old. He opened up more 19th-century repertoire for the orchestra and spent a lot of energy into moulding the orchestra. Under his leadership, the orchestra was invited to perform at the BBC Proms in the UK in 2014, becoming the second Asian orchestra to be invited to perform after the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
"The problem is that not every outstanding conductor can be qualified for the planning work of the season." Goh said that in the early days of the group, orchestras around the world were more inclined to find a music director to lead everything. Today, different orchestras have separated the duties of chief conductor and artistic planning. "The whole world is changing. Although a few symphony orchestras can still see the title of music director, he still needs a group of people to assist him in this work. Therefore, the division of chief commander and artistic planning is actually the management of the orchestra. The process of specialization." The design of the orchestra's new music season is therefore no longer dominated by a music director, but the team led by the artistic planning director who is responsible for the routine and programme design, and chief commander's responsibility is to focus on the artistic direction and musical level of the orchestra. From an artistic perspective, Graf's experience is very rich. Graf studied with a number of famous teachers, including Arvid Jansons, Franco Ferrara, and Sergiu Celibidache; his specialties are also quite extensive, including the work of the famous French composer Henri Dutilleux and the Austrian composer Zemlinsky. He also recorded all of Mozart’s symphonies during his time as music director of the Mozart Orchestra in Salzburg.
Goh said: "Graf has such a rich and interesting musical ties. I believe he can definitely develop the German and Austrian music repertoire for the orchestra. This is something we have done less in the past few years."
However, compared with the age when Choo Hoey and Shui Lan took office, Hans Graff is 70 years old. This has caused many people to worry whether the new chief commander will only come to the "warm the seat."
In this regard, Goh thinks that seniority is not necessarily a disadvantage. There are many senior conductors from all over the world. British conductor Andrew Davis is nearly 70 years old when he led the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The Italian conductor Ricardo Mutti was 69 when he was in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is still in command at the age of 78.
In addition, Goh believes that the current situation of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra is special. The orchestra is also recruiting its concertmaster and the second violin, and needs an experienced conductor for the orchestra. The opinions of the orchestra members are also very important. Goh said Graf had worked with the orchestra in 2015 and 2018, respectively. The members of the committee, which composed of musicians, also gave their opinions after observing Graf’s command. In addition, feedback from the audience was also a reference point.
At present, the orchestra has signed a contract with Graf for three years. After the expiration, Graf can renew his contract. As for how long he will work with the orchestra, Graf will needs to see if he can reach a tacit agreement with the orchestra.
Are local conductors able to take on the role? Talking about the future of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Goh has his vision: to make the orchestra a "21st century orchestra" and let the world's fans come here. But on the one hand, it requires the efforts of the orchestra, and it also requires local conductors to follow.
In recent years, conducting talents cultivated in China are emerging. Wong Kah Chun became the chief conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany in 2018. Darrell Ang was the music director of the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra in China in 2016. In addition, there is the current Associate Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the Chief Conductor of the Singapore Youth Orchestra, Joshua Tan Kangming.
In order to cultivate and encourage local command, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra often invites them to perform as a guest conductor and perform with the orchestra. Tan just performed at the National Day concert. Ang was the conductor of the National Day concert last year. In addition, Wong will appear in October this year. Goh said that the music industry needs such a steady stream of vitality, and Graf is also very active in cultivating and improving. Graf once said that after coming to Singapore, he hopes to bring more opportunities for young musicians and conductors to showcase their talents.
Singapore Chinese Orchestra's succession challenge Singapore Chinese Orchestra's succession challenge Ye Cong, Music Director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, has been a member of the Orchestra for 17 years since he took office in 2002. He renewed his contract in September last year, which will expire at the end of 2022. Established since 1997, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra was originally headed by Hu Bingxu as Music Director and retired three years later. Later, through the open recruitment, the orchestra invited Ye Cong, who was then the music director of the South Bay Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Small Symphony Orchestra. Under his leadership, the orchestra quickly developed the repertoire and added Nanyang repertoire in 2006. In 2004 and 2014, Ye Cong also planned and directed two concerts of large-scale orchestras in the Singapore Indoor Stadium and Singapore Sports City. In 2014, the “All People's Music” concert gathered nearly 5,000 performers to create two Guinness World Records and three Singapore Records for the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.
He Weishan (Terence He), the official member of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the executive director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, said that the situation faced by the Chinese Orchestra is different from that of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Music directors with Chinese music experience are often restricted to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other places. The needs of music directors are also different. "You can list the names of all the candidates, but as a director, it is necessary to cooperate with the orchestra to effectively manage the affairs of the stage and the stage." In other words, the Chinese Orchestra wants to "airborne" a music director. The difficulty is relatively high.
As for the term of music director, He Weishan said that the longer the music director accompanying the orchestra does help the orchestra to find the tone and characteristics, but the new director can often bring innovative power to the orchestra. "Different conductors can bring different artistic styles to the orchestra. As a management team, our aim is to design the music season."
He Weishan believes that the Chinese Orchestra is not only looking for successors, but also cultivating long-term plans for Huale talents, including training chief commanders, deputy commanders, and customer commanders. On the basis of command, they also need time to learn and master the administrative experience. Therefore, he proposed the idea of setting up an art university in Congress, cultivating more talents of art and improving the local art ecology.
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