Published on 16 May 2018

File photo showing the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, led by maestro Shui Lan (centre), performing in Berlin, Germany.

AKSHITA NANDA, The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The new season of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), starting in July, has 10 different conductors invited to work with the orchestra for the first time.

This larger than usual number of debuts comes as the orchestra seeks a new baton-holder. In January next year, the SSO turns 40 and also bids farewell to Shui Lan, its music director of more than 20 years.

Another upcoming transition in March next year sees the concertmaster of the orchestra, American violinist Igor Yuzefovich, leave after a five-year term.

Both exits were anticipated and SSO co-concertmaster Lynnette Seah and guest concertmasters will take turns leading the orchestra until a replacement is found, says a spokesman for the Singapore Symphony Group, which manages the SSO.

SSO's new season, from July to next May, will also see 26 soloists make their debut with the orchestra. Together with the 10 conductors, that is nearly twice last year's 19 debuts.

Mr Chng Hak-Peng, chief executive officer of the Singapore Symphony Group, said: "Because we are in a transition period, we want to introduce the audience to a wide variety of conductors and soloists."

Those taking the baton in the new season include storied American composer and conductor Brad Lubman; Sweden's Sofi Jeannin, music director of the Choeur de Radio France; and Carolyn Kuan, the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Herbert von Karajan conducting fellowship.

Asked if any of them could be considered for the job of chief conductor of the SSO, Mr Chng said: "We focus a lot on the chemistry between the musicians and the conductor and the conductor and the audience. You won't hear us announcing a conductor the audience here hasn't heard of, that's for sure."

Soloists in the new season include Grammy Award-winning Italian violinist Augustin Hadelich, Grammy-nominated German pianist Lars Vogt and chart-topping classical guitarist Milos Karadaglicć from Montenegro.

A series of concerts from July to next January will celebrate the orchestra's journey with current music director Lan, a China-born Singapore permanent resident who has helmed the SSO since 1997. Lan, 61, said last year that he was stepping down to spend more time with his family, including his two-year-old son.

He will conduct one of his most requested works, Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, on July 20, and on Nov 20, Debussy's La Mer, a work he and the SSO recorded to critical acclaim. In his final concerts on Jan 25 and 26, he will direct two performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, or the Resurrection Symphony, in the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Lan's exit marks a change in the way SSO handles programming. As music director, he managed the entire programme for the SSO, including suggesting guest conductors and soloists. In future, the new chief conductor will programme his or her series of concerts for the SSO, but overall programming for the orchestra will be managed by the Singapore Symphony Group.

Mr Chng says: "If you have a music director who is also conducting, they have to think about schedules and who can come for the season. Many conductors are much more passionate about conducting."

The orchestra is also making a concerted effort to reach audiences who might find the world of classical music daunting. An SSO Pops concert on April 5 next year will be led by musician Eimear Noone, Ireland's queen of game music, and feature soundtracks from popular games including World Of Warcraft, The Legend Of Zelda, Final Fantasy and old-school tile-matching game Tetris.

There will also be two shorter concerts of classical music - 60 minutes compared with the usual 90-minute or two-hour format - in January next year. Reich In 60 Minutes on Jan 12 will introduce contemporary composer Steve Reich and on Jan 31, Rock In 60 Minutes will feature music by Radiohead and Frank Zappa.

Tickets for the SSO 2018/2019 season are available from https://ticketing.sso.org.sg and Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg).

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