Published on 08 July 2019
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has announced Austrian maestro Hans Graf as its Chief Conductor. Graf will assume the role from the 2020/21 concert season, beginning mid-2020.
In Graf, SSO has appointed an internationally established maestro with highly regarded expertise in core orchestral repertoire. His background and work in Vienna, Salzburg and Graz makes him especially at home in Austro-German repertoire that is crucial in developing a symphonic orchestra. Graf has served as Music Director at distinguished orchestras like the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, the Basque National Orchestra, and the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. He was most recently Music Director at the Houston Symphony.
No stranger to Singapore, the 70-year-old Grammy-awarded maestro conducted SSO concerts in 2015 and 2018, where reviewers extolled Graf’s conducting as “an inspired partnership”, leading the SSO to “play with such delicacy and sensitivity.”
On his latest role, Graf said, “When I first came to Singapore, I found an orchestra of international level. Now I am pleased and honoured to be invited to work with them in the future: I feel in them the joy of making music which fuels their assiduous effort to reach ever higher levels, and it will be my goal to lead and go forward with them in this noble passion. Singapore is a metropolis in many ways and also in the arts, and we will expand this importance with pride and commitment — and with our contagious love of great music — for the world and for the music lovers here in town.”
Graf’s appointment comes after Chinese-American Music Director Lan Shui stepped down in January 2019, concluding a 22-year career with the SSO; Shui now holds the title of Conductor Laureate. Before Shui, SSO’s first Music Director and Conductor was Singaporean Choo Hoey, who holds the title of Conductor Emeritus.
The incoming Chief Conductor has led orchestras across America (e.g., Boston, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, among others) and Europe (Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, the Concertgebouw, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hilversum Radio Philharmonic, and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin). Graf frequently appears at major European Festivals (Salzburg, Aix-en-Provence, Maggio Musicale, etc.) and has conducted at the Vienna State Opera and the opera houses in Munich, Paris, Rome and Zurich.
Graf studied under three important conducting teachers of the 20th century, Arvid Jansons, Franco Ferrara and Sergiu Celibidache. In turn, he has served as Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, where he is now titled Professor Emeritus.
“I love and find it important to teach,” Graf added. “And I hope to create some good opportunities for young musicians, conductors and players, to gain experience and to grow, and to get some high-level training and inspiration with the help and friendly care of the SSO.”
The Chief Conductor search, led by the Executive and Nominating Committee of the Board of Directors of the Singapore Symphony Group (SSG), involved seeking the views of SSO musicians, the administrative staff, as well as major stakeholders. The top criterion was the rapport between Graf and the audience as well as the orchestra.
SSG Board Chairman Goh Yew Lin said, “I am delighted to welcome Hans Graf as our Chief Conductor. He brings with him a wealth of experience and insightful musicianship, in repertoire ranging from the core classical repertoire to the peaks of the 20th century repertoire. His rapport with SSO musicians was exceptional from their first concert together. I look forward to working with him as we continue to build on the strong foundations that have been established over the past forty years by our first two music directors.”
Said CEO Chng Hak-Peng, “As the national orchestra, we place our audience at the centre of what we do, and their enthusiastic response to both concerts that Graf conducted matched the warmth that our musicians felt as well. When we approached him, we were delighted that the feeling was mutual. Together, we are looking forward to presenting audiences in Singapore and overseas even more compelling and memorable musical experiences in the years ahead.”
The incoming SSO Chief Conductor will plan and conduct six concert weeks in the 2020/21 season, as well as work with the SSO to develop an artistic vision for the orchestra that will guide the shaping of the orchestra’s seasons ahead. Director for Artistic Planning, Hans Sørensen, who was appointed in January 2019, will plan the orchestra’s programmes towards realising this vision. Subsequent seasons will have Graf conducting the SSO for eight concert weeks each.
This announcement comes at the 40th anniversary of the SSO, marked by a six-month celebration of the milestone that included an anniversary gala concert, an anniversary fundraising dinner, and a special series of community concerts for the Singapore public. Over the last four decades, the orchestra has made about 50 recordings, now largely under the BIS label, and toured Asia, Europe, and North America. At home, the SSO is also well loved for its concerts in public parks, and its community outreach, which include open houses at the iconic Victoria Concert Hall, educational talks and tours, and free concerts for charities.
Elaine Yeo, an SSO musician since 1992 who has performed with former conductors Choo and Shui, and the newest member of the SSO musicians’ committee, said, “Maestro Graf is a highly respected artist with a great sense of musicianship and experience. We really enjoyed playing under him when he was here last year, and we are looking forward to forging a new relationship with one of the great maestros of our time. I'm sure he will bring the orchestra to even higher levels of performance and music-making.”
For Dean of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Professor Bernard Lanskey, this heralds a new age for the national orchestra. “Hans Graf brings to Singapore an immense and diverse wealth of musical experience and awareness, as the SSO builds momentum to becoming one of the world's most distinctive orchestras. YST Conservatory looks forward to working with Mr Graf and the orchestra at this exciting and dynamic time for music and music education in Singapore and Southeast Asia.”
A Singapore media conference with Hans Graf will be announced at a later date.
Hans Graf, Conductor
“Graf conducts the Zemlinsky (Lyric Symphony) with deep, tangible sensuality, while the playing combines clarity with textures of breathtaking beauty.” – The Guardian
“One of the finest Wozzecks on record, orchestrally speaking” — Gramophone
The Austrian conductor, Hans Graf, was appointed Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 2001 and concluded his tenure in 2013 with a semi-staged production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck and a festive performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony.
He is the longest serving Music Director in the orchestra’s 100 years and holds the title of Conductor Laureate. Prior to his appointment in Houston, he was the Music Director of the Calgary Philharmonic (CPO) for eight seasons and of the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine (ONBA) for six years. He also led the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg from 1984 to 1994 and the Basque National Orchestra from 1994 to 1996.
Hans Graf is a frequent guest with major North American orchestras. His guest engagements in the US include the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Atlanta, San Francisco, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dallas, Baltimore, Utah, Milwaukee, Colorado and National Symphony Orchestras, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. In Canada, he works with the Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras.
Mr Graf made his Carnegie Hall debut with the Houston Symphony in January 2006. They returned in January 2010 to the New York premiere of “The Planets — An HD Odyssey”, featuring an exclusive video with high definition images from NASA, together with Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Mr Graf and the Houston Symphony appeared again in May 2012 in Carnegie’s Spring for Music Festival with an All-Shostakovich programme.
In Europe Mr Graf conducted the Philharmonic Orchestras of Vienna and London, the Vienna Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestras as well as the St. Petersburg and Russian National Philharmonic of Moscow, the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Bavarian and Danish Radio Symphony Orchestras, the Hilversum Radio Philharmonic (at the Concertgebouw’s famous SaturdayMatinees), the LSO, LPO, RPO, the Birmingham, Hallé, Royal Scottish, the Irish National and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony as well as the Oslo and Stockholm Philharmonics among others. He is also a regular guest with the Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore Symphonies, the Seoul, Hong Kong and Malaysia Philharmonics.
In October 2010, Mr Graf led the Houston Symphony on a tour to the UK with performances in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Edinburgh and the Barbican in London. In June 2012, the Houston Symphony with Mo. Graf was the first major American orchestra to appear at the Festival of World Symphony Orchestras in Moscow, presenting two programs, (Mozart "Prague" plus Bruckner 9, and the Russian premiere of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony plus the first Russian performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony 11 by a foreign orchestra.
In 2013, Mr Graf returned with three productions to the Salzburg Festival where his debut was in 1983. He participated at other prestigious European festivals such as Bregenz, Grafenegg, Orange, Aix-en-Provence the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Savonlinna in Finland. His recent US festival appearances include the Tanglewood and Blossom Music Festivals, Aspen, Bravo!Vail, the Texas Music Festival and the Grant Park Music Festival in downtown Chicago.
An experienced opera conductor, Mr Graf first conducted the Vienna State Opera in 1981 and has since led productions in the opera hoses of Munich, Berlin, Paris, Rome and many others. Recent opera engagements include Zurich (Parsifal) and the Opera National du Rhin in Strasbourg (Boris Godunov).
In 2014, he was awarded the “Österreichischer Musiktheaterpreis” for best musical performance, conducting a concert version of Richard Strauss’ opera Die Feuersnot at the Volksoper in Vienna.
Hans Graf’s extensive discography includes the complete symphonies of Mozart and Schubert, the complete orchestral works of Henri Dutilleux (under supervision of the composer) with the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine (BMG Arte Nova/SONY) as well as the world premiere recording of Zemlinsky’s opera Es war einmal (Danish Radio, Capriccio).
Among his many recordings with the Houston Symphony are Bartok’s Wooden Prince (Koch), Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony, Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Naxos), and a DVD of The Planets — An HD Odyssey. Naxos also released Houston Symphony’s Wozzeck in January of 2017. This recording was awarded the ECHO Klassik prize in 2017 for the best opera recording (category 20./ 21. century) and the GRAMMY in 2018 for Best Opera.
Other recent CDs include the complete works for viola and orchestra by Hindemith with Tabea Zimmermann and the DSO Berlin (Myrios) and Orff’s Carmina Burana with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Born near Linz (Austria), Hans Graf first studied piano. After receiving his diplomas in piano and conducting, he studied in Italy with Franco Ferrara (Siena) and Sergiu Celibidache (Bologna) and in St Petersburg with Arvid Jansons. Hans Graf has been nominated for the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Government (2002) and was awarded the Grand Decoration of Honour of the Republic of Austria.
He is also Professor Emeritus for Orchestral Conducting at the Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg.
About the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Since its founding in 1979, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has been Singapore’s flagship orchestra, touching lives through classical music and providing the heartbeat of the cultural scene in the cosmopolitan city-state. In addition to its subscription series concerts, the orchestra is well-loved for its outdoor and community appearances, and its significant role educating the young people of Singapore. The SSO has also earned an international reputation for its orchestral virtuosity, having garnered sterling reviews for its overseas tours and many successful recordings.
The SSO makes its performing home at the 1,800-seat state-of-the-art Esplanade Concert Hall. More intimate works and all outreach and community performances take place at the 673-seat Victoria Concert Hall, the home of the SSO. The orchestra performs 100 concerts a year, and its versatile repertoire spans all-time favourites and orchestral masterpieces to exciting cutting-edge premieres. Bridging the musical traditions of East and West, Singaporean and Asian musicians and composers are regularly showcased in the concert season. This has been a core of the SSO's programming philosophy from the very beginning under Choo Hoey, who was Music Director from 1979 to 1996.
Under the Music Directorship of Lan Shui from 1997 to January 2019, the SSO has performed in Europe, Asia and the United States. In May 2016 the SSO was invited to perform at the Dresden Music Festival and the Prague Spring International Music Festival. This successful five-city tour of Germany and Prague also included the SSO’s return to the Berlin Philharmonie after six years. In 2014 the SSO’s debut at the 120th BBC Proms in London received critical acclaim in the major UK newspapers The Guardian and Telegraph. The SSO has also performed in China on multiple occasions.
Notable SSO releases under BIS include a Rachmaninov series, a “Seascapes” album, two Debussy discs “La Mer” and “Jeux”, and the first-ever cycle of Tcherepnin’s piano concertos and symphonies. The SSO has also collaborated with such great artists as Lorin Maazel, Charles Dutoit, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Neeme Järvi, Gustavo Dudamel, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Diana Damrau, Martha Argerich, Lang Lang, Yo-Yo Ma, Janine Jansen, Leonidas Kavakos and Gil Shaham.
The SSO is part of the Singapore Symphony Group, which also manages the Singapore Symphony Choruses, and the Singapore National Youth Orchestra.
The mission of the Group is to create memorable shared experiences with music. Through the SSO and its affiliated performing groups, we spread the love for music, nurture talent, and enrich our diverse communities.