The Singapore Symphony Orchestra celebrates National Day online with music new and old

SingaporeSingapore SSO National Day Concert – New Music, New Hopes: Kailin Yong (violin), Jason Lai (master of ceremonies), Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Joshua Tan (conductor). Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, 29.8.2021. Available for streaming on SISTIC Live through 28.9.2021. (RP)

Joshua Tan conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (c) SSO

Syafiqah ’Adha Sallehin – ‘Dengan Semangat Yang Baru’ (world premiere)
Jonathan Shin – ‘Folk Games’
Koh Cheng Jin – ‘Luciola Singapura’ (world premiere)
Kailin Yong – ‘Raising the Life’ for solo violin and orchestra (world premiere)
Jessica Tam – ‘A little trip down memory lane’ (world premiere)
Dick Lee – ‘Home’ (arr. Kelly Tang/Bertram Wee)
Tony Makarome – ‘Sing Singapura’ Medley (world premiere)
Zubir Said – ‘Majulah Singapura’ (arr. Ho Chee Kong)

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra celebrates National Day with a concert that evokes the spirit and pride of the country as it celebrates the 66th anniversary of its founding. The program showcases the country’s new generation of composers, as well as the songs that have helped to forge its national identity. Whether old or new, the music bubbles with enthusiasm and optimism, and highlights the diversity of cultures that make up the island state.

The SSO’s Associate Conductor Joshua Tan leads the SSO with his accustomed energy and style. Throughout the pandemic, he has been the go-to conductor for many of the SSO’s offerings both live and streamed. Jason Lai, Principal Conductor at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and former Associate Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, serves as the master of ceremonies for the concert, not only introducing the works but also interviewing the conductor and composers. For anyone curious about new music, especially in Southeast Asia, it is a concert worth streaming.

Syafiqah ’Adha Sallehin’s music incorporates elements of her national identity and cultural heritage, and themes of myths and fantasy. In ‘Dengan Semangat Yang Baru’ (‘In a new spirit’), she pays tribute to Singapore’s national anthem, ‘Majulah Singapura’, and its composer, Zubir Said. The work’s march-like character lends it a patriotic spirit, but its delicacy and fascinating swirls of musical color display the more intimate side of her compositional palette.

In ‘Folk Games’, Jonathan Shin reworks the folk songs that he learned as a child in untraditional guises. He maintains musical interest by alternating slow and fast songs in imaginative settings that demonstrate his ability to transform the commonplace into something quite intriguing.

The same is true in New York-based composer Cheng Jin Koh’s ‘Luciola Singapura’, which was inspired by the discovery of a new breed of fireflies in Singapore that lends its name to the title of her fascinating piece. Never having seen a firefly, Cheng Jin Koh uses her imagination and remarkable skills as an orchestrator to create a work that is luminous and exciting through her interplay of texture, rhythm and color.

Violinist/composer Kailin Yong spent more than two decades playing in Europe and the United States, in places that ranged from concert halls to the streets, before returning to Singapore. ‘Raising the Life’ for solo violin and orchestra was inspired by a haiku that he wrote while living in the US which begins with the words ‘take care of your roots’. The composer is the violin soloist in this energetic work in which dissonance and rhythmic vitality combine in a remarkable musical journey that explodes with power and beauty but ends, as it begins, quietly, with just the beat of a heart.

Jessica Tam is a Singapore-based film and television composer who evokes the sounds of her childhood in ‘A little trip down memory lane’. She arranged a singalong of three popular hits that helped to define the young country’s sense of self and national identity in its earlier days. The piece is a nostalgic evocation of a quieter time and place before Singapore became one of the most dynamic cities in the world.

The concert ends with the Singaporean patriotic standards in a new arrangement of ‘Home’, a medley of National Day Songs from the Sing Singapura Campaign of the 1980s arranged by Tony Makarome, and the national anthem.

As with performing arts organizations the world over, the SSO continues to innovate as it adjusts to the ebbs and flows of the pandemic. For the second year running, Singapore Symphony Chorus and Singapore Symphony Children’s Choir’s three annual events – The SSCC Experience, The SSC Affair and the SSCC Auditions – are being done online. These programs provide practical tips on vocal techniques and insights into the experience of being a part of the symphony’s two choruses.

In a year capped by being nominated for Gramophone‘s Orchestra of the Year Award, the SSO is returning to live performance in September and October with concerts featuring international musicians and local musical talents. Highlights include the SSO’s Red Balloon Series, which this year showcases the music of American composer Bernard Herrmann; and the SSO’s Chief Conductor Hans Graf with Sayaka Shoji in the Schumann Violin Concerto, in a program that includes the Adagio from Bruckner’s String Quintet in F major and Schubert’s Symphony No.3. 

Rick Perdian

For more on the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season, click here.

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