Off Stage

Falling glasses and flying baton

PHOTO: SCO

Quek Ling Kiong, 48, resident conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), started out in the orchestra as a percussionist in 1996 and rose through the ranks before being appointed to his current role in 2013.

This weekend, the orchestra will perform two concerts under the baton of music director Yeh Tsung - Essence Of Nanyang and Ruan Lingyu's The Goddess - A Silent Film Concert - ahead of performances in Hong Kong.

How long do you spend preparing for a performance and what does your preparation entail?

It depends on the complexity of the performance and the time I have to rehearse.

It can range from one three-hour rehearsal to an entire week. I can complete a script with all the works such as stage movements and conducting cues within a day if I can work in a quiet environment with a gentle breeze.

  • BOOK IT /ESSENCE OF NANYANG

    WHERE: SCO Concert Hall, 7 Shenton Way

    WHEN: Friday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $20 to $70 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

  • RUAN LINGYU'S THE GODDESS - A SILENT FILM CONCERT

    WHERE: SCO Concert Hall

    WHEN: Saturday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $20 to $70 from Sistic

  • YOUNG PEOPLE'S CONCERT: VOYAGE TO NANYANG 3 - FOOD PARADISE

    WHERE: SCO Concert Hall

    WHEN: Nov 6, 10.30am; and Nov 7, 2.30 & 5pm

    ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic

Do you have any quirky pre- performance routines?

Before every performance, I always pray: "Please let all the musicians and members of the audience be happy and motivated by the music" and "may everyone enjoy the concert and leave contented".

How do you deal with pre- performance jitters?

I rarely have pre-performance jitters, but the last time I might have had them was before the SCO's Our People Our Music concert at the Sports Hub last year, where we broke two Guinness World Records for the largest Chinese drum ensemble and largest Chinese orchestra performance.

I was a bit nervous because I was leading 4,577 drummers and did not want to forget the cues.

I jogged up and down backstage to warm up before I was raised to the elevated stage to conduct.

What is the most unexpected thing that has happened to you while you were conducting?

My glasses falling off during a performance finale three years ago. I think I was swaying my head dramatically when it happened. But I carried on like nothing happened.

On a separate occasion in 2010, I was conducting another finale when the baton flew out of my hand and landed at least 5m away. I was relieved it did not hit anyone. That person would have been in a lot of pain.

Where do you like to go for supper after performances?

I like to go for something soupy after a performance, which can end late, from anytime after 10.30pm.

I like to have the fish bee hoon soup at Cafe Oriental in Amara Hotel or the chicken porridge at Ah Chiang's Porridge in Tiong Bahru.

What do you do during your down time after a performance?

I find that it is better to be by myself when I unwind. I need to take my mind off a performance once it ends or the music will keep replaying in my head for a few days afterwards.

I unwind in a variety of ways. Sometimes I listen to music - strictly of another genre - and sometimes I sit quietly and just stare blankly ahead.

Other times I read National Geographic or simply enjoy a hug from my partner (alternative therapist Faye Chan). Her hug reassures me that I did a good job and that things are all right.

What is a good performance to you?

I have put on a good performance whenever I have done my best.

At a masterclass in Sweden by renown German conductor Kurt Masur last month, I learnt that no one is perfect and that I should "live in the present and not the past" and treasure live performances that, once over, become history.

How has your conducting style changed over the years?

I used to be very rigid and would follow whatever I was taught in conducting school to a T.

Now I try to allow for more spontaneity and let things happen in rehearsals instead of insisting on leading every moment. I am having fun learning how to balance both approaches.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Falling glasses and flying baton'. Print Edition | Subscribe