From a Korean drama soundtrack showcase to performances with blockbuster classical music stars such as American violinist Joshua Bell, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) has big plans lined up to mark its 20th anniversary this year.
"It's a big milestone for a relatively young orchestra, 20 years compared to those in New York, Paris and London. We have developed our own sound. It's very round and expressive and also we have the capability to connect the East and West in the way we perform, just like Singapore," says the orchestra's music director Yeh Tsung in an interview with The Straits Times.
First established as part of the People's Association Cultural Troupe, which formed in 1968, the orchestra received its name when it was later inaugurated as a national orchestra in 1996 by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is now Emeritus Senior Minister.
It has since grown into a professional orchestra with more than 80 musicians, performing at major events such as the 2006 International Monetary Fund Annual Meeting and National Day Parade, as well as arts festivals in cities such as Shanghai, Paris and Edinburgh.
It is currently led by the Shanghai- born Yeh, who received the Cultural Medallion, Singapore's highest accolade for the arts, in 2013.
The orchestra will celebrate its 20th jubilee with a one-night-only gala concert featuring Bell in April. They will be performing works such as the La Primavera concerto by Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi and Introduction Et Rondo Capriccioso by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.
Bell and Yeh met at Indiana University in the United States in 1991, when they worked together on a concert.
"We've been trying to find an opportunity to engage him. This is the first time Bell is playing with any Chinese orchestra worldwide, so we're very proud to have him," says Yeh.
To pay tribute to the orchestra's founders, three maestros will also come together to conduct on stage in a show titled Maestros Extravaganza in July.
They are Yeh, the orchestra's first music director Hu Bing Xu, and veteran conductor Choo Hoey, who founded the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and was the Chinese orchestra's first board member.
Yeh says with a laugh: "Their presence on stage will make me feel much younger."
In September, the orchestra will put up the Korea, New Waves concert, featuring works by South Korean composer Cecilia Heejeong Kim and the sounds of South Korean electronic band wHOOL. The evening wraps up with an arrangement of K-drama theme songs.
For that concert, Kim will compose a piece titled Gut: Chasing Five Ghosts III, inspired by Korean shamanistic rituals. It will feature South Korean vocalists Park In Hye and Hwang Min Wang, as well as Peking opera vocalist Huang Ping.
Kim says in an e-mail interview: "With the vocalists' vocal techniques and lyrics, the song will portray a ritual reaching a spiritual peak where the spirits of deceased beings are guided to higher realms."
The orchestra will also present Peranakan heritage and culture through The Nyonya Journey concert in September.
The first half will feature new works by composers Xie Xiang Ming, Simon Kong and Chong Kee Yong, as well as Peranakan singer- songwriter Dick Lee, who has been invited to compose an oratorio based on the story of his fore- fathers.
Lee says: "The oratorio is based on my first ancestor Lee Kan, who left China in 1776 aged 18 and landed in Malacca to seek his fortune."
Beyond the concert hall, the orchestra is also launching a retrospective exhibition of its history, as well as a Chinese music instrument exhibition.
Says Yeh: "It's a big year for us. I'd like for more people to come and join us.
"When I first came here 20 years ago, people told me: 'Ah, SCO! That's not for me, it's for my mum.' Or 'No, it's not for me, I don't speak Mandarin'. Wrong! The music we play is for every Singaporean."
•For more information on SCO's 20th anniversary concert season, go to www.sco.com.sg