Philharmonic celebrating 15 years with Beethoven's symphonies

The Philharmonic Orchestra will perform all of Beethoven's nine symphonies over five concerts from tomorrow (April 1) to New Year's Eve.
The Philharmonic Orchestra will perform all of Beethoven's nine symphonies over five concerts from tomorrow (April 1) to New Year's Eve.PHOTO: ANDREW BI

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) will perform all of Beethoven's nine symphonies over five concerts from tomorrow to New Year's Eve.

Tomorrow's performance at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts' (Nafa) Lee Foundation Theatre has the cheerful but lesser known Fourth Symphony paired with the Seventh, known to many from the soundtrack for the Oscar-winning movie, The King's Speech (2010).

The Second and Third Symphonies will be played on June 14; the Sixth and Eighth on Sept 9; the First and Ninth on Oct 15; and the muchloved Fifth Symphony during its annual New Year's Eve gala.

That is six to seven hours of complex, genre-defining music from the German composer whose name still dominates music programmes almost two centuries after his death. It is a project that makes the name of professional orchestras. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) completed a Beethoven symphonic cycle for its 30th anniversary in 2009. The Berlin Philharmonic prides itself on recording a cycle with every chief conductor, from Austrian Herbert von Karajan to Briton Simon Rattle.

The project should daunt even such a well-regarded amateur ensemble as the TPO. Yet, founder and chief conductor Lim Yau, who is dean of Nafa's school of music, says the challenge is part of the fun.

  • BOOK IT / THE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA'S 15TH ANNIVERSARY: THE COMPLETE BEETHOVEN SYMPHONIES (I)

  • WHERE: Lee Foundation Theatre, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Campus 3, 151 Bencoolen Street

    WHEN: Tomorrow, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Go to www.facebook.com/TPOSingapore. To donate, go to bit.ly/2ob7tjP

"TPO, from the start, has always aimed to do something more exclusive, more plus," says the 64-year- old. "I'm not interested in doing just any programme. "

A less exciting challenge is funding the concerts. TPO is trying to raise US$5,000 (S$6,980) online. It makes a loss despite ticket sales as well as grants from the National Arts Council and Arts Fund.

TPO started in the 1990s as a pit orchestra to accompany operas such as those staged by the Singapore Lyric Opera. It gave its first standalone concert in 2002. Now, it stages three to four concerts a year, selling 60 per cent of its seats on average. In 2010, it started annual New Year's Eve gala concerts with champagne, crackers and balloons released at midnight. In June 2013, it collaborated with local dancers to present Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring as a movement and music performance.

The orchestra comprises up to 70 members, who include Lim's students at Nafa, music teachers and music lovers. SSO librarian Lim Lip Hua plays bass clarinet in the TPO. Violinist Chia Jit Min, a member of the SSO's orchestra management team, has plucked strings for the TPO since his years studying engineering at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

In the lead-up to tomorrow's concert, both are attending twiceweekly weekday rehearsals that are three hours long.

Chia, 38, says the hours spent studying and playing music together are not long enough for him. "All the people here have a passion for orchestral and ensemble music. It's quite fun. We go there to enjoy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'Philharmonic celebrating 15 years with Beethoven's symphonies'. Print Edition | Subscribe