Off Stage

Saying a prayer before every concert

Moses Gay is assistant conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.
Moses Gay is assistant conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

Moses Gay, who turns 31 this year, is the youngest conductor to lead the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

The bachelor joined as conducting assistant in 2011, when he was just 26, and three years later became the orchestra's assistant conductor.

On Saturday, he will take the stage with two seasoned conductors - the orchestra's music director Yeh Tsung and resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong, who is music director of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra as well - for Dauntless Spirit 2016.

This year, the annual concert of the two orchestras will be dedicated to the works of Singapore composer and Cultural Medallion recipient Phoon Yew Tien, who is also the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's composerin-residence.

Do you remember your first performance as a conductor? How was the experience? I conducted my first performance with my school orchestra at Kallang Theatre. At the age of 15, I was wearing the tailcoat of my school conductor, Mr Goh Kok Boon, and waving his baton. The experience was phenomenal - I garnered a standing ovation.

It was then that my erhu teacher, Mr Zhang Yuming, urged me to be a conductor. This was after he heard Mr Ku Lap Man, a renowned conductor who was at that performance, comment: "This boy is going to be a great conductor."

  • BOOK IT / DAUNTLESS SPIRIT 2016

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall

    WHEN: Saturday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $18 and $28 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

What is your pre-show ritual? I say a silent prayer before every rehearsal and concert. Apart from that, a moment of silence before going on stage helps me to get into the intended mood of a particular work.

What is the funniest or most memorable thing that has happened to you while you were on stage? It was the last piece before the intermission of a concert with the China Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in 2013. I went on stage with the piano soloist. We both took our bows and were excited to begin the famous Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin.

It was then that I realised there were a few empty seats... The saxophonists were not on stage!

After a minute or so of awkward silence - the audience thought I needed a long time to prepare the mood - the saxophonists came on stage stealthily, like thieves, and the whole hall burst into laughter.

What is the harshest criticism or review you have received? How did you deal with it? Of the many harsh criticisms, one of the worst was given to me in the face by a conducting teacher after a concert: "Whatever you just did up there was nonsense."

The audience was surprised by his comment, but I took it gracefully and walked off the stage smiling. In my opinion, criticism will always be present and we should learn to embrace it.

Maintain an open mind - perhaps we might learn something valuable we were not aware of.

What do you love about conducting? When do you know you have done a good job? I love seeing composition on paper becoming reality. From the moment I receive the score till the day of the concert, I'll study the score thoroughly and do my best to reach a desired sound with the musicians in hopes of expressing the composer's intention to the audience.

We might receive good reviews or criticism, but that does not determine whether conducting is done well or vice versa.

To do a "good job" as a conductor, as renowned conductor Yeh Tsung advises, is to at first be a perfectionist and do your reasonable best in the given amount of time. After the concert, stop being a perfectionist and move on with no regrets.

Do you get any post-show food cravings? Where do you go? I do not have food cravings, but I do enjoy gatherings after a concert with family and close friends. We will talk about the concert while having our meal. As long as the venue can host a big group, we will be there.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Saying a prayer before every concert'. Print Edition | Subscribe