Fresh from testing the acoustics of the revamped home of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), its music director Yeh Tsung says: "I have been overwhelmed by the change of the tone, colour and quality of the sound. It's very vibrant, beautiful and rich."
The orchestra resides in the Singapore Conference Hall, which closed this year for a $16-million renovation to improve its concert hall, internal accessibility and external landscaping.
The heritage building was completed in 1965 and last renovated between 1999 and 2001.
The concert hall will open to the public from Jan 26, with a Chinese New Year concert titled Rhapsodies Of Spring 2018: Home For The New Year. The programme includes Spring from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, adapted by local composer Eric Watson; and Spring Festival Overture composed by Li Huanzhi, adapted by Sim Boon Yew.
Well-known Chinese violinist Lu Siqing performs with the orchestra. Yeh, 67, says: "We're bringing him in because we want to show off the excellent acoustics with a very light mood."
He adds: "This is a very special season for us next year because after one year of being musical gypsies, we are returning home."
This year, the SCO has performed in various locations, including the auditorium of the adjoining Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre.
BOOK IT / HITS OF CHINESE MUSIC I: WOODWINDS
WHERE: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium, 1 Straits Boulevard
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 8pm
ADMISSION: $30 to $70 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
RHAPSODIES OF SPRING 2018: HOME FOR THE NEW YEAR
WHERE: Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall, Singapore Conference Hall, 7 Shenton Way
WHEN: Jan 26 and 27, 8pm
ADMISSION: $25 to $108 from Sistic
On Friday and Saturday, it puts on a woodwind special there.
However, the maestro says it is important for the orchestra to have its own home, which comes to define them, much like the Berlin Philharmonie hall is associated with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
For the SCO, the most significant upgrades to the Singapore Conference Hall are improvements to the concert hall's acoustics and stage.
Previously, there were complaints about reverberation and that sound quality deteriorated for seats further from the stage. These have been fixed with the instalment of an acoustic system from well-known American brand Meyer Sounds.
The depth of the trapezoidal stage has also been extended by 1.2m to fit the nearly 90-member orchestra. About 30 seats were sacrificed, so the seating capacity of the hall is now 834.
Outside the concert hall, two link bridges have been established in the concourse so ticketholders with mobility issues can take the lift, then access the hall on a level path. Previously, they had to climb a final flight of stairs. To accommodate the link bridges, the existing staircase has been shifted back to the position it occupied in 1965.
The orchestra's executive director, Mr Terence Ho, says the last stage of the revamp will be completed in March next year, with a new restaurant and drive-in area added to the external landscape.
He says adding food options and better accessibility is necessary to make this heritage building "a people's centre".
Yeh is toying with the idea of serving coffee or tea during a new series of chamber concerts which he is testing next year.
The first of these, Music Tuesdays, will be on June 5 and feature husband-and-wife musicians Han Ying on the stringed ruan and Zhong Zhi Yue on the guqin and sheng.
Yeh says: "We need to get away from weekends. Singaporeans are too busy on weekends. The Tuesday concert will be shorter because people have to go to work the next day."
Other highlights of the orchestra's season next year include the debuts of noted Chinese conductor Shao En on April 7 and sheng master Wu Tong from the Grammy Award-winning Silk Road Ensemble on June 2.
The orchestra's anticipated inter-genre collaborations for the season include a jazz concert in April featuring Shanghainese musicians Coco Zhao and Li Xiaochuan.
SCO also begins its 2018 season with a percussion concert Percussion Fusion on Jan 12 and 13, featuring Riduan Zalani on frame drums and Nawaz Mirajkar on the tabla.
SCO's resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong conducts. The performance will be at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium, as the Singapore Conference Hall renovations will not be complete by then.
Correction note: An earlier version of the story stated that Meyer Sounds is a German brand. It is actually an American brand.