Three accomplished conductors who played key roles in developing Singapore's orchestral music scene will take up the baton in a rare showcase by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) next month.
They are the orchestra's music director Yeh Tsung; its first conductor and music director Hu Bing Xu; and veteran conductor Choo Hoey, who founded the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and was on the SCO's board of directors in 1997.
Of the three, Yeh and Choo are also recipients of the Cultural Medallion, Singapore's highest accolade for the arts.
Titled Maestros Extravaganza, the concert also marks the orchestra's 20th anniversary this year. Yeh tells The Straits Times that Hu and Choo were both invited to take part because of their strong links to the orchestra and their contributions to Western and Chinese classical music in Singapore.
"I remember in the late 1970s, when I was studying conducting at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, I went to see Choo's concert.
"At the time, the symphonic music scene was dominated by Americans and Europeans, but he was one of the few Asian conductors in Europe. He was a great influence who inspired me," he says.
BOOK IT / SCO 20TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT SEASON
WHERE: Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall, 7 Shenton Way
WHEN: July 1 and 2, 8pm
ADMISSION: $30 to $70 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
Yeh, 66, also points out that he, Hu, 77, and Choo, 85, represent three generations of Singapore musicians. "I'm glad to be the youngest on stage. You can put that in print," he says, laughing.
He will conduct Arise, You Lion Of Glory!, a traditional pipa piece by Hong Kong composer Gordon Fung Dic Lun, which is inspired by the traditional Cantonese lion dance.
The piece, which features the orchestra's pipa principal Yu Jia, won last year's Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition organised by the orchestra.
"It's an effective piece that incorporates elements from traditional Cantonese music, fused with elements from modern compositions. I chose this to show what we've done in our search for new compositions through international competitions," says Yeh.
Hu, who is conductor of the Guangdong Chinese Orchestra, will conduct Heroine Mu Gui Ying, a piece based on the opera of the same title, which tells the tale of a Chinese war heroine who fights to defend her country.
He says in an e-mail interview: "The musical language and stylings of this piece are different from most Chinese orchestral works, so there's a certain degree of difficulty."
He also has fond memories of the time between 1997 and 2000, when he was the SCO's music director.
"In three years, we worked hard to build a solid foundation for the orchestra," he says. "All of us put in a lot of effort to make it a world-class orchestra. Our performances in Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Taiwan are proof that we succeeded."
Choo will conduct the third and fourth movements of Liu Wenjin's erhu concerto, The Great Wall Capriccio, which pays tribute to the Great Wall of China.
Although he was tasked to helm the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, he was always concerned with the SCO's development as well.
He says: "We need both orchestras to serve Singapore's classical music scene.
"SCO is important for Chinese people to know and appreciate their culture and for others in the community to gain that knowledge, so the cultural scene here can be livelier."