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Conductor hits right note with Grammy-nominated CD

Conductor Darrell Ang said he is pleased with the enthusiastic response to his first CD recording, Zhou Long & Chen Yi: Symphony "Humen 1839", which features him leading the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Conductor Darrell Ang said he is pleased with the enthusiastic response to his first CD recording, Zhou Long & Chen Yi: Symphony "Humen 1839", which features him leading the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang's first CD recording has been nominated for a Grammy award for best orchestral performance, although he considers himself to be "not one for prizes or awards".

He first heard the news from a friend last month while rushing out of his room in Munich's Hotel Prinz.

"Oh, that's nice," he thought, only realising later that it was a bigger deal than he expected.

"I could only think of the concert which I was going to conduct in less than an hour," said Ang, who has a room in Paris but spends most of his time on the road. At the time, the 36-year-old had a concert with the Munich Symphony Orchestra.

He was not sure that many people would listen to the album at first, as it has a very specific repertoire.

Zhou Long & Chen Yi: Symphony "Humen 1839" was released by music label Naxos in May last year, and features Ang leading the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

"It would certainly appeal to a number of classical music fans - especially those with a keen interest in contemporary music," he said.

But he is pleased with the enthusiastic response it has garnered.

He added that he is "glad the Grammys have chosen to acknowledge a great orchestra that is not in the usual North American or Central European zones", and a "repertoire that does not conform to standard inclination".

The Straits Times understands that this is the second time a Singaporean has received a Grammy nod. In 2012, Arun Shenoy's Spanish flamenco-inspired album, Rumbadoodle, was nominated for best pop instrumental album.

Ang said that his recording of the album in 2013 was the first time he had worked with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. They also recorded a disc of overtures from Giacomo Meyerbeer's French operas for the label.

The CD's title track, Zhou Long & Chen Yi: Symphony "Humen 1839", was co-composed by Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou, a Chinese American, and his China-born contemporary and wife, Chen Yi, both 62.

It is the composers' only collaboration and commemorates the public burning of more than 1,000 tonnes of opium in 1839 in Humen, Guangdong, an act which led British opium traders to start the first Opium War with China.

Ang said he has been a fan of Zhou's music, having attended the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) performances of his orchestral oeuvre.

He was keen on recording The Rhyme Of Taigu, which was co-commissioned by the SSO, along with another main symphonic work. After getting in touch with the composer, they spoke at length about his other music.

"When he told me about the Humen Symphony, it struck a chord within me," said Ang. The war was a subject that fascinated him as a student in Anglo-Chinese School.

"The Humen Symphony contains some incredibly difficult passages for orchestra and conductor, and is a work of great intensity which shifts between profound sadness and abundant euphoria.

"But Zhou Long's consummate skill is unmistakable at every moment: his penchant for nuanced orchestral colour."

Until 2013, Ang was young associate conductor of the SSO. He recently left the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne in north-west France where he was music director, and will conduct in Queensland, Australia, next month.

The Grammy ceremony will be held in Los Angeles on Feb 15.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Conductor hits right note with Grammy-nominated CD'. Print Edition | Subscribe