Singapore Chinese Orchestra spotlights maestros in 25th anniversary books

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra, inaugurated in 1996 after starting out as a community orchestra, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra, inaugurated in 1996 after starting out as a community orchestra, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

SINGAPORE - The stories of musicians from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) take centrestage in two books launched to mark the ensemble's 25th anniversary.

SCO Hidden Gems - Celebrating Singapore Chinese Orchestra's Silver Jubilee is by Leong Weng Kam, formerly a senior writer at The Straits Times.

Former Lianhe Zaobao associate editor Giam Meng Tuck, along with Singapore Press Holdings' Chinese editorial team, penned a separate Chinese edition.

Both were launched on Friday (Oct 8) at a gala concert at the Singapore Conference Hall.

The books shine the spotlight on eight maestros - concertmaster Li Baoshun, erhu I principal Zhao Jianhua, pipa principal Yu Jia, yangqin principal Qu Jianqing, sanxian associate principal Huang Guifang, dizi principal Yin Zhiyang, sheng principal Guo Changsuo and suona and guan principal Jin Shiyi.

Readers will learn about the musicians' trials and tribulations and their lives after migrating to Singapore.

The chapter on erhu player Zhao, for instance, contains moving anecdotes about his relationship with his mentor Min Huifen, who travelled by foot for two hours to coach him - a visit that took him by surprise - when she was recovering in hospital in China from major cancer surgery.

Then there is the story of how guan player Jin teamed up with his former student Liu Jiang, an SCO diyin suona player, to create a new instrument, the SINGuan - "sing" stands for Singapore - after four years of research and trials.

It features modifications to the traditional guan, a double-reed wind instrument.

"My purpose is to make it easier for people to learn and play while retaining the traditional guan's characteristics," he says in the book.

The SCO was inaugurated in 1996 after starting out as a community orchestra. The acclaimed ensemble, which has a diverse repertoire, comprises 85 members whose ages range from 27 to 64.

In the book, sheng player Guo talks about the need for the orchestra to evolve to meet the expectations of the younger generation.

"I hope the word Chinese can be removed from SCO's name one day, just like a symphony orchestra which is not linked to any racial group," he says.

In a video at the event, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the orchestra's patron, said: "Today's SCO is more than just a Chinese orchestra. Over the years, it expanded its repertoire and focused on presenting Singapore's style of Chinese orchestra music, commissioning and performing works that draw on our multicultural heritage.

"Yet SCO is not resting on its laurels. It continues to scale new heights, both artistically and as a national institution of Chinese culture in Singapore. One of its key tasks is to grow the next generation of audiences and musicians.

"That is why SCO is working hard to interest young audiences in learning about the Chinese traditions and culture through music, and nurture artistic talents."

SCO board chairman Ng Siew Quan added: "A world-class orchestra cannot exist without its outstanding musicians. SCO is no exception. Through the candid accounts of our eight hidden gems, the book traces the making of a top Chinese orchestra and provides valuable background information on SCO's early years too."

Friday's gala was one of several SCO concerts since July held to mark the orchestra's 25th anniversary.

Digital copies of the English and Chinese books are available for free on SCO's website.