Women of note: Concert puts the spotlight on Singaporean female composers

The fourth edition of Rachel Lim's (top row, first from left) annual concert series Unheard will celebrate Singaporean female composers (clockwise from top row, second from left) Emily Koh, Yuting Tan, Sandra Lim, Lee Jia Yi, Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin, Wynne Fung and Cheng Jin. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ANGELA CHOO, COURTESY OF SIMON GOODACRE, COURTESY OF GU WEI, COURTESY OF JOEL BENJAMIN, COURTESY OF JIYANG CHEN, COURTESY OF EELYN TANG, COURTESY OF LIM SHAO YONG, COURTESY OF TAVIFA GASCON

SINGAPORE - Soprano Rachel Lim grew up singing only songs by male composers.

"It's hard to imagine becoming something when there is no one who looks like you already doing it," says the Singaporean actress and music educator.

So, when the 27-year-old got the chance to organise concerts of her own, she decided she wanted to feature music created by women. The fourth edition of her annual concert series Unheard will celebrate home-grown female composers, a first in Singapore.

The concert, in collaboration with chamber music collective L'arietta Productions, will take place at The Arts House on Feb 27.

Lim says it is the first of its kind in Singapore, focusing as it does on home-grown female composers.

She first launched Unheard in 2019 in Boston, the United States, and brought it back to Singapore in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The series had previously featured female singers and songwriters.

The upcoming Unheard: Celebrating Singaporean Female Composers features pieces by seven women, from National Arts Council Young Artist Award recipient Emily Koh to Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin, the first Malay student to do a bachelor's degree in music at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

Emerging composer Lee Jia Yi, 25, wrote a commissioned piece, Emanate, for the concert. The work was part of Unheard's inaugural mentorship programme, the only one solely for female composers here.

She was mentored by Koh, who is assistant professor of music composition at the University of Georgia in the US.

Lee says: "The commission gave me a lot of freedom for expression. I got to explore the experimental side of music and play with different textures made by the piano."

Over the past year, Lee bounced various ideas off Koh in their weekly discussions, the two becoming close friends in the process.

"I've never had that kind of female mentor-mentee relationship in my education. I'm very honoured to be an example for a younger female composer," says Koh, 35.

Lee's finished composition involves removing the piano's lid and interacting with its strings using unlikely objects such as ceramic bowls to produce unusual sounds. She wants audiences to experience something different through her piece.

She hopes that this year's Unheard concert will set the stage for future mentorship opportunities and spur female composers on in their musical pursuits. "Hopefully, other female composers watching the concert will feel that their talents are being shown recognition and want to continue creating."

Book it/Unheard: Celebrating Singaporean Female Composers

Where: Chamber, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane
When: Feb 27, noon and 5pm
Admission: Tickets start at $20 from this website.

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