Off Stage

Nap, eat and avoid crowds

Conductor Darrell Ang says crowds disrupt his focus.
Conductor Darrell Ang says crowds disrupt his focus.PHOTO: COURTESY OF DARRELL ANG

Those are the things Singapore conductor Darrell Ang does to prepare himself before he takes the baton at a concert

Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang – a regular guest of well-known ensembles such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Vienna Chamber Orchestra – is an introvert who prefers to avoid crowds and spend quality time with family and friends instead.

The 36-year-old bachelor will take the baton at the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s 37th Anniversary Concert on Jan 29. It is his first collaboration with Singapore born pianist Melvyn Tan, 59.

The conductor says: “I have been a fan of Melvyn’s work since childhood, such as his recordings of Beethoven and Mozart concertos with British conductor Roger Norrington, and I look forward to working with him.”

The concert will feature works such as Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22, Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) and Horizons by Singaporean composer Koh Cheng Jin, 19.

Ang’s first CD recording with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Zhou Long/Chen Yi: Symphony ‘Humen 1839’, was nominated for a Grammy Award for best orchestral performance last year.

How do you keep yourself in prime condition before a show?

Although conducting is a physical activity, it should not be strenuous.

A good conductor knows how important it is to remain relaxed at all times while getting the maximum result from the orchestra – just like playing an instrument or even tennis.

So I try to take naps before my concerts, eat a little before I conduct and avoid crowds of people. Crowds are noisy, sap my energy and,most of all, disrupt my focus.

One needs to be in the spirit of the music before going on stage to perform.

What do you do if someone makes a mistake on stage?

Everybody makes mistakes, myself included. Nobody is perfect and everything is part and parcel of a live performance.

And, unfortunately, conductors do make more mistakes than players, but experience will allow a conductor to adjust unnoticeably.

What do you want your audience to feel or take away after watching a performance?

A performance is a re-creation of a musical composition. It is the job of the performer to present the work as the composer intended, as far as is possible.

My wish is for the audience to walk away having felt what the composer felt, think his thoughts, live his memories and experience his joy and his sadness, although it is all easier said than done, of course.

How do you unwind after a gruelling concert?

Alight dinner with close friends in a quiet environment usually does the trick. I gravitate towards red wine and food that is not deep-fried.

Normally, after an SSO concert, we go to Barossa, an Australian inspired restaurant at the Esplanade, because we know the owner, who is a keen supporter of musicians and a genuine lover of classical music.

What do you think of the classical music scene in Singapore?

There are a lot more concerts and performances than before, so we can say we have quite an exciting musical agenda.

However, the numbers often don’t really correspond to the quality of the performances or the content. There are many high-level classical musicians in Singapore, so there is a great energy and a strong desire to do good work.

However, there aren’t many opportunities at a high level, but rather, a desire to blend everything at a grassroots level.

There are many benefits to this, of course, although the flipside is that strong and individual artistic talents will not be able to shine.

But I think there is great promise, which just requires a keener awareness and clear direction.

What is the most difficult or most enjoyable thing about travelling so widely?

Loneliness and fatigue are the two most difficult parts of my life. I don’t have a real base – all of my belongings are in a tiny room in Paris which I see for, at most, a day every month. But being able to travel widely gives me a certain sense of freedom that I crave since I hate being stuck in any one place for too long.

What do you miss most about Singapore when you travel?

My parents. They are retired and full-time grandparents to my nieces. So when I am back,we find things to do, such as going for breakfast and spending a day with my nieces.

Teen writes for SSO

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Nap, eat and avoid crowds'. Print Edition | Subscribe