Singapore conductor Darrell Ang leads New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to Grammy nod

Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang.
Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang.PHOTO: ST FILE

Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang was rushing to press his formal tails for a concert in Munich when he received word that his first CD recording had been nominated for a Grammy Award for best orchestral performance.

Zhou Long & Chen Yi: Symphony 'Humen 1839', released by music label Naxos in May this year, features Ang, 36, leading the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

"My first reaction was: 'Oh, that's nice.'" he told The Straits Times from Germany, via e-mail. "But it appears everyone is getting very excited, and that's starting to get me excited."

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 but lost out to American trumpeter Chris Botti.

Ang's album and its Asia-Pacific flavour stand out among the four other contenders. They include veteran Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for Bruckner's Symphony No. 4; Latvia's Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow - Symphony No. 10; Uruguay-born Carlos Kalmar and The Oregon Symphony for Spirit Of The American Range and France's Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony for Dutilleux: Métaboles; L'Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, Le Double.

"I'm very pleased that the Grammys - which in the public eye tends to be very US-centric - has decided to give recognition to a great orchestra in New Zealand, really an incredible orchestra, and a Singapore conductor performing music that is written by two of the top Chinese composers of our time. I think that is truly an achievement indeed," Ang told The Straits Times.

He shared the nomination on his Facebook page with the words: "My first Grammy nomination! Beginner's luck: this also happens to be my very first CD recording..."

It is his first Naxos recording of purely symphonic work. Last year, he and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recorded Giacomo Meyerbeer's French operas for the label.

The title track of the CD is co-composed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Zhou and his China-born contemporary and wife, Chen Yi, both 62. It is the composers' only collaborative work and commemorates the public burning of over 1,000 tonnes of opium in June 1839 in Humen, Guangdong, an act which led British opium traders to start the first Opium War with China.

Ang said in his e-mail that he is a fan of Zhou and had been fascinated by the Opium War while studying history 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," he writes.

"Chinese folk melodies are the basis of the thematic subjects throughout the work, and lend a sense of nostalgia to it."

Also on the CD is Zhou's The Rhyme Of Taigu, which Ang said he had been eager to record since hearing the Singapore Symphony Orchestra perform it. The 2003 work was co-commissioned by the orchestra and performed on its Europe tour in 2010.

Until 2013, Ang was young associate conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and is also a regular guest with well-known ensembles such as the London Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin and Vienna Chamber Orchestra. Since 2012, he has been music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne in north-west France.

The Grammy ceremony will be held in Los Angeles on Feb 15 and broadcast by CBS.