Orchestra of the Music Makers celebrates 10 years

Last year, the Orchestra of the Music Makers performed its first semi-staged opera, Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel And Gretel.
Last year, the Orchestra of the Music Makers performed its first semi-staged opera, Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel And Gretel.PHOTO: YONG JUNYI

A concert by the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) on Jan 13 has a triumphant tone as the homegrown ensemble celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

OMM has a strong local following and a regular season of performances, but conductor and co-founder Chan Tze Law says that 10 years ago, it was just a bunch of music enthusiasts determined to keep playing even after they graduated.

"At the beginning, there weren't even plans to give concerts," says Professor Chan, vice-dean of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore.

The orchestra was formed in 2008, when 80 amateur musicians banded together to keep playing and performing after they graduated from ensembles in schools and universities.

They roped in professional musicians to help them hone their skills and, eventually, their 2011 recording of Gustav Mahler's Resurrection Symphony was well-received by critics writing for influential music magazines Gramophone in Britain and Mostly Classic in Japan.

A year later, the orchestra was invited to two noted British music festivals - Cheltenham Music Festival and Lichfield Music Festival.

  • BOOK IT / OMM10: DISCOVER

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Jan 13, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $12 to $33 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

In 2015, the ensemble fielded more than 130 musicians and 200 singers for the epic Eighth Symphony by Mahler, also known as the Symphony Of A Thousand.

Last year, the orchestra opened the Taipei International Choral Festival with a concert including Elgar and John Williams' music from Star Wars. It also performed its first semi-staged opera, Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel And Gretel.

OMM now has a regular season of at least four concerts a year. This year, it starts with OMM10: Discover at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Jan 13. The musical menu has the triumphal strains of Dvorak's Carnival Overture and Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries.

A concert titled OMM10: Explore on June 2 at Esplanade Concert Hall will feature Leonard Bernstein's Mass, a work of musical theatre meant for singers, actors and dancers, which will be conducted by Joshua Tan Kang Ming.

OMM10: Celebrate on Aug 18 will revisit Mahler's Second Symphony after eight years. Prof Chan will conduct.

Each year features something different since members of OMM enjoy experimenting, according to the orchestra's current president Goh Eng Han, a 22-year-old student of law at the National University of Singapore.

"There is always something new in each project. How shall we stage an opera? Can we better support young Singapore composers, conductors and instrumentalists?

"These can be draining, yes, but extremely rewarding when everyone comes together to make things happen."

The Jan 13 concert, for example, includes a new 18-minute concerto Siginnah! by local composer Jonathan Shin. The title means "naughty boy" in Hokkien, says Shin.

The 25-year-old pianist-guitarist is also a member of local musical quintet the Lorong Boys, which take the stage with OMM in this concert.

He says: "I can't remember a time when the Singaporean orchestral landscape did not include the OMM. The Music Makers have been so crucial, it is hard to conceive of Singaporean classical music life without them."

However, long-term members say it has not been easy keeping OMM going.

Funding is a key challenge, as is getting members together for rehearsals.

Most of them have other commitments, including studies or a full-time job. Goh says full orchestral rehearsals for the Jan 13 concert began only last Saturday.

Programming and organisational work begin a few years in advance, however. It can be another full-time job, according to legal associate Christopher Cheong, 28, who plays the viola for OMM and leads the orchestra's artistic development committee.

So what has kept him with OMM since 2011?

"The opportunity to continually learn from one another, from friends studying or working in different industries, in both hard and soft skills," he says. "It's effectively like a start-up."

Akshita Nanda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2018, with the headline 'Sounds of triumph as Orchestra of the Music Makers turns 10'. Print Edition | Subscribe