New Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra plays music for Western orchestras but with Asian sensibility

New orchestra mainly made up of young amateur musicians will play Chinese classics and home-grown tunes in its first concert

Guest performers at the concert include (above from left) violinist Gabriel Ng and pianist Victor Ong.
Guest performers at the concert include (above from left) violinist Gabriel Ng and pianist Victor Ong. PHOTOS: LEONARD YAP, AAXONN MEDIA SERVICES
(Above) Adrian Chiang is one of the guest conductors.
(Above) Adrian Chiang is one of the guest conductors.

A new amateur orchestra set up earlier this year will stage its inaugural concert tomorrow.

The 75-strong Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra is founded by undergraduates Tham Jiang Jun, 22; Wong Kee Zhang and Leonard Yap, both 23; and civil servant Koh Swee Jin, 25.

Their goal is to perform music written for Western orchestras with "Asian aesthetics and sensibilities".

Wong, a flautist, says: "Most Western orchestras occasionally play Chinese composers, but they usually do a couple of pieces as their repertoire is mainly Western. So we hope to be a symphony orchestra that performs Asian music."

Members of the orchestra are mainly Western-trained musicians aged 20 to 28. The orchestra was established earlier this year, with funding from organisations such as the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation and the Lee Foundation. It also successfully applied for the National Arts Council's Presentation and Participation Grant.

The founders started planning the concert in March and gathered members for the orchestra from April.

Tham, who is the orchestra's managing director, says this was a very difficult task. "We had to balance the quality and quantity of musicians. Quality control was very important for a project that had limited rehearsals. Each musician had his or her commitments for work and school. It was important to make use of every single minute during rehearsals," he says.

For its first show, the orchestra will perform two classic works from the Chinese music canon - the Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto, based on the legendary folk tale of the lovers Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, and the Yellow River Piano Concerto.

Tham says: "These two compositions have stood the test of time and are among the most famous works of Chinese music."

The concert will also showcase home-grown favourites - Symphonic Suite On A Set Of Local Tunes by Cultural Medallion recipient Kelly Tang and The Sisters' Islands by award-winning composer Wang Chenwei.

Guest performers include up-and-coming Singaporean musicians such as violinist Gabriel Ng, 22, and pianist Victor Ong, 25. Chinese composer Phang Kok Jun has also composed a new work, New Dawn, for the concert.

Adrian Chiang, 37, from The Philharmonic Youth Winds and Dedric Wong, 30, from Ding Yi Music Company are guest conductors.

Chiang says: "The idea of using Western and Asian instruments to play Asian music is something I've always been interested in and wanted to develop further in Singapore.

"For the local works in this concert, we infuse Chinese and Malay instruments into the standard Western orchestra format, creating a different experience for the audience. Singapore is a multi-cultural society and the best place for such fusion music to exist."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Western orchestra with an Asian sound'. Print Edition | Subscribe