Vintage youth orchestra

The legendary training and discipline of Cultural Medallion recipient Vivien Goh has obviously worked its magic with the alumni musicians.
The legendary training and discipline of Cultural Medallion recipient Vivien Goh has obviously worked its magic with the alumni musicians. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Conductor Vivien Goh and her SYO alumni musicians give one of the most complete and coherent SG50 concerts to date



Musicians Of The Singapore Youth Orchestra (1980 - 1990)


About 35 years ago, Cultural Medallion recipient Vivien Goh was called upon to lead the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO), which had only just re-formed under Paul Abisheganaden under the National University of Singapore.

Thus began a most successful 10-year tenure of the SYO under the beloved and highly respected "Miss Goh", as she was always called.

Goh and her virtual organising committee of former SYO members located around the world have never been afraid of challenges, and they programmed one of the most complete and coherent SG50 concerts to date, with a first half of symphonic classics, and a second half of home-spun works.

Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man is a work that sends shivers down the spine of the brass players whose instruments are cold from waiting on stage.

Goh's confident baton stroke provided the steadiness needed for the timpani and bass drum, and the subsequent brass entries were tuneful, save for the odd split note.

What was immediately apparent was how well integrated the ensemble was and how well Goh phrased the music. Rossini's Overture To The Thieving Magpie is another tough work, placing severe demands on string precision and wind agility. Goh wisely chose a moderate tempo, allowing Rossini's wit and the melodrama in the music to shine.

Apparently, some of the string players had to be lent instruments because they had not played for so long that they could not locate their own. But Goh's legendary training and discipline had obviously worked its magic and the ensemble was tight, with admirable solos by principal oboe and piccolo.

The final work in the first half was another handful - Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, the "Italian". While this more substantial work exposed a few weaknesses, it also showed off the sensitivity with which Goh and her musicians approached the music and how they made musical sense of Mendelssohn's brilliant writing.

Some of the players would have been in the SYO when they took part in the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Rome in 1982, and there was a palpable sense of affection in their playing this evening.

Alumnus composer Tan Chan Boon dedicated his new composition Dawn to Goh and the XYO. He also trained as a conductor, and he directed the orchestra in a fine reading of his piece, which, like many of his other works, has an admirable blend of imagination and depth, yet remains thoroughly listenable.

Following this were two works by Liang Wern Fook - Yi Bu Yi Bu Lai (One Step At A Time) and Xinyao Melodies were expertly arranged by Samuel Tan.

The XYO's ability to transition to an easygoing but refined "pops" orchestra sound was the surprise of the evening. The percussion section was stellar, and the orchestra sounded totally at home with the genre.

The SYO is now the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO), and this year it comes under the umbrella of the Singapore Symphonia Company Limited (SSCL).

Aptly, the two persons leading the SNYO - Ms Pang Siu Yuin, deputy general manager, and Mr Chng Hak Peng, chief executive of SSCL - are SYO alumni, as are many professional and amateur musicians who are contributing to music globally.

Such is the long-term impact of a vibrant youth orchestra programme and, for that, we say: "Thank you, SYO, and thank you, Miss Goh!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2015, with the headline 'Vintage youth orchestra'. Print Edition | Subscribe