Star fiddler back with SCO

Joshua Bell's performance of the classic concerto at the Esplanade Concert Hall will be recorded live by music label Sony Classics.
Joshua Bell's performance of the classic concerto at the Esplanade Concert Hall will be recorded live by music label Sony Classics.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

Violinist Joshua Bell will perform The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell will play The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) on Aug 30.

The performance at the Esplanade Concert Hall will be recorded live by music label Sony Classics and is one of the highlights of the SCO's new season, which runs from next month until June next year.

The orchestra's music director Yeh Tsung has known the American fiddler since a 1991 concert in Indiana, the United States. Bell made his debut with SCO in 2016 for the orchestra's 20th anniversary, playing his usual Western repertoire from Vivaldi, Saint-Saens and Sarasate.

Yeh says that when they were discussing Bell's concert with the orchestra for this year, the violinist was the first to suggest that he try a classic concerto from the Chinese musical repertoire.

"He suggested The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto. I was going to say it, but he said it first," says the music director with a laugh.

The work was written in 1959 by composers He Zhanhao and Chen Gang and is based on a classic tale of star-crossed love.

The orchestra's new season racks up 108 concerts - at least two a week - including a quarterly Musical Tuesdays programme to showcase Chinese chamber musical ensembles, some made up of players from the orchestra.

The idea is to promote this genre and reach out to new audiences. Yeh points out that weekends are packed full with competing events.

Many concerts will be held in the refurbished concert hall of the orchestra's home, the Singapore Conference Hall, which re-opened to the public in January.

But for its second showcase of local music, An Evening Of Xinyao II on Dec 1, the orchestra will perform in the 5,000-seat The Star Theatre. Organisers are expecting crowds as "people have been asking when we will do it again", says Yeh, after the orchestra's first such concert last year.

The season's opening concert features soprano Wu Bixia and tenor Jonathan Charles Tay singing evocative suites from The Dream Of The Red Chamber and The Battle Of The Red Cliff on July 13 and 14 at the SCO Concert Hall.

The closing concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on June 8 next year is a mega-production of folk music, including Eternal Blooming Of The Red Flowers, written by Chinese composer Wang Danhong and featuring folk artists from the Mizhi County Wind And Percussion Ensemble.

Yeh says: "Our new concert season will have something for everyone with a repertoire of familiar favourites and re-interpretations of well-loved classics."

It will be a particularly meaningful season for Boo Chin Kiah, 59, who has played tenor suona (double-reeded horn) in the orchestra for more than two decades. His son, percussion player Benjamin Boo, 29, is now a full-time member of the SCO. Father and son will now play together on stage for an entire season for the first time.

"This has been my dream for many years," says the elder Boo.

Benjamin grew up in the wings of the concert hall, watching the orchestra rehearse and later played with it part-time.

He says: "It feels amazing to be part of this season. It's going to be quite exciting."

• For ticketing and programme details of the SCO's new season, go to www.sco.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2018, with the headline 'Star fiddler back with SCO'. Print Edition | Subscribe