Classical hothouse

Classical hothouse

SINGAPORE - Ten years ago, not only did the first music conservatory here open its doors and take in its first cohort of students, but it also started a symphony of changes for the music scene in Singapore.

Today, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music graduates play in the country's established orchestras - seven in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and two in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra - while even more are setting up their own groups such as the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and the Asian Contemporary Ensemble.

The conservatory, part of the National University of Singapore (NUS), has also strengthened the classical music culture here. Faculty and students give free music workshops in local schools and tutor budding musicians in the Singapore National Youth Orchestra and Orchestra of the Music Makers.

They offer more than 300 free events a year, such as concerts on the Kent Ridge campus and at downtown locations such as the Asian Civilisations Museum. Such events reached over 24,000 people last year - not bad for a boutique music school with a total enrolment of 220.

On Sept 4, The Conservatory Orchestra celebrates the music school's 10th anniversary with a ticketed performance at the Esplanade Concert Hall under the baton of noted American conductor Robert Spano, music director of high-profile international training camp, the Aspen Music Festival and School.

Mr Spano's interest in appearing here is testament to the growing reputation of the Singapore conservatory, says director Bernard Lanskey, 53, who has been with the school since 2006.

Yong Siew Toh has had its programme ratified by the elite Association of European Conservatories in 2010 and is the only Asian university to offer a full joint degree with the prestigious Peabody Institute in Baltimore, he says. Partly because students receive a full scholarship to cover board as well as tuition - from $10,250 for Singaporeans to twice that for foreigners a year - at least 400 applications come in every year to fill the 50 open places.

More than three-quarters of the applications are from foreign students such as violinist Adelya Nartadjieva, 22, from Tashkent in Uzbekistan, now in her fourth year here. She got into the famed Moscow Conservatory, but decided the Singapore scholarship would mean less of a burden for her single mother. She says: "This is my dream, all I could ask for, the teachers, the facilities. I even learnt English here and people are very supportive."

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