Confessions of Orchestra Maestros

What defines a great conductor? It can be one or more of several things - charisma, musicianship, stamina and most importantly, technical skill. Moses Gay and Jason Lai are amongst the conductors who break stereotypes of the elderly, baton-wielding maestros. We speak to the young maestros to find out their personal flair in getting the notes off the page and into our ears.

A conductor is like the director in an orchestra; the pacer to keep all the instrumentalists in rhythm, and the interpreter who breathes life to a music piece.

While that sounds like a lot of work, Moses Gay of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) and Jason Lai of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) have brought their passion to the rostrum at a very young age.

Moses and Jason share how they became conductors as part of a special series for Temasek presents "Jubilee at the Botanics". The young maestros reveal quirks and lesser-known facts about themselves.

Moses Gay, Assistant Conductor, Singapore Chinese Orchestra

At age 30, Moses became the youngest conductor to lead the SCO. An accomplished erhu musician, Moses' interest in conducting was piqued at a tender age of 15 when he was selected by his fellow schoolmates to be a student conductor for a school concert.

Moses gave us a first look on how dedicated he is to his craft:

1 . "I do not sit down during rehearsals because my team of musicians are working really hard, and the least I can do is to be on my feet and rehearse with them."

2. "I like to have some quiet time before my performance so that I can show a different side of myself when I face the audience."

That is secret of the transformation from the soft-spoken and affable Moses to the maestro who commands the orchestra with gusto during performances.

3. "Moses expresses himself best through actions. "I love speaking with my hands more than through my mouth, as I am not really a talker."

Establishing a rapport with the musicians is one of the most important skills in an orchestra, and Moses is definitely someone to look out for, to be able to conduct music with his expressive hands!

Jason Lai, Associate Conductor, Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Jason was introduced into the world of music when he first started playing the cello at the age of ten. His love of playing with fellow musicians and composing music led him to discover his passion for conducting.

Jason says conducting is "the best job in the world," and shares with us some interesting facts about leading from the front:

1. "People think that batons are like chopsticks but it isn't. It is a thin bit of wood and very light."

We did a bit of sleuthing and found that baton-making is indeed a craft in itself! Conductors will have to consider the balance of the baton, material for the handle and the type of baton used for conducting different ensembles.

2. "When I am conducting a concert and there is an intermission, I will usually grab a banana during the break because I get really hungry! I need to sustain myself for the second half of the concert and that is also what tennis players usually do in between sets during competition."

Lesson learnt: it takes a lot of energy to be a conductor. Imagine standing through a full-hour of performance and going through at least 4 music scores consisting of musical notes for over 10 types of instruments!

3. "People always come to me and ask, "Is it like the movie Whiplash? Are you like the main character who is really strict when conducting?" That is Hollywood's portrayal of conductors! I tend to be a bit more nurturing."

Indeed, Jason is a mentor to other young conductors and is also a frequent speaker to share his aspirational story as one who pursues his passions!

That was a glimpse into the lives of two of the new generation of young conductors. If that is not enough, join us on 30 and 31 May at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage. Bring your picnic mats and listen to the most talented group of musicians at Jubilee at the Botanics.