SINGAPORE - Looking back at the Orchestra of Music Makers' unexpected success over the past five years, conductor Chan Tze Law can only sum up his experiences as "quite an amazing ride".
When first approached by a group of students bent on playing and performing even after they graduated from their schools' music ensembles and orchestras, the associate director of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music was not even sure if they would make it to their first concert.
The orchestra, which is made up of professional and volunteer musicians, will stage its fifth anniversary concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Wednesday.
It has built up a wide following since its 2008 debut, including the thumbs-up from international music magazines such as Gramophone and Fanfare. Fanfare dubbed its 2011 CD release of Mahler's 2nd Symphony as "a performance radiating fierce energy and laser-like intensity".
Last July, the orchestra played at two reputed British music festivals, the Lichfield Music and Cheltenham Music Festivals. In 2009, it was the first group to be awarded the HSBC Youth Excellence Award, an accolade usually reserved for individuals.
The size of the orchestra has grown from 80 to 140 over the years, and many of the original members have stayed on. The average age is now 23, compared to 18 at the start.
While "friends of friends" used to be invited to join the orchestra, there is now an audition process for those who are interested in playing, Professor Chan, 49, says. He sums up the group's achievement: "We've been able to demonstrate that the non-professional level of music making in Singapore can be very high too."
For Wednesday's concert, they will perform pieces from Richard Wagner's operas Gotterdammerung as well as Tristan And Isolde, featuring the German soprano Felicitas Fuchs.
They will also be collaborating for the second time with Singapore-born British pianist Melvyn Tan on Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, after working with him at the Cheltenham Music Festival last year.
"I had a wonderful experience working with these musicians, who are a passionate bunch and had a very endearing way of making music," says Tan, 57, of his decision to play with them again.
Though they have been playing for five years, civil servant and founding member Lee Guan Wei, 25, says that every concert continues to surprise him. "It's always a huge effort for these volunteers to come together to rehearse and put a large-scale show together, accommodating over 100 people who all have different schedules," he says.
Prof Chan adds: "Almost every single piece that we play is challenging and the reason behind that is the fact that we are not a professional orchestra."
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