Singapore Symphony Orchestra names new concertmaster

SINGAPORE - The new concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra was once an exchange student at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and even played at Victoria Concert Hall.

American violinist Igor Yuzefovich, 34, has been appointed after a two-year search that screened at least 50 applicants.

The former concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic and current assistant concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra made his official bow with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra last Saturday at the Esplanade Concert Hall, at a Brahms concert conducted by John Nelson.

Moscow-born Yuzefovich takes over from Russia-born violinist, Alexander Souptel, who led the orchestra for 19 years before retiring from the concertmaster post this January.

Guest concermasters and co-leader Lynnette Seah filled in during the interim.

Souptel, 65, continues to play with the orchestra and Yuzefovich pays tribute to the older man during this interview.

"I consider myself pretty fortunate that he's with the orchestra, having started with such an incredible conductor," he says, referring to Souptel's early career in the then Soviet Union with the USSR Ministry Of Culture Orchestra under Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

"It's quite rare these days to have this amount of knowledge. It's heart-warming to have him in the section."

He speaks of the orchestra in equally glowing terms. "Having come and played a week with the orchestra, I was really struck by how good it is. It's very high-level, very talented. It has this really positive energy on stage."

Yuzefovich will be giving up a tenured position with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to move to Singapore.

His 18-month term with the Hong Kong Philharmonic used up the two-year sabbatical the US orchestra allows its members.

Assistant concertmaster with the American ensemble since 2005, he does feel a pang leaving the orchestra he began playing with as a student at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

However, he says: "It's a sacrifice, but also an opportunity. A position in an orchestra like this is not something that comes by often."

Born in Russia, he began studying the violin at age five, thanks to his musicologist father Victor Yuzefovich, and attended the Gnessin Music School.

The family moved to the United States in 1991, when Victor received a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC, and later became a consultant with the Library Of Congress.

Igor studied music at the Peabody Institute, which helped set up the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory here, and came to Singapore in 2004 on a student exchange programme.

He played with Singapore Symphony Orchestra violinists still in the orchestra such as William Tan, under the baton of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra founder Chan Tze Law.

The experience was so positive that two years ago, he leapt at the chance to live in Asia and lead the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

"As musicians, we're sort of like gypsies. When there is an opportunity that comes up halfway around the world, it catches your attention."

However, he chose not to renew his contract in Hong Kong this summer, saying only: "When the time came to talk about the future, I felt the best thing for me was to leave the experience on a positive note."

The orchestra is now led by Canadian Jing Wang.

Around the same time in May, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra invited him over to play and he was struck by the camaraderie and talent of the group.

"It feels like everyone is really there to make it a better orchestra. That's a very pleasant environment to work in."

His term with the orchestra officially begins in the third quarter of next year, but he will be with the it for the rest of this year and January.

He hopes the move to Singapore will allow him to continue working with the well-received Monument Piano Trio of violin, cello and piano which he co-founded in 2004, and also that his girlfriend, a mezzo-soprano, will be able to join him.

But his main focus for now is getting to know the musicians of the orchestra.

"I don't want to come in with an attitude to change something, but to continue the growth the orchestra has," he says.

"The one thing it can continue to do and do more of is show Singapore that this is really a gem in the city, and a gem that comprises local people, local talent."

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