Jazzing up the Chinese Orchestra

In Singapore Chinese Orchestra's signature crossover style, their 2014/2015 season will open next week not with a traditional Chinese concert, but a collaboration with renowned American jazz group the Brubeck Brothers Quartet.

However, while embracing both the East and the West, the orchestra's focus this year will be on Singapore, with the spotlight thrown on local musicians, conductors and composers.

Among other things, the orchestra will play with London-based Singaporean violinist Kam Ning and have collaborations with two veterans of the local Chinese music scene, conductor Tay Teow Kiat and composer Phoon Yew Tian.

Music director of the orchestra Yeh Tsung says that after the "smashing success" of last season, this year's line-up will be "quite different".

Highlights of the previous season included the Our People Our Music concert in June at the new National Stadium and a tour of China in May.

The Our People Our Music concert set records for the largest Chinese orchestra of 3,345 performers and the largest Chinese drum ensemble of 4,557 performers, made up of members of the public and orchestra musicians.

General manager Terence Ho says the Singapore-centric focus is due to the country's jubilee year looming ahead.

He says: "As next year is SG50, we will have a focus on local artists, conductors, musicians, soloists and composers."

One of the highlights of the season will be a chance to see Cultural Medallion recipient Tay conduct the orchestra in Picturesque Mountains - Tay Teow Kiat And SCO.

Tay, who has also been music director of the City Chinese Orchestra for almost 40 years, is the president of the Singapore Chinese Music Federation.

He will lead the orchestra in a five-movement symphonic suite, Capriccioso Of Dwelling In The Fuchun Mountains, in a concert next month.

Another highlight will be Homecoming, the closing concert of the season in June next year. Yeh says the performance will feature "artists who are very well-known on the international stage, and will be returning to Singapore to play".

Homecoming is slated to be the first of an annual series, which will feature returning overseas talents.

The inaugural concert will feature Kam, daughter of local violinist-composer Kam Kee Yong.

She will be playing The Legend Of The Holy Deer, a piece composed by Zong Jiang and He Dong.

The concert, which will be conducted by Yeh, will also feature guest suona player Kwok Chin-chye and Choo Boon Cheng on the dizi, xiao and xun, all different types of flutes.

On top of those performances, the orchestra's regular Go Pop series will be back as well.

This year's Go Pop will feature Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, singing popular Hokkien, Chinese and English hits such as the theme songs of drama series The Householder and The Price Of Peace, as well as American Dream from the musical Miss Saigon. This will take place in April next year.

Yeh says that the performance will differ from a regular concert as "it's not just 'dong chiang dong chiang', then bye bye.

The orchestra will provide a symphonic background and there will be a dialogue between the orchestra and the singer".

He adds that the upcoming season will also see an "expansion and renewal of the artistic leadership of the orchestra".

Moses Gay En Hui will be appointed as the orchestra's assistant conductor, a promotion from his previous post of young assistant conductor-in-residence.

This brings the number of staff conductors up to three, including Yeh and resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong.

It will also see the appointment of Cultural Medallion recipient Phoon as the orchestra's composer-in-residence.

Yeh, calling Phoon a "national treasure", says: "His contributions go way beyond just the field of Chinese orchestra, as he also composes music for symphonic and choral groups."