Trio of veterans honoured with Cultural Medallion

President Tan with (from left) conductor Yeh Tsung, 63, theatre practitioner Ivan Heng, 50, and poet and novelist Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, 63, at the Istana on Tuesday night.

THREE veteran artists, representing the fields of English-language theatre, Malay literature and Chinese orchestral music, have received this year's Cultural Medallion.

Theatre practitioner Ivan Heng, 50, poet and novelist Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, 63, and conductor Yeh Tsung, 63, received their awards from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana on Tuesday night.

The Cultural Medallion is the nation's highest cultural award, given out to Singapore citizens or permanent residents. It recognises excellence, commitment and leadership in the arts, and has been conferred on 112 artists since it was instituted in 1979.

Family members of all three men were present at yesterday's ceremony, including Yeh's wife of 30 years, Saulan, who flew in from the United States. The China-born Yeh, who is music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, is a Singapore PR whose family lives in the US.

In his thank-you speech, Heng, the artistic director of theatre company Wild Rice, called the award "a great recognition, not only of my life's work, but also of the vital role that theatre plays in our society".

Theatre "has made me a better person by challenging me to put myself in another's shoes - and sometimes high heels - and enabled me to see the world through another's eyes", said the actor-director. He is best remembered for his gender-bending portrayal of a steely Peranakan matriarch in Emily Of Emerald Hill, having played the role several times over 13 years.

Speaking in Malay and English, Latiff called it a "momentous and most meaningful day" and said the award was "a recognition of my 42 years contributing to literature". A three-time winner in the Malay category of the Singapore Literature Prize, he is also the vice-president of Asas '50, a long-established Malay literary association.

As for Yeh, he said he believed the award "will open a new chapter in my life". He thanked, among other people, his wife "who has stood by me all these years through the ups and downs of my music career".

Seven Young Artist Awards were also given out at the ceremony by Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. The award honours arts practitioners of distinction aged 35 and below.

One of them was Koh Hui Ling, 34, the associate artistic director of Mandarin theatre group Drama Box. The award was "double happiness" for her - in July, she received the Singapore Youth Award, administered by the National Youth Council, for her work in community and youth theatre.

"It's a pleasant surprise to receive two prestigious awards in the same year. I couldn't believe my ears when I found out," she told The Straits Times.

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