Monday, 3 August 2009

Adulthood and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Classical music concerts are relaxing occasions. In Singapore, attending an orchestra show is not a black tie affair. The 'casualness' makes it less intimidating to attend a concert.

I am no expert on the subject of classical music and I swing from enjoying the relaxing piano of Rachmaninov to the forceful (head banging!) pieces of Beethoven. However, to be honest, I will attend an Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concert merely because I enjoy the overall concert experience. Generally speaking I am never familiar with any particular pieces they may play in any particular evening.

'Postcards from Spain,' a collection of Spanish themed pieces, was performed by the SSO on Friday (July 31) to a full house. The animated conductor, Lan Shui, was on display while the Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa made music.

The SSO is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. When I arrived in Singapore in the late 1990s there was hardly any arts scene to speak off. The SSO performed in a small venue (Victoria Concert Hall) not worthy of a serious orchestra.

The performing and literary arts do respond to patronage. Singapore's example makes obvious the benefits of having a fiscally sound benefactor (the state).

Today, many millions of dollars later, the arts are flourishing. The government has judiciously pumped the funds into the system through various agencies including the National Arts Council.

The SSO performs at its new permanent home, the Esplanade. The iconic structure, affectionately called the Durian locally because of its prickly exterior, symbolizes the recent progress.

The Esplanade in Singapore

An external view of the Esplanade

Theatre also has several custom built venues, including one at the Esplanade. Gone are the days that a Raffles Hotel ballroom had to make do as a theatre.

Artists are being encouraged by officialdom. The government until today remains a major patron of the arts both directly and indirectly. It is all part of Singapore's efforts to become the arts hub for South East Asia.

Playwrights are pushing the boundaries set by the hitherto conservative Singapore censors. Performances routinely address previously taboo subjects including homosexuality and race relations.

From Malay generals in the army, adult films in hotel rooms and now a top notch symphony orchestra all of its own, Singapore is growing up.

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