Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BHSO Feature on Time Out Singapore


This month's classical music feature in Time Out Singapore features the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, featuring their new musical director Adrian Tan and Conductor Emeritus Yan Yin-Wing. I had a great conversation with Adrian and Mr. Yan, and thought it would be a pity that there just wasn't enough space to include everything that we discussed. So here's the transcript minus the parts used in the article. You can read the completed piece on the Time Out Singapore website.

Talking Shop with Adrian Tan



Steven: So firstly, what made you decide to take on the job of Musical Director of BHSO?

Adrian Tan: Well, I believe firmly in the need for community music-making. Western classical music seem to be elitist sometimes, and that view has perhaps contributed to its decline in popularity.

I came to music rather late personally - from rather humble beginnings; I learnt to love and value what music brings to my life, and want to play a part in reaching out to others who have not been touched by music. As Benjamin Zander says, "Everyone loves music, some people just don't know it yet"

Steven: and community orchestras like the BHSO has contributed to your early development?

Adrian: Actually in my teens I spent quite a bit of time listening to SSO concerts. I played in the school band and that really was the source of my early music education. In those days, community music wasn't as vibrant as it is today.

Steven: I see. What made you decide to do this professionally then?

Adrian: My first degree was in Theatre Studies, but I've always had a passion for music, and kept myself active in the scene. Some years back I had to choose and music won out. Conducting has always fascinated me and I have always loved it; The podium really is the best seat in the house! The bug bit when I was given my earliest opportunity to conduct my school band, Never looked back.

Steven: Well moving on, the orchestra has been closely associated with Mr. Yan for more than 2 decades, did you have any concerns when taking over?

Adrian: Not concerns per se, Mr Yan really built BHSO from scratch. When he started there were only a handful of musicians. Being a voluntary organization, you can imagine it was a hard time building the orchestra up.

Rightfully so, the orchestra is identified with Mr. Yan....... I have my ideas about how to move forward and Mr Yan has been very supportive so far as Conductor Emeritus, sharing his experience and giving me a lot of help and guidance.

Steven: It is often said that young conductors face an uphill climb getting the orchestra members to take them seriously. Can you relate to this and how do you overcome it?

Adrian: ...... You know how enthusiasm and passion can be infectious; look at Dudamel: I don't think anyone thinks he can deliver a Beethoven symphony the way Furtwangler or Abbado can. But you just can't help getting swept away by his commitment and belief in his music, and that kind of energy transcends age, gender or ethnicity.

I think today we are entering a different era. We face the challenge of reaching out to a younger audience; if you look at the major orchestras in the world today
New York, Philadelphia, etc, They've appointed very young Music Directors, because they know they have to keep up with the times. I think they know that there is a balance that needs to be struck between youth and experience.

Steven: I see. But what does that say for an experienced conductor who is advancing in age then? Do you think they be aged out of a job?

Adrian: That's a tough one. I think everyone has to stay relevant - it is so in every profession, and the same in music. The fact is that no one is going to invite you to conduct just because you are older or younger, age is not the factor.

At the end of the day, just like in any job, conductors have to deliver. As my teacher often reminded me, it's easy to get invited to conduct an orchestra for the first time
the hard thing, is to get asked back. When you get asked back, you know you've done something right at least.

Steven: How about local musicians? The BHSO has always been known to feature local talents young and old.

Adrian: Yes, definitely. I see it as our core business to be an important platform for Singaporean talent – composers, instrumentalists and conductors. It's important that the audience knows our local names, and are proud of the talent we have. BHSO plays a part in the ecosystem that makes this so, as does the other amateur and professional groups in the industry.

Steven: what are the challenges leading a community orchestra? As well as integrating professional soloists into the mix? You've led professional orchestras, or at least conservatory orchestras? What are the differences?


Adrian: I think the most difficult thing is to maintain the standards of the orchestra while trying to remain as open as possible to have in our midst musicians with wide range of abilities.

If we raise standards so high that many people can't have this chance to play in the community orchestra, it would defeat the purpose of a community orchestra. Conversely, if the musicians cannot play to a good standard, there would be less motivation for other musicians who are better to join.

In professional orchestras, auditions ensure all the musicians are at a certain level - they can function with a certain number of rehearsals, usually a small number. In conservatories, it is the same - since music students are expected to be of a certain level as well.

In BHSO, almost everyone has a day job plus their families and friends. They have to find time for their "normal lives" and then find time to practice before coming to rehearse. It's difficult to expect the same level of commitment from them as we do of professionals or music students.

However, think about WHY they come? Despite their busy lives, they still make the sacrifice to play in the orchestra because they LOVE music. And many a times, when I conduct amateur musicians, their love and enthusiasm comes through, beyond the technical issues that they face.

I think there's great value in that, and it needs to be celebrated. It deserves to be heard.

Steven: Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, coming from community choirs myself.

Adrian: It's very satisfying I must say - at the best of times. I tell the orchestra that the only difference we have with a professional orchestra is that while they take one week to rehearse a concert, we spend three months to rehearse the same concert. At the end of the day, we must try our best to ensure that the end result - the performance on stage - is just as marvelous as a professional ensemble.

After all, Beethoven didn't write his symphonies to be played by amateurs or professionals. Whoever plays them, they have to get to the heart of the music and move the audience. Beethoven didn't have "professional orchestras" as we do today during his time, so really, we, the amateurs, have no excuse!

Steven: One last question: why engage a guest conductor at only the third gig of your appointment? Isn’t it a little too soon?

Adrian: You mean in December?

Steven: yeah

Adrian: This was planned before my time by Mr. Yan

Steven: I see

Adrian: The 2013 season is where I've really started to flesh out my ideas. We decided that there should be some "run in" time, so that I don't get thrown off the deep end. And besides, I think it doesn't matter - guest conductors are really good for the orchestra. It's good for the orchestra to have someone different from time to time.

Steven: What can we look forward to?

Adrian: Well in 2013, we've decided to take the plunge and aim for a Beethoven 9th Symphony as the finale of the season. The concert itself will have a rather unique twist - and i promise won't be "just another" Beethoven 9th.

Steven: Woah! That will test your logistical strength at least.

Adrian: Next year being the Britten centenary, we've also put some Britten on the programme. For the film/anime music lovers, we're definitely planning an excursion into that area - but in a way that will also bring audiences who don't traditionally listen to classical music to have a taste of it. After all, there are a lot of classical pieces that have become identified with movies and popular culture

Beyond that, BHSO will also start venturing into chamber music programs, and also do a little more in terms of workshops/talks and so on about classical music - to bridge that gap for audiences that are new to the genre.

All in all, we're really going all out to build the audience for classical music - because we love it, and believe that everyone should; or at the very least, be able to give it a fair chance.

Steven: one thing that I often think about… film, anime and video game music is great, certainly good experiences for both the players, audiences and the box office. But as an introduction to 'traditional' classical music, how effective do you think performing these 'popular' music is in enticing new audiences to return to future concerts by the orchestra, especially one with a 'traditional' programme? In other words, how well do these 'outreach' efforts do their jobs?

Adrian: Well, you're right to point out that there's no direct cause/effect relationship.

Steven: Well I'm not sure if there is, since I'm not a concert producer, but I often wonder if they do get others excited about classical music.

Adrian: First of all, I wouldn't program anime/film/video game music for the sake of "luring" the audience. These genres have their own merit and deserve our time of day. By the same token, it's also not cause and effect when conductors sometimes program a very tonal, popular work as "enticement" - while having another difficult, modern work on the program.

I think the point is that it's different strokes for different folks. If the program as a whole works, it works. One piece isn't used to bait the audience to listen to another piece. However one hopes that this exposure, will incidentally cause someone to think "hey, I kinda liked that even though I didn't think I would".

2 years ago, I did a concert titled "Nodame Live" featuring music from Nodame Cantabile - the popular anime/live-action feature (about the romantic relationship between two classically-trained young people - Ed). Of course, in that case, ALL of the pieces on the program were classical, but the association with the TV show provided a hook, and at the end of the concert i received at least a dozen messages from audiences who I didn't know, saying how they were surprised how much they enjoyed the works. They thought they would be bored - but bought a ticket anyway because they loved the TV show. Their memories of the scenes in the show helped them to "get into" the music - but ultimately, the music proved to be effective in itself.

There's no surefire way to "seduce" new audiences, but we try all ways anyway! Can't afford not to!

Steven: Thanks Adrian, all the best of luck in your future projects!

Adrian: Thanks!


Quick chat with Mr. Yan Yin-Wing

Steven: In your own words, take us back to the beginning, what made you decide to take on the role of Music Director back in 1989, and what part did you play during the initial negotiations?

Yan Yin-Wing: Prior to having completed a one-year (1984) Advanced Orchestra Conducting at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, I have had the opportunity to be a guest conductor of our Singapore Youth Orchestra and have also formed and lead my own ensemble and chamber group. I was thrilled to know from the local papers that a community symphony orchestra, the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO) was formed in 1986 and began to take notice of them and attended their first concert at the then Singapore Conference Hall. Not long later, I gathered from a founding member that the orchestra had ceased practices for more than a year. This person recommended me to the then MP of Braddell Heights and proposed to the management committee to invite me to take over as Music Director. Upon taking up this task, the orchestra resumed weekly practices towards the end of 1989 and gave their first public concert in June 1990 under my baton.

Steven: What is it about Adrian Tan that impressed you and the orchestra members?

Yan Yin-Wing: After more than 20 years of helming and directing the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, it was definitely the right time to think of passing the baton. I was duly impressed after watching the video recording of Adrian conducting the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra and invited him to be guest conductor for a few concerts with BHSO. When he was doing his conducting studies in the Sydney Conservatory of Music in 2010, I brought up this matter of him taking over as Music Director of the orchestra and he was very keen. After 23 years of making music with an orchestra comprising members from all walks of life and from many nationalities, and who are all very passionate about classical music, the baton of Music Director was officially handed over to Adrian in May 2012.

Steven: What is your proudest achievement that you and the orchestra have achieved
during your tenure from the beginning?

For an orchestra with only a few members and who have since grown to an 80-strong symphony orchestra that is part of the Braddell Heights Community Club’s multi-faceted activities, there were many challenges to overcome. There were also quite a few ‘firsts’ and noteworthy achievements such as:

Yan Yin-Wing: Jointly presenting our first Gifted Young Musicians Concert (GYMC) in 1997 with The Rotary Club of Singapore East, to raise funds for setting up the GYMC Bursary Scheme. Besides the Bursary Scheme which are targeted at very young musicians who wish to pursue full-time music studies overseas, BHSO has also been instrumental in providing a platform to showcase young, talented local musicians in these GYMCs.

2) Starting an exchange program for conductor and musicians with overseas orchestras from Malaysia, Korea, Japan and more recently, Russia, where I was invited to conduct the Krasnoyarsk Symphony Orchestra in June 2012 and we look forward to a return concert “The Great Romantics” in December 2012, with a renowned Russian guest conductor

3) Successfully engaging the CC and the community to wholeheartedly support the orchestra’s objective to promote orchestra music and to extend and welcome participation from anyone who has a passion to meet this objective

4) Concert collaborations with choral groups both locally and from overseas with the Belgium Boys Choir and the “Yellow River” Cantata at the Esplanade Concert Hall

The BHSO performs on 16 Dec 2012 with cellist Loke Hoe-Kit and guest conductor Mark Kadin. Find out more here: http://www.eventfriend.com.sg/Event/Details/941 

1 comment:

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