In 2018/19, Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) celebrates its 40th Anniversary Season. What is particularly remarkable about its 40-year history is that there have only been two music directors during this period: founding Music Director Choo Hoey (1979-1996) and Lan Shui (1997-present). There is change in the air though: during the season in January 2019, Lan Shui will step down after a very successful 22-year relationship with the orchestra, in which he raised the profile of the ensemble significantly through touring and recordings (a search for his successor is underway). Hence, the 2018/19 season will be one of celebration as well as fond farewell for both audience and orchestra members.

Lan Shui © Lan Shui
Lan Shui
© Lan Shui

The season runs from July to May, with subscription concerts being held either at the state-of-the-art Esplanade Concert Hall (known to the locals as the “durian”) or the historical Victoria Concert Hall. The opening concert at the Esplanade conducted by Lan Shui is an all-Russian orchestral extravaganza including Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” and the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, a magnificent work that showcases the full orchestral palette. It’s great to see the SSO’s associate groups, the Singapore Symphony Chorus, Youth Choir and Children’s Choir, all involved in this season opener, and the choirs take part in several concerts throughout the season.

Lan Shui conducts five concerts including the 40th Anniversary Gala and his Farewell concert, both in January 2019. The Gala concert looks back to the SSO’s history by programming two works that were performed at its inaugural concert: Ives’ The Unanswered Question and Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto, here performed by acclaimed Singaporean pianist Lim Yan. Another significant work in the orchestra’s history is Leong Yoon Pin’s Dayong Sampan Overture (1980) – based on a Malay folk tune of the same title – which was the first work by a Singaporean composer to be performed by the SSO, while the concert closes with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Nowadays it is quite common for a conductor to bid farewell with a large-scale Mahler symphony, and Shui has chosen Mahler’s monumental “Resurrection” symphony for his valedictory concert. Performed with the massed forces of the Symphony Chorus and Youth Choir and soloists Miah Persson and Anna Larsson, the Esplanade Hall will surely resound with the work’s powerful message in the climactic finale “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n (Rise again, yes, rise again)” – a suitably upbeat close to his directorship.

In another nod to the orchestra’s history, the venerated former Music Director and Conductor Emeritus Choo Hoey returns in April for a concert of Stravinsky, Mozart and Bartók. Meanwhile, American conductor Andrew Litton, in his second season as Principal Guest Conductor, appears in three concerts including a summer Pops Concert highlighting Gershwin and a concert including the world première of Belgian-born, Singapore-based artist Robert Casteels’ Ouverture Spirituelle, an SSO commission. Resident in Singapore since 1995, Casteel has integrated himself into the active music scene of Singapore not only as composer, but as conductor, pianist and educator, and his compositions are known for their absorbing mixture of Western and non-Western textures.

Masaaki Suzuki © Marco Borggreve
Masaaki Suzuki
© Marco Borggreve

The SSO has also highlighted the season’s inclusion of women conductors. Taiwanese-American conductor Carolyn Kuan, currently Music Director of the Hartford Symphony in US, makes her SSO debut in a concert of two halves: a Spanish-themed programme with guitarist Miloš Karadaglić in the first half and Rachmaninov’s vibrant and soulful Symphonic Dances in the second. Also, Swedish choral conductor Sofi Jeannin leads SSO’s Baroque Festival at the Victoria Concert Hall, conducting the music of Purcell and Handel – including the latter’s two Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest and My heart is inditing. This is a must for choral and Baroque fans, as is Beethoven’s profound choral masterpiece Missa Solemnis which closes the season. The concert commemorates the bicentenary of Singapore’s founding in 1819 – the exact year Beethoven began composing this work, and Japanese early music maestro Masaaki Suzuki returns to the SSO, bringing a fine quartet of vocal soloists who are his regular collaborators.

There is a particularly starry line-up of pianists in this season. Top of the list is Piotr Anderszewski, a pianist who is never less than compelling, in Bartók’s vibrant Third Piano Concerto. Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen and compatriot Hannu Lintu will set sparks flying in Prokofiev’s fiendish Piano Concerto no.2 (which they recorded recently with the Finnish Radio Symphony), and Uzbek virtuoso Behzod Abduraimov will charm in a passionate yet sensitive interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. Meanwhile, Lars Vogt makes his SSO debut directing Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 from the keyboard.

In their efforts to reach a wider audience, SSO puts on regular pops concerts, family concerts, free concerts at the Botanical Gardens and has now have launched the new Red Balloon series featuring all-modern repertoire, including short-format concerts entitled “Reich in 60 Minutes” and “Rock in 60 Minutes”. This innovative spirit will surely help the SSO on its road ahead beyond its 40th anniversary.


See all listings for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s 2018/19 season.

This preview was sponsored by Singapore Symphony Orchestra.