© Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s 2020-21 season will start on July 2nd with a no-holds barred programme: Karen Gomyo plays the Shostakovich Violin Concerto no.1, a work which starts gently but becomes increasingly manic and downright mental in its Burlesca final movement; the orchestra, led by its new Chief Conductor Hans Graf, follows the Shostakovich with Beethoven’s Eroica. The concert is kicked off by a world première from Singaporean composer Zechariah Goh. This will be the first of the new seasons to open in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic – congratulations to them!

In a pair of concerts on October 15-16, Graf returns with a different Shostakovich-Beethoven pairing comprising the Russian’s Violin Concerto no. 2 (with soloist Vadim Guzman), written two decades later and an altogether darker work, set against Beethoven’s Symphony no.7, whose last movement, dubbed by Wagner as “the apotheosis of the dance”, is altogether brighter. The Eroica returns on October 30-31, paired with the Shostakovich Cello Concerto, featuring the SSO’s principal cellist, Pei-Sian Ng, as soloist; another young Singaporean musician, Kam Ning, plays the Stravinsky Violin Concerto on October 9-10, a neoclassical work matched with authentically classical symphonies from Mozart and Haydn. Graf’s final podium contribution is a Mahler 4 on April 10 with soprano Suni Hwang, who has impressed our reviewer David Renke with her lyricism, strength and clarity.

Hans Graf conducting the Singapore Symphony Orchestra © Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Hans Graf conducting the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

The SSO’s Principal Guest Conductor Andrew Litton officiates for three concerts which also feature young Asian and more established international soloists: Bomsori Kim, from Korea, also tackles the Shostakovich Violin Concerto no.1, Alexei Volodin plays the ever-popular Schumann Piano Concerto and Cédric Tiberghien plays the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major on March 5-6. You can get an idea of what to expect from Tiberghien from our review of his Barbican performance of the Ravel in March this year: “an immaculate soloist, if one more interested in poetry than display... Tiberghien has a wonderful way with the tug of the melody”.

Klaus Mäkelä may still be young, but he’s been making waves, described as a “prodigy” by more than one of our reviewers and declared to be “incandescent” in his recent debut in Cleveland. Mäkelä will be conducting five of the symphonies by his compatriot Jean Sibelius in three evenings that promise to be one of the highlights of the season. The lengthy list of guest conductors includes several of the world’s big names:  Vasily Petrenko, Ludovic Morlot, Masaaki Suzuki, Neeme Järvi, Xian Zhang. The Sibelius Symphony no.1 is also conducted on February 4 by Daniel Blenduff, a concert which also includes Janine Jansen playing the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Klaus Mäkelä © Marco Borggreve
Klaus Mäkelä
© Marco Borggreve

Like many others in this anniversary year of 2020, the season contains a big Beethoven focus. Krystian Zimerman both plays and conducts all five piano concerti, while the less often heard Romances for Violin and Orchestra are played by Simone Lamsma on April 1-3, with Jun Märkl conducting. The season includes five of the nine symphonies and it wouldn’t be a proper Beethoven celebration without a Ninth: Masaaki Suzuki leads the SSO and the Singapore Symphony Chorus on November 6-7 with a strong cast of soloists.

The other big choral work of the year is a less familiar one. Osip Kozlovsky was a Pole who served in the Russian army in the time of Catherine the Great: Grigory Potemkin, Catherine’s prime minister and lover of the time, introduced him to the Russian Court where he became an accredited musician. His Requiem in E flat minor, Op.14, composed in 1798 for the death of King Stanisław of Poland (somewhat spookily, having been commissioned by Stanisław himself), is a real rarity and this will be its Asian premiere. A listen to the 2010 Melodiya recording will reveal that if you’re in Singapore on April 30th or May 1st, this is a concert not to be missed, particularly given the all-star Russian cast.

Those looking for vocal music of a more intimate kind are best served on January 22 with a performance of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs by Evelina Dobračeva, while bel canto stars Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé visit for an evening of Italian opera on October 23.

Movie lovers – of the stronger stomached variety, anyway – can watch Psycho on August 6-7, with the SSO playing Bernard Hermann’s suspense-ridden score, or they can wait until October 1 for Hans Zimmer film music. Another composer best known for his film scores, Erich Korngold, appears on November 19, but not for his film music: John Axelrod conducts his Symphony in F sharp major. In the same concert, jazz composer George Gershwin appears, but not for his jazz: Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F major is played by the mercurial Lise de la Salle. Jazz lovers may be more attracted by the work of trumpeter-composer Palle Mikkelborg, whose Bill Evans Suite, played on December 11-12, pays tribute to one of the greatest jazz pianists of all, who died 40 years ago.

© Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Finally, one for the locals: for the 55th celebrations of Singapore’s National Day, on August 15, the orchestra is joined by the Singapore Symphony Chorus – itself celebrating its 40th anniversary. We are promised “familiar classics, favourite songs and new Singapore compositions”: one senses a “last night of the Proms”-style opportunity to let one’s hair down, bask in a bit of national pride and wave some red and white flags.

This preview was sponsored by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra