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Akshita Nanda
Thursday, Jun 19, 2014

Showbiz, Singapore

Tune in young composers

The Straits Times | Akshita Nanda | Thursday, Jun 19, 2014

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a new work from Terrence Wong, who just completed his bachelor’s degree in music, for its upcoming 2014/2015 season.

SINGAPORE - Young composers from Singapore are striking a chord at home and overseas.

Aged 20 to 30, they are winning commissions from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Singapore Symphony Orchestra and have their works played by ensembles such as the London Symphony Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

On June 28, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's mega-concert at the new National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub features a percussion piece, Power Singapura, written by music student Phang Kok Jun, 24, who is completing his bachelor's in music at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), meanwhile, has scheduled for its upcoming 2014/2015 season a work from conservatory alumnus Chen Zhangyi, 30, and commissions from Emily Koh, 28, as well as Terrence Wong, 25, who has just completed his bachelor's degree in music under the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts' joint programme with London's Royal College of Music.

"It's a great feeling to have the national orchestra play your work," says Wong, who also joined a February workshop for young composers organised by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra played works from eight composers, including Phang's, at a workshop, followed by a free concert at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. SSO general manager Anthony Brice, 38, says a similar event will be held next year.

Phang, who is on an exchange programme with the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and is also composer-in- residence of the local Chinese music ensemble Ding Yi Music Company, says: "There is a rising trend among ensembles in Singapore to offer opportunities for composers in terms of readings, performances and commissions."

Other works of his to be performed this year include Pelog Fantasy for a quintet led by harpist Katryna Tan, next month in Sydney, and a concerto for the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in November.

Yet he and composers such as Koh, a Yong Siew Toh alumnus who is finishing a doctorate at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, say it is still tough to make a living out of writing music full-time.

Rates posted on the website of the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) suggest composer fees ranging between $180 for works for solo instruments, and less than $1,200 for orchestral works featuring vocalists. Koh says she has been paid "a five-figure sum" for her biggest commission in the United States. Separately, her contemporary Diana Soh says Singaporean commissions pay "10 times less" than those from Europe.

Two big hurdles in Singapore are the small market and the centuries of Western classical music repertoire, which leave a limited audience for contemporary music.

In contrast, Koh has this year written music for several American ensembles focusing on contemporary music including Chicago's Ensemble Dal Niente, the New York New Music Ensemble and the New York-based Talea Ensemble.

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