Published on 18 August 2017

Grammy-nominated conductor Darrell Ang has been the Artistic Director and Music Director of The Sichuan Orchestra of China for the past few months. He fills us in on what his groundbreaking work there has been like.

By Melanie Lee

Darrell Ang - Yale Symphony Composer

How did the opportunity to work with The Sichuan Orchestra of China come about?

The Sichuan Orchestra of China was looking for a Music Director and an Artistic Director, and they already knew about me and wanted to work with me, as I’m one of the few Asian conductors with an international career mostly outside of Asia. After some time, they managed to get in touch with my manager in China by going through several well-known Chinese soloists with whom I’ve worked with over the past few years. We arranged for me to conduct the Sichuan Orchestra for the first time in November last year. Everything went well, and I was eventually appointed as the Orchestra’s Music Director and Artistic Director the following month in December 2016.

What made you accept this job offer?

I wanted to take on this challenge. It is rare for a young conductor to be given the opportunity to shape an orchestra to his ideal image and to put his stamp on an orchestra. At that time, I was also in the midst of negotiations with an orchestra in Germany and an opera theatre in France. But when this offer from China came along, I thought to myself: “Okay, I’ve been working in Europe all this time. Now, I would like to know how working in China would be like.”

It has been a challenge – a good and very interesting one. What’s most important is that working with The Sichuan Orchestra of China gives me a lot of flexibility. I am still able to carry out my activities in Europe, North America and other parts of Asia.

The Sichuan Orchestra of China

What have you been doing with this orchestra these past few months?

Over the past six months, I’ve carried out re-auditions with the existing members of The Sichuan Orchestra of China, I’ve held auditions for potential new members, and I’ve also started an international search for new members to grow the orchestra. The search is still ongoing and we are still in need of a large number of musicians. This is a process that will take a minimum of two years before The Sichuan Orchestra can secure its optimum number of members.

In June this year, The Sichuan Orchestra of China opened Chengdu’s brand new music hall. The Icon Yunduan tower is the first of three music halls that will be opened in Chengdu over the next three years. It’s a beautiful new hall designed by a Finnish architect, and is a very valuable partnership for The Sichuan Orchestra. It will be our residence for the next 2 – 3 years until our own hall opens up in 2019.

What are your long-term plans for this orchestra?

First of all, I plan to make The Sichuan Orchestra of China the best in the entire province of Sichuan, the best in the whole of China, and of course, one of the most exciting and forward-looking orchestras in Asia. The orchestra model in most parts of Asia is a little old-fashioned. Even orchestras in Europe and North America are facing the need to change very quickly. In Asia, they don’t feel the pinch – at least not yet. I’ve found that orchestras in Asia tend to follow a very archaic and old-fashioned European system, which somehow does not relate to today’s audience. Orchestras in America and Europe are in dire need of change, and a lot of them have either already begun or are well into the process of adapting and restructuring. This needs to happen in Asia soon. I would like the Sichuan Orchestra to lead this change in China.

What can we expect with the orchestra’s first performance in Singapore?

For our first concert in Singapore, audience members can expect a very riveting and energetic performance of three well-known works in the standard canon of symphonic literature. They include Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5, which everybody knows, as well as a short overture by Otto Nicolai titled The Merry Wives of Windsor, adapted from Shakespeare. The piece is based on Nicolai’s operetta of the same name. You’ll also see young Korean superstar pianist Cho Seong-Jin perform live for the very first time in Singapore, and he will play one of his ‘war horses’ – Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1, which was the work with which he won the prestigious 17th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland in 2015.

Tips on appreciating classical music?

I think it’s very important for newcomers to classical music to keep a very open mind and enjoy themselves as much as possible. Follow the melodies, follow the action on stage and try to pick out as much detail as possible in terms of what the solo instruments are doing: What are they playing? How are they playing? Where are the melodies coming from? Hum along to the melodies – quietly of course, such that you don’t disturb your neighbour – and just let yourself be swept along to the music. When you find your very own special way of listening and appreciating classical music, it then becomes very, very, very addictive.

What do you miss most being away from Singapore?

I miss my family, I miss my friends, and I miss the things that I’ve known very well since childhood such as the old sights and sounds of Singapore. Not very many of them are left, in fact, almost none of them are left. Sometimes I miss the food. Most of all, I miss being Singaporean.

The Sichuan Orchestra of China will be performing for the first time in Singapore on Friday, 8 September 2017 at Marina Bay Sands (MBS). This performance is part of the Sands for Singapore Charity Festival, the annual corporate social responsibility event of MBS. All funds will go towards local charity Art Outreach’s IMPART Awards scholarship fund to support the growth of the local arts sector. Click here for more information.

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