Singapore Symphony Orchestra

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) is a symphony orchestra based in Singapore. Its principal concert venue is the Esplanade Concert Hall. The orchestra also gives concerts at the Victoria Concert Hall, and performs about 100 concerts per year. The orchestra was first established In 1978 with Choo Hoey its resident director. The orchestra's music director from 1997 to 2019 was Shui Lan, and Hans Graf as its Chief Conductor from 2020 onward.[1]

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Singapore Symphony Orchestra Logo.svg
Concert hallEsplanade Concert Hall
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
Principal conductorHans Graf


Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra since 1980

Several orchestras were formed in Singapore in the colonial period and after independence. One of these, also named the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, was formed in 1945 by the Scottish composer Erik Chisholm in his capacity as ENSA Music Director for South East Asia.[2] Some of its members were from the British army or air force bands, and though it was short-lived, it gave over fifty concerts and played with soloists such as the violinist Szymon Goldberg. Subsequently, until 1979, all orchestras in Singapore were composed largely of amateur musicians. Orchestras of the early periods included the orchestras of Singapore Musical Society, Singapore Chamber Ensemble, Singapore Youth Orchestra, as well as the short-lived Singapore National Orchestra formed by National Theatre Trust in the 1970s.[3]

In 1973, at the opening ceremony of the Japanese Garden in Jurong, the then-defence minister Dr. Goh Keng Swee described the absence of a professional symphony orchestra in Singapore as "a minor scandal".[4] An initial proposal to establish a national symphony orchestra was not accepted, as it did not plan for the inclusion of Singaporean musicians.[5] In 1977, a largely amateur Singapore Philharmonic Orchestra was formed under the leadership of Yoshinao Osawa. Its success spurred further interest in the idea of a national symphony orchestra.[3] After consulting with conductor Choo Hoey about the feasibility of setting up an orchestra that would include Singaporean musicians, Goh Keng Swee persuaded the Cabinet to support the establishment of a professional orchestra.[5] The orchestra would be supported by public funds, and was intended to serve as a flagship arts company for the enrichment of the local culture scene.[4] In 1978, with the support of the Cabinet, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra was registered as Singapore Symphonia Co. and rehearsals began in December, with 8 Singaporean members and 27 members from overseas.[6]

Esplanade, main performance venue for SSO since 2003

The SSO made its debut with its first performance at the Singapore Conference Hall on 24 January 1979, with its first Resident Conductor Choo Hoey. The orchestra had 41 members, 14 of whom were Singaporean.[7][8][9] The Singapore Symphony Chorus was then formed in 1980. In 1980, the Victoria Concert Hall became home to the orchestra.[10]

In 1983, the SSO gave its first outdoor concert at the Istana. Later, in 1985, the SSO made its first European tour, visiting ten cities within Scandinavia, and also performed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens for the first time, conducted by Lim Yau. From 1986 to 1991 (and briefly in 2001), the SSO also created a series of concerts entitled New Music Forum which focused on highlighting Singaporean composers. Additionally, in 1995, Okko Kamu was named principal guest conductor of the SSO.[6]

Lan Shui conducting the SSO in 2016

Choo Hoey stepped down as music director in July 1996 and took up the title of conductor emeritus, while Lan Shui became the orchestra's next music director in 1997.[11] In 1999, the SSO performed at the National Day Parade.[6] In 2003, the orchestra moved to its current performance venue, the Esplanade. The SSO expanded to its target of about 90 musicians by the early 1990s.[11]

In January 2016, the SSO took over management and operational responsibility for the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, which until then was managed by the Ministry of Education.

In January 2019, Lan Shui stood down as music director, and was given the title of conductor laureate.[12][13] In 2019, the SSO celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala concert.[6]

Hans Graf first guest-conducted the SSO in 2015, and returned for a further guest engagement in 2018. In July 2019, the SSO announced the appointment of Graf as its new chief conductor, effective with the 2020-2021 season.[1]

Concerts and repertoireEdit

SSO Concert at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The main performing venue for the orchestra is the Esplanade Concert Hall, but concerts are also regularly held at the Victoria Concert Hall. It gives occasional free performances at venues such as the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay.[14][15] It also performs in schools and colleges and has a Community Outreach programme to promote classical music to the wider community.[16][17] The orchestra has toured around the world; notable concerts include performances at the Berlin Philharmonie, New York's Avery Fisher Hall, Beijing's Poly Theatre, and The Proms in London.[18][19]

The repertoire of the orchestra includes Western classical music ranging from early baroque to contemporary classical music as well as Chinese works composed or arranged for a Western orchestra. This is reflected in the program for its inaugural concert that included Rossini's Overture, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (soloist Ong Lip Tat),[20] Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, and the Chinese orchestral piece Dance of the Yao People.[21]


The SSO has made many recordings with BIS Records and other labels. These include the first recording of the complete cycle of Alexander Tcherepnin's six piano concertos and four symphonies on BIS.[22] Other releases include recordings of works by Rachmaninov released in 2012 and 2013 with Yevgeny Sudbin,[23][24] and the 2007 recordings of Claude Debussy's La Mer.[25]

Music Directors / Chief ConductorsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Singapore Symphony Names Hans Graf as New Chief Conductor" (Press release). Singapore Symphony Orchestra. 8 July 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  2. ^ Erik Chisholm (1971). The operas of Leos Janacek: The Commonwealth and International Library: Music Division. Pergamon. p. xxiii. ISBN 978-1483117430. Archived from the original on 2015-09-26. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
  3. ^ a b Emrys Chew; Chong Guan Kwa, eds. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A Legacy of Public Service. WSPC. pp. 281–285. ISBN 978-9814390750.
  4. ^ a b Patricia Shehan Campbell; Trevor Wiggins, eds. (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Children's Musical Cultures, Volume 2. Oxford University Press. p. 344. ISBN 978-0199737635.
  5. ^ a b "Happy Birthday, SSO". The Straits Times. 20 January 1980. Archived from the original on 2014-10-11. Retrieved 2014-10-07.
  6. ^ a b c d Nanda, Akshita (7 January 2019). "Singapore Symphony Orchestra: Entertaining and inspiring for 40 years". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 2019-01-19. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  7. ^ Elena Chong; Wai Chee Leong (24 January 1979). "Symphony orchestra's debut night—sell-out for all concerts". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 2014-10-11. Retrieved 2014-10-07.
  8. ^ "Noted pianist Ong Lip Tat dies at 57". AsianOne. March 3, 2013. Archived from the original on June 9, 2015.
  9. ^ Jan Yap. "Singapore Symphony Orchestra". Singapore Infomedia. National Library Board Singapore. Archived from the original on 2015-05-23. Retrieved 2015-06-08.
  10. ^ "VICTORIA CONCERT HALL". Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  11. ^ a b Bernard Tan Tiong Gie (2011). Barry Desker (ed.). Goh Keng Swee: A Public Career Remembered. World Scientific Publishing/S Rajaratnam School Of International Studies. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-9814291385.
  12. ^ "Lan Shui to step down as SSO's Music Director" (Press release). Singapore Symphony Orchestra. 2017-01-11. Archived from the original on 2017-01-13. Retrieved 2017-01-12.
  13. ^ Akshita Nanda (27 January 2019). "Singapore Symphony Orchestra's outgoing music director Lan Shui named conductor laureate".
  14. ^ "Singapore Symphony Orchestra: Performances at Singapore Botanic Gardens". Singapore VR. Archived from the original on 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2011-05-09.
  15. ^ "More than 6,000 visitors enjoy SSO concert at Singapore Botanic Gardens". The Straits Times. 11 August 2014. Archived from the original on 9 October 2014.
  16. ^ John de Souza (1 June 1984). "Our arts sponsors". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 2016-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  17. ^ "Community Outreach 2014 / 15" (PDF). Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  18. ^ Bernard Holland (4 March 2005). "Orchestra in Development, Two Soloists in Their Prime". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Tim Ashley (3 September 2014). "Prom 61: Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Shui – a tour de force for Haefliger". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2016-12-27. Retrieved 2016-12-16.
  20. ^ "Noted pianist Ong Lip Tat dies at 57". AsianOne. March 3, 2013. Archived from the original on June 9, 2015.
  21. ^ Jan Yap. "Singapore Symphony Orchestra". Singapore Infomedia. National Library Board Singapore. Archived from the original on 2015-05-23. Retrieved 2015-06-08.
  22. ^ Andrew Clements (2003-10-24). "Tcherepnin Piano Concertos: Ogawa/Singapore Symphony/Shui". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2016-10-05. Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  23. ^ Geoffrey Norris (5 April 2012). "Rachmaninov: Symphony No 3; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, CD review". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2015-09-26. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  24. ^ Geoffrey Norris (4 July 2013). "Rachmaninov: Symphony No 1; Piano Concerto No 1, review". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2015-09-27. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  25. ^ Stephanie Yap (January 22, 2009). "Classic Act" (PDF). The Straits Times. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 26, 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-06.

External linksEdit