Glamour and drama in Singapore Symphony’s 2023–24 season
Perched right on Marina Bay, Singapore’s Esplanade Theatres sparkle just as light bounces off the water. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s approach to concert programming would seem to mirror this lustrousness – not just in choice of repertoire, but in their drawing together some of the most charismatic guest artists from around the world.
Being an equatorial city state, the tropical climate is consistent throughout the year. Singapore can thus begin its seasons in July – and 2023–24 opens with a continuation of the residency of remarkable Singaporean violinist Chloe Chua. Still only 16, this year will already be her second as artist-in-residence with the Singapore Symphony. On July 27th and 28th, together with violist He Ziyu, Chua presents Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola (K.364). Hans Graf, Singapore’s Chief Conductor since 2020 and now the orchestra’s Music Director, pairs Mozartian lightness with the grandiloquence of Richard Strauss’ Heldenleben.
Chua will be worth watching this year in her subsequent outings at the Esplanade. On 2nd September she presents Paganini’s Violin Concerto no. 1 together with Swiss guest conductor Mario Venzago, who will also direct the Singapore premiere of Vaughan Williams’ haunting, early choral setting of Whitman, Toward the Unknown Region (1907).
Chua’s final concerto performance this season will be in November, with Chen Gang and He Zhanhao’s Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto. Written in 1959, the work is one of the most renowned pieces of orchestral music written in China. With Singapore’s associate conductor Rodolfo Barráez, Chua also performs another of Chen Gang’s violin concertante works, Sunshine over Tashkurgan (1976), alongside Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. (In January, Chua will also perform a chamber recital together with organist Isaac Lee, including arrangements of works by Tartini and Locatelli.)
Also close to the start of the season, August 19th, will be the appearance of cellist and director of the Dresden Music Festival Jan Vogler, performing an unusual premiere – the new Three Continents Concerto, co-composed by Nico Muhly (USA), Sven Helbig (Germany) and Zhou Long (China). When considered alongside the Butterfly Lovers concerto, it is exceedingly rare to see multiple-authored concertos together in a single season.
In September, another noted cellist will appear at the Esplanade: Mischa Maisky. A student of both Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky, over a remarkable five-decade career he has performed alongside many of the 20th century’s most gifted chamber musicians and soloists. He appears in Singapore to perform Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto no. 1 in A minor. Also on the programme are Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll“ and Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, led by South Korean conductor Han-Na Chang.
Another noted soloist appearing this season is the formidable violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who performs the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Graf in a gala concert October 13th and 14th – programmed against Dvořák – with a recital of violin sonatas to follow on the 15th, including the fiendish Bartók and Franck sonatas.
An intriguing strand this season also hinges on concertos – namely, two concertos by American composers of classic popular songs, Vernon Duke and Robert Russell Bennett. Duke, a frequent collaborator with Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg, is known for such classic standards as “April in Paris” and “I Can’t Get Started”. Meanwhile, Russell Bennett is best known as an orchestrator, of some of the most famous shows ever seen on Broadway – including Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat and Oklahoma, and Gershwin’s Girl Crazy. British violin soloist Chloë Hanslip and US conductor Andrew Litton have unearthed two violin concertos by these remarkable figures of American music, presented on October 20th and October 27th, alongside symphonies by Tchaikovsky.
The composer John Williams began his musical career as a pianist and was certainly influenced by Vernon Duke’s songwriting (even writing a small homage to Duke in the score to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Fans of Williams will enjoy the Singapore Symphony’s outing of his 1992 Flute Concerto and the rarely performed Essay for Strings, displaying his more modernist mid-1960s style. The concerts, presented in March 2024, feature SSO’s principal flute Jin Ta. (In January 2024, the SSO will also perform the entire score to E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, one of Williams’ finest film scores, synchronised with picture.)
The august Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste arrives in November to conduct Schoenberg’s intriguing Chamber Symphony no. 2 – a work begun in 1906 and only completed in 1939, with the composer diving back into his late-Romantic early style some three decades later. Also performing is award-winning Canadian pianist Bruce Liu, in Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, with the concert concluding with Beethoven’s First Symphony.
Beethoven forms a strand this season too. Arch-Beethovenian Rudolf Buchbinder arrives in Singapore a few weeks later in December for a monster concerto outing – performing Beethoven’s First, Second, Third and Fourth Piano Concertos across two evenings (conducted from the piano), as well as a recital of Piano Sonatas nos. 8 (“Pathétique”), 14 (“Moonlight”), 10 and 23 (“Appassionata”).
Spanish and French music make a small strand in the spring of 2024, with Hans Graf presenting in April a tantalising programme of Ravel’s Spanish music, including the Rapsodie espagnole and a full concert performance of Ravel’s mesmerising first opera, L’Heure espagnole.
Then a few weeks later in May, the French virtuoso harpist Xavier de Maistre arrives to present a recital of French and Spanish music for the instrument, by De Falla, Granados, Fauré and Debussy among others. On 25th May de Maistre will perform Ginastera’s thrilling Harp Concerto, paired on this occasion with Respighi’s colourful Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals.
Boasting a fine orchestra and some of the world’s best soloists and conductors, Singapore’s new season is a must for anyone finding themselves in the Republic and desiring a trip to the glittering Esplanade.
See all listings for Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s 2023–24 season.
This preview was sponsored by Singapore Symphony Orchestra.