Wednesday, 30 July, 2014

 
Published April 11, 2014
Arts
Music for the masses
Like the Buena Vista Social Club, which put Cuban music on the world map through sheer hard work and undying dedication to their art, these local grassroots music groups rely on a mix of passionate volunteers; public and private funding; professional and amateur musicians; and a healthy dose of community spirit to grow their profiles and get their music heard
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Symphony of like minds: The Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra has grown from a small string ensemble in 1986, to a full-fledged symphony orchestra with over 70 members from all over Singapore. From teenagers to retirees, a banker to a student who holds a grade eight in four instruments, BHSO's members come from all walks of life. - PHOTO: BRADDELL HEIGHTS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

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CLASSICAL concerts can be intimidating affairs where so much as a sniffle is enough to warrant death stares from other members of the audience. But the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO) is out to challenge that; their goal, after all, is to make the music as accessible as possible to anybody, as it plays a mix of everything from Handel to Hollywood film scores at its concerts.

"When audiences come for our concerts, they know to expect a down-to-earth, relaxed ambience in which to enjoy music," says BHSO's general manager, Daniel Heng.

From a small string ensemble that planted its roots at the Braddell Heights Community Club (BHCC) in 1986, the BHSO has since grown into a full-fledged symphony orchestra with over 70 members from all over Singapore. It has also garnered a sizeable following, thanks to its outreach programmes such as their masterclasses, open rehearsals, and cosy chamber concerts held at the Community Club which are used to reach out to the public.

But it wasn't always easy, especially back in the 1980s when there wasn't much push for the arts and classical music wasn't as popular as it is today, says Mr Heng. "Many CCs were apprehensive about the idea as it had never been done before; BHSO was able to take root in BHCC because of the support of the constituency and, in particular, the then-MP, Goh Choon Kang," he adds.

A combination of funding and donations from both government and private organisations help to keep BHSO running through the years but the biggest contributors, according to Mr Heng, are its diverse group of players who come together, rain or shine, every Sunday afternoon. From teenagers to retirees, a banker to a student who holds a grade eight in four instruments, BHSO's members come from all walks of life.

It also helps nurture young talents by giving a platform to budding instrumentalists to take centre stage and make their orchestral debut through its Singapore Gifted Young Musicians programme, which is integrated into each concert season.

Its Coming Home concert this Sunday, which kicks off BHSO's 2014 concert season, perhaps best sums up what the orchestra stands for and champions. It marks the homecoming of Singapore-born cellist Noella Yan - the youngest and only Singaporean to be accepted into the Purcell School in London when she was only 13 - who will perform the world premiere of Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, written by Bernard Tan, a physicist-engineer-composer who possesses strong music credentials despite his non-musical academic background.

"Premiering Prof Tan's cello concerto is particularly special to us, because it encapsulates the diversity of interests in the orchestra from composer down to players," notes Mr Heng. "This, to the orchestra, is about the passion for music that transcends the diversity in backgrounds, nationalities, and careers; it's a passion that burns no less brightly despite few of us being full-time musicians.

Coming Home, which will also feature Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony and Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, takes place at School of the Arts Concert Hall this Sunday, April 13 at 5pm. Tickets from $13-$22 (excluding booking fee) are available from Sistic. For more info, check www.bhso.org