That Singapore should have a thriving national orchestra today is not a given, and we owe it to many people – ardent audiences, talented musicians and generous patrons, who have helped build the SSO along the way.
In 1978, Dr Goh Keng Swee establishes the Singapore Symphonia Company Ltd with Tan Boon Teik as Chairman. On 24–26 January 1979, SSO debuts at the Singapore Conference Hall with 41 musicians including 13 Singaporeans. The concerts feature Music Director Choo Hoey, Acting Leader Lynnette Seah and pianist Ong Lip Tat, all Singaporeans. The orchestra also initiates music scholarships for talented young Singaporeans who will join the SSO upon graduation.
First Tour and Opening of VCH
Choo Hoey receives the Cultural Medallion Award. Singapore Symphony Chorus makes its debut with SSO at the Singapore Conference Hall a month before SSO goes on its first overseas tour to Kuala Lumpur, with pianist Seow Yit Kin. Pavel Prantl becomes SSO’s first Leader and SSO performs the opening concert at the refurbished Victoria Concert Hall, officiated by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
(Photo credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
First Album Recording
SSO records its first album, “Hung Hu Violin Concerto” & other popular Chinese orchestral music, under the Marco Polo label. Choo Hoey conducts the orchestra and Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki for this release.
(Image courtesy of Harry Chua)
First batch of SSO scholars returns
The first three SSO scholars return to Singapore to join the orchestra.
On 1 May, SSO plays its first concert at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Today, SSO concerts at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage continues to draw crowds as large as 10,000 to the Gardens.
First European Tour and Ladies’ League
In February, SSO goes on its first European tour, covering 10 cities in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In November, SSO Ladies’ League holds its first fundraiser to build a new pipe organ and purchase new instruments for the orchestra.
Promoting Singaporean Works
SSO co-organises the inaugural “New Music Forum” to promote Singaporean compositions through performances of new works and cassette releases of the concert recordings. Today, SSO continues to commission and perform works by Singaporean composers every year.
(Image courtesy of National Library Board)
In December 1988, SSO holds its first complete Christmas programme, accompanied by the Singapore Symphony Chorus. Today, SSO’s Christmas Concerts are a well-loved tradition during the festive season.
Russian violinist Alexander Souptel takes over as Leader from Pavel Prantl.
President’s Charity Concert by Young Talents
SSO performs with young musicians at the President’s Charity Concert by Young Talents, commissioned by President Ong Teng Cheong to fundraise for charities.
Choo Hoey Steps Down
Choo Hoey steps down as Music Director and is given title of Conductor Emeritus. “Friends of SSO” scheme is initiated. “Circle of Friends” is formed for volunteers to help the orchestra in areas such as hospitality and marketing.
New Music Director
Lan Shui conducts his first concert as SSO Music Director on 10 January.
Music Label BIS and National Day
The orchestra records its first album with the international label BIS, playing the works of Tcherepnin with pianist Noriko Ogawa. On 9 August, SSO performs at the National Day Parade for the first time. Professor Cham Tao Soon takes over as Chairman from Tan Boon Teik, who is given the title of Honorary Chairman.
Excellence for Singapore Award and First China Tour
SSO is conferred the Excellence for Singapore Award by the Singapore Totalisator Board. In its first China tour, the orchestra performs in Shanghai and Beijing; the latter at the invitation of the Beijing Music Festival.
Esplanade Inauguration and SSO Babies’ Proms
SSO marks the national inauguration of the Esplanade Concert Hall, with a concert featuring violinists Kam Ning and Sarah Chang. SSO launches SSO Babies’ Proms, where infants and toddlers enjoy fun and lively concerts.
Youngest Singaporean to Perform with SSO
Eleven-year-old pianist Abigail Sin becomes the youngest Singaporean soloist with SSO. She performs at the SSO President’s Young Performers concert, graced by President SR Nathan.
First US Tour and VCH centennial
SSO gives its first performance in the USA, as part of a tour that includes France and Spain in a total of 11 concerts with soloists Yo-Yo Ma and Gil Shaham. In Singapore, José Carreras sings in an SSO concert attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, to mark Victoria Concert Hall’s 100th year.
Lan Shui Awarded
SSO Music Director Lan Shui is awarded the Cultural Medallion.
Goh Yew Lin takes over as Chairman from Professor Cham Tao Soon.
(Photo courtesy of Prof. Cham Tao Soon)
SSO at the BBC Proms
SSO performs at the BBC Proms in London, at the Royal Albert Hall. The BBC Proms is a two-month classical music festival considered one of the biggest in the world, with performances broadcast on BBC TV and radio.
SSO celebrates SG50 at the VCH, with eight concerts that include Co-Concertmaster Lynnette Seah, pianists Shane Thio and Lim Yan, and the T’ang Quartet.
Invitation to Tour
SSO embarks on a five-city tour of Germany and the Czech Republic, with invitations to the prestigious Dresden Music Festival and the Prague Spring International Music Festival.
President’s Young Performers and Return to Kuala Lumpur
President Halimah Yacob attends her first SSO President’s Young Performers concert, two weeks after she assumed office as the first woman president of Singapore. After 17 years, SSO returns to perform in Kuala Lumpur, together with the Singapore Symphony Choruses and the Choir of the Transylvania State Philharmonic.
All-Singaporean Works at National Day Concert
SSO stages its first National Day concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall, featuring works by Singaporean composers. The concert is streamed on Facebook Live.
SSO Turns 40
SSO celebrates its 40th year with a gala concert and free performances around Singapore. On 18 January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is Guest of Honour at SSO’s 40th anniversary Gala concert.