Singapore Symphony Names Hans Graf as New Chief Conductor
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has announced Austrian maestro Hans Graf as its Chief Conductor. Graf will assume the role from the 2020/21 concert season, beginning mid-2020.
In Graf, SSO has appointed an internationally established maestro with highly regarded expertise in core orchestral repertoire. His background and work in Vienna, Salzburg and Graz makes him especially at home in Austro-German repertoire that is crucial in developing a symphonic orchestra. Graf has served as Music Director at distinguished orchestras like the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, the Basque National Orchestra, and the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. He was most recently Music Director at the Houston Symphony.
No stranger to Singapore, the 70-year-old Grammy-awarded maestro conducted SSO concerts in 2015 and 2018, where reviewers extolled Graf’s conducting as “an inspired partnership”, leading the SSO to “play with such delicacy and sensitivity.”
On his latest role, Graf said, “When I first came to Singapore, I found an orchestra of international level. Now I am pleased and honoured to be invited to work with them in the future: I feel in them the joy of making music which fuels their assiduous effort to reach ever higher levels, and it will be my goal to lead and go forward with them in this noble passion. Singapore is a metropolis in many ways and also in the arts, and we will expand this importance with pride and commitment — and with our contagious love of great music — for the world and for the music lovers here in town.”
Graf’s appointment comes after Chinese-American Music Director Lan Shui stepped down in January 2019, concluding a 22-year career with the SSO; Shui now holds the title of Conductor Laureate. Before Shui, SSO’s first Music Director and Conductor was Singaporean Choo Hoey, who holds the title of Conductor Emeritus.
The incoming Chief Conductor has led orchestras across America (e.g., Boston, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, among others) and Europe (Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, the Concertgebouw, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hilversum Radio Philharmonic, and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin). Graf frequently appears at major European Festivals (Salzburg, Aix-en-Provence, Maggio Musicale, etc.) and has conducted at the Vienna State Opera and the opera houses in Munich, Paris, Rome and Zurich.
Graf studied under three important conducting teachers of the 20th century, Arvid Jansons, Franco Ferrara and Sergiu Celibidache. In turn, he has served as Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, where he is now titled Professor Emeritus.
“I love and find it important to teach,” Graf added. “And I hope to create some good opportunities for young musicians, conductors and players, to gain experience and to grow, and to get some high-level training and inspiration with the help and friendly care of the SSO.”
The Chief Conductor search, led by the Executive and Nominating Committee of the Board of Directors of the Singapore Symphony Group (SSG), involved seeking the views of SSO musicians, the administrative staff, as well as major stakeholders. The top criterion was the rapport between Graf and the audience as well as the orchestra.
SSG Board Chairman Goh Yew Lin said, “I am delighted to welcome Hans Graf as our Chief Conductor. He brings with him a wealth of experience and insightful musicianship, in repertoire ranging from the core classical repertoire to the peaks of the 20th century repertoire. His rapport with SSO musicians was exceptional from their first concert together. I look forward to working with him as we continue to build on the strong foundations that have been established over the past forty years by our first two music directors.”
Said CEO Chng Hak-Peng, “As the national orchestra, we place our audience at the centre of what we do, and their enthusiastic response to both concerts that Graf conducted matched the warmth that our musicians felt as well. When we approached him, we were delighted that the feeling was mutual. Together, we are looking forward to presenting audiences in Singapore and overseas even more compelling and memorable musical experiences in the years ahead.”
The incoming SSO Chief Conductor will plan and conduct six concert weeks in the 2020/21 season, as well as work with the SSO to develop an artistic vision for the orchestra that will guide the shaping of the orchestra’s seasons ahead. Director for Artistic Planning, Hans Sørensen, who was appointed in January 2019, will plan the orchestra’s programmes towards realising this vision. Subsequent seasons will have Graf conducting the SSO for eight concert weeks each.
This announcement comes at the 40th anniversary of the SSO, marked by a six-month celebration of the milestone that included an anniversary gala concert, an anniversary fundraising dinner, and a special series of community concerts for the Singapore public. Over the last four decades, the orchestra has made about 50 recordings, now largely under the BIS label, and toured Asia, Europe, and North America. At home, the SSO is also well loved for its concerts in public parks, and its community outreach, which include open houses at the iconic Victoria Concert Hall, educational talks and tours, and free concerts for charities.
Elaine Yeo, an SSO musician since 1992 who has performed with former conductors Choo and Shui, and the newest member of the SSO musicians’ committee, said, “Maestro Graf is a highly respected artist with a great sense of musicianship and experience. We really enjoyed playing under him when he was here last year, and we are looking forward to forging a new relationship with one of the great maestros of our time. I’m sure he will bring the orchestra to even higher levels of performance and music-making.”
For Dean of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Professor Bernard Lanskey, this heralds a new age for the national orchestra. “Hans Graf brings to Singapore an immense and diverse wealth of musical experience and awareness, as the SSO builds momentum to becoming one of the world’s most distinctive orchestras. YST Conservatory looks forward to working with Mr Graf and the orchestra at this exciting and dynamic time for music and music education in Singapore and Southeast Asia.”