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13 Apr 2021

Leong Yoon Pin’s 10th Death Anniversary

The Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) commemorates the 10th death anniversary of Singaporean composer LEONG Yoon Pin (5 Aug 1931 – 13 Apr 2011). LEONG Yoon Pin was a pioneering Singapore classical musician, regarded as the “Father of SG Composers”. He was also a conductor and an educator, and served as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s first ever composer-in-residence in 2001.

An important figure for Singapore’s new music scene, LEONG Yoon Pin was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1982, Bintang Bakti Masyarakt (Public Service Star) in 2005, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) in 2007.

For an introduction to LEONG Yoon Pin, please read this article by TributeSG from Esplanade.


Allow us to share an article by Vivien GOH (CSS Associate Member), about commissioned works by Singapore composers for The Singapore Youth Orchestra (today Singapore National Youth Orchestra) in 1982-1990. Vivien GOH was the Music Director and Resident Conductor, Singapore Youth Orchestra from 1980 to 1990.

Commissioned works by Singapore composers for The Singapore Youth Orchestra 1982-1990

Vivien GOH
Music Director and Resident Conductor, Singapore Youth Orchestra
1980-1990

One of the most significant contributions made by the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO) to the local music scene in the 1980s was its insistence on commissioning and premiering at least one piece of music by a local composer almost every year. [1] A total of eight works were commissioned in this decade in addition to two Singapore premieres of existing works by Singapore and Singapore resident composers.

Bernard TAN, [then] Chairman of the Management Committee of the SYO said, “The intention was to show our support for Singaporean composers and to build up a body of Singapore works. No other music group, as far as I know, was doing this at the time. It certainly benefitted Singapore composers, as it was difficult for them to get their orchestral works performed. And of course it exposed SYO members to Singapore Composers’ music. I would like to think that our policy acted as a strong catalyst for Singapore composers to write orchestral works, and also served as an important showcase for them. It also encouraged other music groups to perform the works of Singapore composers.” [2]

My interest in new music was cultivated during my studies at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, NY. New music by US composers permeated the programmes of the large ensembles, was performed at student recitals, by ad-hoc student groups for composition faculty and students, by an ensemble formed expressly for new music and at the annual Festival of American Music conceived by composer and Director of Eastman, Howard HANSON.

Since the SYO also travelled overseas representing the country, it was a good opportunity to showcase the work of our composers —not that there were so many of them then!

We were fortunate to have LEONG Yoon Pin as one of our Management Committee Members, and he was ever willing to write for us. It is no surprise that it was in 1982, on our first overseas trip —to Rome, to participate in the International Festival of Youth Orchestras — that we brought with us Dance Suite by LEONG Yoon Pin (see below).

Our second overseas trip was to Lancashire and London in 1985. This time we brought PHOON Yew Tien’s Variations on Dayong Sampan, not to be confused with an Overture of the same name written by LEONG Yoon Pin for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

On our third international tour to Perth and Western Australia in 1988, we had the composer as our head of delegation: the late LTC TSAO Chieh. His work Stasis befuddled and amused us in turn, as he challenged boundaries in terms of idiom and concept.

Besides these three works, the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO) commissioned another three works by Singapore composers:

  • LEONG Yoon Pin – Fanfare for Joy (1986)
  • YAN Yin Wing – Ascent (1987)
  • Bernard TAN – Symphony No.1 (1990)

A commission was given to an American composer living in Singapore:

  • John SHARPLEY – Sojourn (1989)

An existing work by a Singapore composer was given its Singapore premiere:

  • LIM Chin Tiong – Salute to my Homeland (1987)

An existing work by an American composer residing in Singapore was given its Singapore premiere:

  • David CAMPBELL – Singapore Suite (1984)

Orchestra arrangements for his songs were written by a Singaporean composer for the SYO:

  • J.J. DE SOUZA: Undaunted (1984)
  • J.J. DE SOUZA: Sentosa (1985)

Anecdotes

“While the strategic objectives were noble and, on hindsight, nurtured a burgeoning national consciousness of what Singapore music was about, the backstage impact was not rosy at first. The feelings of the SYO musicians at the time towards contemporary local compositions were far from charitable…

SYO conductor Vivien GOH said, “the musicians usually approached new compositions with feelings bordering on distaste. Since they often had to struggle with poor manuscripts, copyists’ errors, last minute changes by composers and submissions by composers two weeks before performance date, this was not surprising. To top all this, nobody knew what it was going to sound like at first reading. Sometimes even the composers were surprised by what they heard. [3]

“Although instructions were given to the composers to tailor the technical difficulties of their compositions to the capabilities of the young musicians, the composers preferred to give free rein to their imaginations. Once unleashed, the occasional result was music which was unlike anything the young musicians had ever played in their lives…” [2]


LEONG Yoon Pin – Dance Suite (1982)

LEONG Yoon Pin’s Dance Suite (1982) was commissioned by Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO, today Singapore National Youth Orchestra).

This recording was recorded during SYO’s rehearsal at Victoria Concert Hall (VCH) on 27 Mar 1982. SYO would premiere the work at VCH on 31 Mar 1982. SYO would also perform the work at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras and the Performing Arts in Rome, during SYO’s trip to Rome on 25 Jul – 13 Aug 1982.

This recording was transferred from cassette tape to CD as an audio file by Richard SE and Bruno GOH LUSE.

The Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) would like to thank Vivien GOH (CSS Associate Member) for the archival work, as well as Richard SE and Bruno GOH LUSE for the audio files.

From Vivien GOH’s article above:

Programme Notes for LEONG Yoon Pin’s Dance Suite (1982)

“This Suite is a collection of themes based on five dances with each of the three movements displaying a different mood and atmosphere. The work was specially commissioned by the SYO management committee, of which Mr LEONG Yoon Pin was a member.

The first movement uses the theme of two Malay folk songs — Katak Lompat and Ondeh Ondeh — with a twelve-tone treatment given to the introduction. Katak Lompat is used for the movement proper, which suggests children playing leapfrog. The second subject has the mainly diatonic theme of Ondeh Ondeh, distended with minor modulations.

The slow second movement begins with a conversation among the woodwinds after which the triangle ushers in the brass chorus. The theme, which is based on an Indian folksong called The Highway, is developed further by the woodwind chorus and strings, with the first violins singing their main theme. The movement evokes images of incense burning, saris floating and dancers moving gracefully with upright postures. Percussion is used to suggest this atmosphere.

The third movement follows almost immediately — a bright and cheerful mood replacing the languid atmosphere, which the woodwinds and strings have been portraying. This third movement’s first subject is taken from an Anhui folksong Counting Ducks’ Eggs(数鸭蛋)and trombone glissandi simulate farmyard noises. The second subject is taken from a Sichuan folksong called Smile when the sun shines. Both original themes have had their rhythms varied.”

Composer

At the time of the commission LEONG Yoon Pin was a Lecturer in the Music Department of the Institute of Education, and his musical training included studying piano in England with George ROGERS, composition with Nadia BOULANGER, and conducting with Barclay WILSON. In Singapore, he was closely associated with the Metro-Philharmonic Society Chorus and Orchestra. He was also on the Management Committee of the Singapore Youth Orchestra.

Press Comments

New Nation [4] 31 Mar 1982 by Patricia WEI

In an interview in the New Nation on 31 Mar 1982, Mr LEONG was quoted “It seems so contrived to say that I’m influenced by many cultures in Singapore, but one can’t run away from them…”

Of his compositional technique he said, “With each symphonic composition, it gets more comfortable, construction-wise. I have many melodies floating around in my head. It’s only when you have a choice of melodies that you can begin to conceptualize the entire composition.”

The article, written by Patricia WEI, bassoon coach of the SYO, goes on to point out that Mr LEONG had taken great pains to explain to the conductor and the young musicians the mood he wants to evoke. This involved separate discussion with the conductor and his attendance at many of their rehearsals.

Mr LEONG said that in his compositions, he is largely inspired by poetry, particularly the Tang poets such as LI Po (李白, 701-762) and TU Mu (杜牧, 803-852).

Write-up by Patricia WEI, 31 Mar 1982 (W), New Nation (click to enlarge)

Press Reviews

Straits Times (LUO Lian Pin) Mar 1982

“LEONG Yoon Pin’s Dance Suite … was most certainly an interesting composition…The composer’s 12-tone treatment of two Malay folksongs … was clever – the themes were subtly embellished with intricacies in orchestration…The slow second movement…had its exotic effects enhanced by subtle inclusion of percussion instruments. The thematic material to the third movement was taken from two Chinese folksongs … The treatment of these folksongs was unusual but came across as a Western satire on Chinese music —many passages just sounded too liberated for the often puritanic nature of Chinese music. The orchestra was, generally, under-rehearsed for this piece and more time should have been spent working on rough spots.

Straits Times (John EDWARDS) 17 July 1982

Dance Suite, specially commissioned … by the SYO in 1981, is a refreshing essay in folk-music assimilation, tastefully structured and imaginatively scored. It would be unfair both to the orchestra and composer to say that the suite’s performance was uniformly handle, but the overall effect was very pleasing. There were some intonation problems in the woodwind section as they bravely explored the complicated texture in the first movement (What a pity young Singaporeans don’t get more exposure to serial writing – such a background would have paid great dividends here) The brass produced some beautifully controlled colours in the second movement as it wound its lugubrious way through variations on an Indian folk-song. Some very rhythmical percussion playing was heard, but the players must remember that their chief job is to punctuate the music, not to dominate it. The same might be said to of the third movement where a greater degree of subtlety from the “kitchen” would have been appreciated. Mr LEONG’s well-written parts in this movement didn’t quite make the intended impression since the instrumentalists entrusted with the boisterous solos were somewhat lacking in elan and perhaps a sense of humour?”

Anecdotes

“For instance, LEONG Yoon Pin’s piece required the bells which typically worn by Indian dancers. “This was not difficult to find since ECA Centre [where the SYO office was situated] was located in “Little India” [an ethnic area in Singapore]” said Ms GOH. [3]

References:

  1. WONG Sher Maine and Vivien GOH, Rehearsal for Life: Singapore Youth Orchestra, 1980-1990 (Singapore: Focus Publishing Limited, 2015), 104.
  2. ibid., 105.
  3. ibid., 106.
  4. New Nation was Singapore’s second major English-language newspaper, published by New Nation Publishing Pte Ltd from Jan 1971 to Nov 1982.

Banner photo from Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s page on LEONG Yoon Pin