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Two local arts lovers Kris Tan and Michael Tay have individually set up arts foundations to support young, local musical talents, and through music, bring Singapore to the global stage.
Michael Tay: This former ambassador has more to give
In contrast to the focus on individual musical talents at the Kris Foundation, another local founder of an arts foundation – the Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise, aims bring Singapore to the global stage through music.
Adopting the role of a project planner
Former ambassador Michael Tay was stationed in Russia from 2003 to 2008. In his youth, he was a music critic specialising in jazz records. He was also one of the founders of the Singapore International Jazz Festival.
Michael Tay was inspired by his time as ambassador in countries like Japan and South Korea, where art is a way of life, and theatres and concert halls often attract full-house audiences. He feels that Singapore is still a young country with lots of potential in the arts. Hence, in 2013, he set up the Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise after leaving public service, leveraging on his personal local and foreign networks to drive the local arts scene.
As a former public servant, Michael sees himself as a project planner, rather than a philanthropist. To him, cultivation of good relationships between artists and arts patrons is key to a sustainable arts ecosystem. Since 2015, Michael has regularly organised ‘Fridays at Gilstead’ – private parties at a Gilstead Road condominium, where he would invite artists and patrons to network, indulge in art, and discuss ways to collaborate.
“Whenever I have a new idea, I will consult with patrons and organisations regarding their interest. I never ask for big sums. Donations are typically $5k to $10k, just enough to complete the project,” says Michael Tay. “My team is also very lean. We do not have full-time staff, but instead rely mostly on volunteers, which means we are able to drive every cent to projects and artists. Transparency in this area is very important.”
In 2014, The Foundation supported a new local jazz band The Steven McQueens to make an album in London with world-famous producer Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick and to perform at London’s O2 arena, allowing the local band to get noticed on the global stage.
Since its inception, The Foundation has also funded local musicians Charlie Lim and Linying to produce various music projects, allowing them to perform at international festivals.
A symphony composed in honour of Singapore
Michael Tay thinks that a good musical composition can sometimes have greater, and longer-lasting impact and life than a music performance.
“When I was stationed in Russia, I realised that the impression most Russians had of Singapore was just that of a tropical island, a vacation destination. Most had no idea about Singapore’s economic prosperity and modernity.” To change perceptions, Michael decided to commission a world-class Russian composer to write a symphony about Singapore.
In 2004, Michael found Russian composer Vladimir Martynov and invited him to Singapore to experience the country and look for inspiration for the commission. Martynov is an important figure in today’s classical music world whose composition style is heavily influenced by minimalism. He had previously been commissioned to write a film score “The Beatitudes” that became famous through the Italian film La Grande Bellezza.
At the beginning, Michael had hoped for Martynov to write a chamber piece inspired by Singapore. But after Martynov returned to Moscow from his trip to Singapore, he expressed to Michael how he was so moved by Singapore’s prosperity and vibrance, multiculturalism and good social governance, that he was unable to limit his composition to a chamber piece. Instead, Martynov created at 50-minute symphony and choral work.
For the choral parts, Martynov borrowed from the Tao Te Ching, and he named the symphony “SINGAPORE. A Geopolitical Utopia”
In 2005, the symphony premiered in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, allowing many Russians to see Singapore’s face of prosperity and modernity. In 2007, the work was performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in a concert attended by Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew and then President S. R. Nathan. MM Lee had also penned the foreword for the concert booklet.
Releasing a commissioned album
Heading into 2020, The Foundation once again worked with composer Martynov, tweaking the ‘SINGAPORE Symphony’ and renaming it the UTOPIA Symphony. The symphony was recorded and made into an album by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the famous Abbey Road Studios under the baton of maestro Vladimir Jurowski, featuring local young Singapore violinist Loh Jun Hong on the violin solo.
The album will be officially released next month. The Foundation has invited the People’s Association to help promote the album, with the hope that more Singaporeans will get to know this symphony that was created by a world-class composer, conductor, musicians at a world-class recording studio for Singapore.
Looking into the future, Michael Tay has a 10-year plan for a commissioning series where a Singapore composer will be commissioned to write a serious work every year. He hopes to gain the support of multi-national companies, to bring Singapore music to the far reaches of the globe.
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