Tsung Yeh



Yeh Tsung (b. 17 May 1950, Shanghai, China–), better known as Tsung Yeh, has been the music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) since 2002.1 Currently also the music director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra in the United States (US), Yeh is the world’s first conductor to hold music directorship of a Western symphony orchestra and a Chinese orchestra simultaneously.2 With his cross-disciplinary expertise, Yeh has pushed the frontiers of Chinese classical music and expanded the SCO’s repertoire through multimedia and multidisciplinary productions.3 By bringing SCO’s performances to new heights, both musically and technically, he has transformed the SCO into an internationally acclaimed Chinese orchestra with a unique Singapore character.4 Yeh is also noted for taking the SCO to the international arena.5 In August 2009, the SCO became the world’s first Chinese orchestra that performed in Scotland’s prestigious Edinburgh International Festival, as part of TheatreWorks’ multidisciplinary performance, Diaspora.6 In recognition of his contributions to local arts, Yeh was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2013.7 It is the highest award conferred in the field of the arts in Singapore.8

Early life
Born in Shanghai, China, Yeh’s father was a businessman who later became a professor at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade. His mother, a vocal professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, began sending him for piano lessons at the age of five.9

Yeh entered the elementary-school music programme at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1960 when he was 10 years old. In 1966, however, his studies was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution.10 In that year, both his parents were detained for questioning by the authorities. They were suspected to be foreign spies because they were English-speaking middle-class professionals with acquaintances in the West. Although his parents were released after a few days, his mother was subsequently placed under house arrest for a year and his father for three months.11 As for Yeh, even though he had remained a student of the conservatory until 1972, due to the circumstances in China at the time, he did not have normal lessons and the school was not allowed to teach European music.12 Desperate to learn the works of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, Yeh practised in secret behind thick, soundproof curtains in the home of a teacher who reluctantly agreed to give him private lessons.13

After graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1972, Yeh was posted to an arts college in Anhui, eastern China, as a piano teacher. However, three years later, he was sent to Dingyuan, an impoverished county in Anhui, for “re-education”. There, he learnt the ways of the countryside such as planting rice, culling chickens and drawing water from a well.14

Yeh moved to Beijing after the end of the Cultural Revolution and joined the Oriental Sound and Dance Troupe as a pianist in 1977.15 He toured Thailand and Singapore with the troupe in 1978, and the experience gave him the thought of leaving China. After attending concerts by Western orchestras such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, Yeh also felt that he was more suited to be an orchestra conductor than a concert pianist.16 With that in mind, he returned to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1979 to study conducting for two years.17

Yeh then left China for the US and won a scholarship to study at the Mannes College of Music in New York. He graduated in 1983 as the school’s first foreign-born valedictorian. Thereafter, Yeh received a scholarship to Yale University’s postgraduate music programme, where he studied under distinguished conductor Otto-Werner Mueller.18

Career
United States
In 1984, Yeh won the Exxon/Arts Endowment Award, which marked the beginning of his career as an orchestra conductor. With the prize, he became the principal conductor of the St Louis Youth Orchestra and assistant conductor of the St Louis Symphony Orchestra for three years.19 During this period, he studied under famous American conductor Leonard Slatkin, who sparked his appreciation for contemporary American composers.20 Then from 1987 to 1989, Yeh served as the resident conductor of the Florida Orchestra in Tampa as well as the principal guest conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra in New York.21

In 1988, Yeh was appointed music director of South Bend Symphony Orchestra in Indiana – a position that he still holds.22 Under his directorship, the orchestra developed into one of the best regional orchestras in central US. In 1995, Yeh and the orchestra were conferred the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Award for Excellence in Programming and Performing.23

Yeh won a mentorship programme with celebrated conductor Daniel Barenboim in April 1991; in November the same year, he caught international limelight when he replaced an unwell Barenboim on short notice, and successfully led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a programme that featured world-renowned pianist Alfred Brendal.24

Yeh was also the music director of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2000, and has taught conducting at workshops hosted by the Conductors Guild.25

Singapore
Yeh joined the SCO as its music director in January 2002, some three months after he guest-conducted a concert with the orchestra in September 2001.26

Under Yeh’s stewardship, the SCO has reached new heights in terms of technique, musicality and versatility in handling different styles of music.27 Yeh believes that to remain relevant and to overcome the perception that Chinese orchestral music is for older Chinese people, the SCO should not limit itself to playing traditional Chinese orchestral compositions but also perform works that connect with a wider audience in Singapore.28

Yeh’s innovative endeavours for the SCO entail a blend of the traditional with the contemporary, as well as genres from both the East and West.29 To attract a younger audience, he introduced a “pop” repertoire into the SCO, including musical styles such as jazz, rock, country and Broadway tunes that carry both entertainment value and artistic merit.30 The musician has also broadened the orchestra’s repertoire through multimedia and multidisciplinary projects that involve collaboration with dance, visual arts or choral groups, opera and even pop artistes. Such collaborations include: a calligraphic concerto with Singaporean artist Tan Swie Hian in 2003 titled Instant is a Millennium – A Musical Conversation with Tan Swie Hian; TheatreWorks’ Awaking, a multidisciplinary production in 2008 that incorporated music from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello and featured elements of Chinese opera Peony Pavilion by Ming dynasty playwright Tang Xian Zu; and an orchestral accompaniment to local Mandarin pop singer Joi Chua’s performance.31

With the view that Singapore needs to have its own music that Singaporeans can identify with, during the early 2000s Yeh began to commission compositions imbued with the so-called “Nanyang style” – an aesthetic that originally emerged from local Chinese visual arts in the post-World War II period.32 Such compositions would incorporate references to Singapore or other Southeast Asian countries – in terms of culture, history, geography and so on.33 Yeh’s first piece of Nanyang-style music for the SCO was Prince Sang Nila Utama and Singa. It was based on the legendary founder of Singapura, Sang Nila Utama. Yeh had commissioned Singaporean composer Law Wai Lun to create the composition in 2003, and it has since become a frequently played piece in SCO’s Nanyang repertoire.34

In 2006, Yeh launched the first Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition (SICCOC). The competition aims to promote and encourage the creation of Chinese orchestral compositions with a Nanyang flavour. The inaugural event attracted over 70 entries from different countries. His efforts to inspire more Nanyang-style orchestral works were supported by the SCO’s patron, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who personally donated S$750,000 when the orchestra launched the second SICCOC in 2011. The third one will be held in 2015.35

To reach out to the local masses, Yeh conceived a mega-concert, Our People, Our Music 2014, involving numerous Chinese orchestras. Held on 28 June 2014 at the Singapore Sports Hub, it was the biggest event organised by a Chinese orchestra – in this case, the SCO – in Singapore. The event, which featured 4,557 musicians and choir members, broke two Guinness World Records: the largest Chinese drum ensemble and the largest Chinese orchestral performance.36 It was not the first time that Yeh had conducted a large-scale Chinese orchestra: In 2004, as part of the month-long National Day celebrations, Yeh was one of the conductors of the first instalment of Our People, Our Music at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. The sell-out performance involved 2,300 musicians from 40 different organisations.37

Besides expanding the SCO’s local audience, Yeh is also noted for taking the orchestra onto the international stage.38 In 2005, the SCO became the first Chinese orchestra to play at London’s Barbican Centre.39 Then in August 2009, as part of TheatreWorks’s multidisciplinary performance, Diaspora, the SCO became the world’s first Chinese orchestra that performed in the well-respected Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland.40 The SCO has also performed in China on a number of occasions such as during the Beijing Music Festival and China Shanghai International Arts Festival in 2007.41

In the same year, Yeh was also appointed the music director for the National Day Parade – the first time an orchestra conductor was selected for the position.42

Also dedicated to nurturing and creating opportunities for young musicians, conductors and composers, Yeh established the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra in 2003. The SICCOC introduced in 2006 is also part of his effort to seek out and develop young musical talent.43

For his contributions to the local arts through his work with the SCO, Yeh was honoured with the Cultural Medallion in 2013.44

Others
Besides the US and Singapore, Yeh is also actively involved in conducting and teaching engagements in other parts of the world. He is the principal conductor of Beijing’s Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble and a founder of the Shanghai New Ensemble, as well as a former music director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.45 In addition, Yeh has been guest-conducting orchestras in European countries such as France, Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the East.46

With his growing reputation as a conducting instructor, Yeh teaches regularly at conducting workshops in Europe and Asia, and has been an artistic director of the Symphonic Workshop Ltd in the Czech Republic since 1992.47

Family
Yeh married Saulan, a business secretary turned homemaker, during the mid-1980s. They met at church when she was in the church choir and he was the pianist. Yeh and Saulan have three children: eldest daughter Mona, second daughter Melina, and youngest child Joseph.48

Yeh, who became a Singapore permanent resident in 2004, spends about 18 to 20 weeks a year in Singapore with the SCO.49 He divides his time between Singapore and the US, where his wife and three children live, as well as Europe and other parts of Asia for other conducting and teaching engagements.50



Author
Cheryl Sim



References
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3. Nayar, P. (2006, June 1). Journey to the West, and East. The Business Times, p. 18; Chia, A. (2009, December 3). Mixing music. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Arts Council. (n.d.). Cultural Medallion 2013: Tsung Yeh. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/tsung-yeh.pdf
4. National Arts Council. (n.d.). Cultural Medallion 2013: Tsung Yeh. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/tsung-yeh.pdf
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12. Hughes, A. S. (2008, October 5). It was 20 years ago… Tsung Yeh reflects on two decades as SBSO’s conductor. South Bend Tribune. Retrieved from South Bend Tribune website: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-10-05/news/26850064_1_resident-conductor-leonard-slatkin-assistant-conductor; Tan, C. (2012, January 16). Maestro reformer. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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15. Hughes, A. S. (2008, October 5). It was 20 years ago… Tsung Yeh reflects on two decades as SBSO’s conductor. South Bend Tribune. Retrieved from South Bend Tribune website: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-10-05/news/26850064_1_resident-conductor-leonard-slatkin-assistant-conductor; Tan, S. E. (2002, January 25). Shanghai, New York, now S’pore. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Hughes, A. S. (2008, October 5). It was 20 years ago... Tsung Yeh reflects on two decades as SBSO’s conductor. South Bend Tribune. Retrieved from South Bend Tribune website: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-10-05/news/26850064_1_resident-conductor-leonard-slatkin-assistant-conductor
17. Tan, S. E. (2002, January 25). Shanghai, New York, now S’pore. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Hughes, A. S. (2008, October 5). It was 20 years ago… Tsung Yeh reflects on two decades as SBSO’s conductor. South Bend Tribune. Retrieved from South Bend Tribune website: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-10-05/news/26850064_1_resident-conductor-leonard-slatkin-assistant-conductor; Chow, C. (2001, November 27). Shanghai maestro to lead SCO. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Hughes, A. S. (2008, October 5). It was 20 years ago… Tsung Yeh reflects on two decades as SBSO’s conductor. South Bend Tribune. Retrieved from South Bend Tribune website: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-10-05/news/26850064_1_resident-conductor-leonard-slatkin-assistant-conductor
20. Tan, C. (2012, January 16). Maestro reformer. The Straits Times, p. 4; Chow, C. (2001, November 27). Shanghai maestro to lead SCO. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; George, D. (1997, December 14). Under the baton of Tsung Yeh. nwitimes.com. Retrieved from nwitimes.com website: http://www.nwitimes.com/uncategorized/under-the-baton-of-tsung-yeh/article_60784720-0758-57b2-93ec-be043e851497.html
21. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (n.d.). Tsung Yeh (Conductor). Retrieved from Hong Kong Composers’ Guild website: http://www.hkcg.org/chinese_composer/tsung_yeh_bio.html
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24. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (n.d.). Tsung Yeh (Conductor). Retrieved from Hong Kong Composers’ Guild website: http://www.hkcg.org/chinese_composer/tsung_yeh_bio.html; Decca Music Group (2008). Life & career. Retrieved from Alfred Brendel website: http://www.alfredbrendel.com/lifeandcareer.php
25. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (n.d.). Tsung Yeh (Conductor). Retrieved from Hong Kong Composers’ Guild website: http://www.hkcg.org/chinese_composer/tsung_yeh_bio.html; Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2012). Tsung Yeh – Music director. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/music-director/
26. Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2012). Tsung Yeh – Music director. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/music-director/; Tan, S. E. (2002, January 25). Shanghai, New York, now S’pore. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Nayar, P. (2006, June 1). Journey to the West, and East. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Leong, W. K. (2014, September 27). Music maestro champions classics with a Singaporean note. The Straits Times, pp.2/3; Tan, C. (2012, January 16). Maestro reformer. The Straits Times, p. 4; Tan, C. (2011, August 5). Yeh Tsung renews contract. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Tan, C. (2011, August 5). Yeh Tsung renews contract. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Tan, C. (2011, August 5). Yeh Tsung renews contract. The Straits Times, p. 2; Nayar, P. (2006, June 1). Journey to the West, and East. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. National Arts Council. (n.d.). Cultural Medallion 2013: Tsung Yeh. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/tsung-yeh.pdf; Nayar, P. (2006, June 1). Journey to the West, and East. The Business Times, p. 18; Wong, C. (2008, June 16). Lovely ode to love. The Straits Times, p. 48; Munroe, B. (2008, June 13). When Shakespeare meets Tang. The Business Times, p. 28; Cheong, J. (2006, February 10). Joi to the classical world. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Leong, W. K. (2014, September 27). Nanyang style’s big leap. The Straits Times, pp. 2/3; Leong, W. K. (2014, September 27). Music maestro champions classics with a Singaporean note. The Straits Times, pp.2/3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, S. E. (n.d.). Tsung Yeh: Music director, pioneer. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/tsung-yeh.pdf.
33. Phan, M. (2006, January 13). SCO taking on new challenges in milestone year. The Business Times, p. 31; Leong, W. K. (2014, September 27). Music maestro champions classics with a Singaporean note. The Straits Times, pp.2/3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Leong, W. K. (2014, September 27). Music maestro champions classics with a Singaporean note. The Straits Times, pp.2/3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Leong, W. K. (2014, September 27). Music maestro champions classics with a Singaporean note. The Straits Times, pp.2/3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2014, June 9). Registration is now open for the Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition 2015 [Press release]. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/media/registration-now-open-singapore-international-competition-chinese-orchestral-composition-2015/; Wee, C. F. (2011, November 26). Shanghai composer wins music contest. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Nanda, A. (2014, June 25). 5,000 perform, 30,000 listen. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Vasko, L. (2014, June 29). SCO breaks two world records. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewsaperSG.
37. Hooi, A. (2004, July 31). Orchestra kicks off National Day celebrations. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Our People, Our Music. (n.d.). About OPOM. Retrieved from Our People, Our Music website: http://opom.sg/about-us.html
38. Chew, D. (2005, September 21). Chinese revolutionary. Today, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Tan, C. (2012, January 16). Maestro reformer. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2012). Tsung Yeh – Music director. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/music-director/; National Arts Council. (August 2009). Singapore artists invited to Edinburgh festivals. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2009/05/29/singapore-showcase-in-edinburgh; Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission: Yeh Tsung. The Straits Times, pp 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2012). Tsung Yeh – Music director. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/music-director/; Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2007, November 21). Speech by Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications & the Arts at the Singapore Season in China 2007 Thank You Reception on Tuesday, 20th November [Speech]. Retrieved from Ministry of Communications and Information website: http://www.mci.gov.sg/content/mci_corp/web/mci/pressroom/categories/speeches/2007/speech_by_dr_lee_boon_yang_minister_for_information_communications_and_the_arts_at_the_singapore_season_in_china_2007_thank_you_reception_on_tuesday_2.html
42. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission: Yeh Tsung. The Straits Times, pp 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. National Arts Council. (n.d.). Cultural Medallion 2013: Tsung Yeh. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/tsung-yeh.pdf
44. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission: Yeh Tsung. The Straits Times, pp 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2012). Tsung Yeh – Music Director. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/music-director/
46. Chow, C. (2001, November 27). Shanghai maestro to lead SCO. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Singapore Chinese Orchestra Company Limited. (2012). Tsung Yeh – Music director. Retrieved from Singapore Chinese Orchestra website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/music-director/; Stanton Management. (n.d.). Tsung Yeh. Retrieved from Stanton Management website: http://www.stantonmgt.com/SMGTNew/Conductors/tsung_yeh.html
48. Tan, C. (2012, January 16). Maestro reformer. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission: Yeh Tsung. The Straits Times, pp 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Tan, C. (2012, January 16). Maestro reformer. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




The information in this article is valid as at 8 December 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Award winners
Conductors (Music)
Award winners--Singapore
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music
Performing Arts
Conductors (Music)--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Music
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Music)
Arts personalities
Ye, Cong--Biography