A media conference and the Tang Quartet

Wednesday 16 May 2001 – Singapore

Liew Chin Choy asked me to join him for lunch, taken on the balcony of the Singapore Cricket Club eating a very fine chicken curry (he was very concerned that I could cope with the spicy food – it was in fact quite mild!) … a pleasant experience. Unfortunately we had to rush back to the office for a media conference.

American diva Barbara Hendricks is performing this week with the SSO, and ticket sales aren’t going well, so this is an effort to drum up more sales. The conference was attended by a reasonable number of people, including folks with video cameras. It turns out later that these aren’t from TV stations, but from internet portals who promote cultural activities through their sites.

Associate conductor Lim Yau spoke briefly, then the floor was opened to questions to Barbara Hendricks, who didn’t make any up-front statements. There was one quite inane question, then embarrassed silence. In an attempt to offer Ms Hendricks the opportunity to talk about the performance I asked her to discuss the very varied program in terms of what audiences could expect.

She spoke well for a couple of minutes on this point, then, there being no further questions for her, the resident conductor (who has a work being premiered in the program) spoke very briefly. Then Ms Hendricks, clearly embarrassed that no-one had asked her, stated that ‘as everyone seemed to know everything already, she felt she needed to say that she was delighted to be back in Singapore and looking forward to working with the SSO’. Then she allowed some photos, and everyone hopped into the buffet lunch that had been supplied.

Sacred cow atop a Hindu temple, Singapore
Sacred cow atop a Hindu temple, Singapore

Following this excitement I felt I needed a change of scene, so I hopped onto the MRT and went off to find the offices of the Australian Tourist Commission to deliver the necessary TSO materials to Julie Lithgow. Then I decided to go to the gym (this being the final day of my complimentary week pass to the Spa chain of gyms). On the way I called in at Harvey Norman in Raffles City and purchased a ‘point-and-shoot’ camera, as the view from the Spa pool deck at the Oriental Hotel is not half bad.

I wandered back to Raffles City and had dinner in the foodcourt – not the most memorable meal. I’m getting better at picking the yummy things, but in an attempt to try new things I sometimes end up with regrettable choices. I avoid all the dishes involving ‘fish head’ – although I’m sure they’re very nice! This court has a good stall serving various dim sum dishes. I’d previously enjoyed some pork wantons and prawn dumplings.

Tonight I selected some pork ribs – a bit greasy and steamed rather than grilled, although quite tasty – and ‘banana prawn balls’. I had imagined that these would contain banana prawns, but as so often on this adventure, I was wrong. They contained a slice of banana and a number of tiny pink cocktail prawns, battered and deep fried – not the most delectable morsel’s I’ve had.

I walked to the Victoria Concert Hall and purchased the cheapest ticket I could get for the T’ang Quartet, who I’d seen and enjoyed very much in Hobart during the 10 Days festival. They were giving a performance of largely the same program, but I was interested to observe the audience they drew. The concert was ‘sponsored’ or organised by one of the major shopping centres in Orchard Road – there were banners over the centre and posters all over town.

The audience, unlike the SSO’s on the previous Friday, appeared to me mostly locals. It wasn’t full, but looked quite respectable, especially given the first half was quite cutting edge new work by Asian composers. As the lights went down, I (and a few other audience members) moved forward from our cheap seats at the back of the stalls to expensive but vacant seats towards the centre.

I sat on an aisle seat next to two European women and enjoyed the performance. At interval we started chatting. I said I’d seen the quartet in Tasmania and one of them replied ‘Are you Andrew Ross?’ Sure enough, it was Anita Caviezel, who resides in Singapore but travels regularly to Tasmania where she attends TSO concerts, and her friend Miriam!

We had arranged by email to meet on this coming Friday, but I had a feeling that we would bump into each other, and sure enough…. We enjoyed the performance very much, and the usually reticent Singaporean audience even caused the quartet to give an encore, which they had not prepared, so they gave the slow movement from the Dvorak American Quartet again. After the concert I went backstage to meet the boys, who were thrilled that I’d bothered to see the same program again and said they’d love to meet and chat about attracting audiences. We swapped phone numbers and I made my way home.

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