Philharmonic Wind Orchestra (PWO) celebrates 20+ years of music making this year, and will present a Gala concert to mark its relaunch as it continues the legacy of Philharmonic Winds (PW) and Philharmonic Youth Winds (PY).

The Band Post speaks to the People of the Gala, as they reflect on the legacy of PWO and how this journey has been for them.

  • Dr Leonard Tan: Music Director, PWO
  • Tim Reynish:  Principal Guest Conductor, PWO
  • Dr Robert Casteels: Founding Artistic Director
  • Dr Zechariah Goh Toh Chai: Head of Studies, Composition, NAFA; past guest conductor
  • Mr Ignatius Wang: Former PWO Member, Conductor
  • Lionel Lye: General Manager, PWO
  • Tay Kai Tze: Principal Oboe, Head of Artistic Planning, PWO
  • Sean Tan: Founding member, PWO

PWO has indeed come a long way since 2000 to become Singapore’s Premier Wind Orchestra. What are some of the key people or organizations that have been instrumental in this journey?

Leonard: Our founding members have played a big role in the formation and early years of the organization. Adrian Cheong, Adrian Chiang, and Dr Casteels, have all played a big role in taking the organization forward, and there are so many more people who have contributed to take PWO to where it is today. 

Robert: To me, Adrian Cheong was the engine with the perseverance and gumption to take the organization forward. There was also a core group of founding members such as Lim Lip Hua, Ong Jiin Joo, Darence Leng, Najib Wong, and Yeow Ching Shiong, who were always there, and you could count on them to move the whole group. 

Sean: PW started out as a group of good friends wanting to play good wind band music at a high level. We started to recommend friends who are passionate and possess good skill with their respective instruments. The initial group was very small with only 20+ people. When we came together to sight-read some music, we were all shocked at the result and wanted to play together more. Hence we started to work towards our first concert and gather more like-minded band members along the way.

What are some of your best memories of PWO? What are the things you remember that you will treasure for a long time to come?

Ignatius: Although I started playing with PW in 2011 as an Euphonium player, my relationship with PW started much earlier. As a student, I used to go watch PW all the time, so I basically grew up with PW first as a member of the audience, then a musician, and now a conductor.

Leonard: Conducting Circus Maximus, Marco Polo, and Music for Prague. The strong family bonds between musicians; musicians trusting conductors, and having the tenacity to play major projects even though it may be very demanding. To push artistic boundaries would mean that individuals would also be stretched, and the fact that musicians are happy to be stretched is an awesome thing.

Zechariah: My best memories would have to be the premieres of my wind ensemble compositions, such as the Marimba Concerto, Symphonie Bombastique, and LKY!

Tim: It was winter in England, so I took a lot of clothes, and my case was too heavy. I stood in Manchester Airport, putting on lots and lots of clothes, shirts and jerseys. When I got to Singapore, the temperature was 90°F; so I stood in Changi Airport, taking them all off again – that’s my very first memory.

But we had an extraordinary concert, 3 of my commissions and 2 concertos, much too long, but it was a wonderful concert! I also made so many good friends, and it’s been great for 18 years; all these friends from Singapore. What I’ll always treasure are the concerts of course, which have always been excellent. Great programmes, which they have allowed me to choose, and we discuss together. We perform in one of the greatest concert halls in the world, and the publicity and programmes are always first-rate. All your press coverage from The Straits Times… and everything else is highly professional. The players play marvelously – they’re so well-rehearsed by Leonard before I get there, and that’s wonderful. We’ve given a lot of great music to Singapore and the world, and I’m glad to be a part of that.

Lionel: Most definitely, it would be all those wonderful moments on stage – that’s what we live for as performers, and hearing the audience appreciate the music that we’ve worked hard to present to them. Then there are those memories made in places which stand in stark contrast to the gorgeous halls of the Esplanade and Victoria Concert Hall; I’m thinking of the suppers that we used to go to in droves after rehearsals, carpooling and hanging out late. These are the moments that I will treasure for a long, long time.

Sean: The early years were full of challenges, with no rehearsal venue, no percussion instruments, and no funding. We moved from venue to venue and sometimes got chased out after a few practices. Concert by concert, the group gained and attracted more like-minded members. I also remember the suppers we used to have together after every practice!

Kai Tze: Growing up as a young music student with PW, more than any other group, PW opened my eyes to the world of making music, even if not professionally, but with a professional attitude. I was constantly amazed that we could regularly work with world-class conductors, playing music that pushed artistic boundaries, be part of new creations and collaborate across different disciplines. During those early years, I performed at the Esplanade Concert Hall with PW more than any other group because we strived to have the best hall as well!

Robert: My strongest memory was when PW played for Singapore Arts Festival in June 2006. It was a long process with lots of rehearsals as we went into a lot of detail in the preparation. I still remember the pieces we performed – Bernstein, Strauss, Casteels.  I tend to look to the future and not look back and listen to the past performances. But in preparation for this concert, I went to watch our concert at Kerkrade in the Netherlands (WMC 2005). My first reaction was “wow! we looked so young.” My second reaction was that we really made great music at a great level. The Kerkrade trip was fun for me because I got to interact with the members and know them better.

What are your thoughts about how this group has grown during your time?

Zechariah: They are bold in attempting and championing new compositions for band and wind ensemble, and they are well equipped with the technical and musical ability. Most importantly, they gave Singaporean Composers a platform to present their works in a friendly and supportive environment.

Tim: PW has grown. So many players have gone professional, they’ve studied abroad, or studied at the highest levels in Singapore, and gone on to become professionals. But in PW, there are still a lot of professional players from the SAF, the universities… and the young players who come and sit next to these really very professional players – their standards have gone up. PW can cope with very difficult music, and it’s wonderful the way they have put it together for their concerts, and put it all over online. It’s been extraordinary watching PW grow.

Robert: Playing in PW is like playing in team sports – one must have a minimum level of technical proficiency and there must be good interaction between the members. In the beginning, it was a small group of members and in time, the interaction and listening between members has grown and matured. There is also a sense of responsibility and members prepare beforehand for every rehearsal. 

Leonard: I strongly feel that there is a lot more ownership today and greater maturity amongst our members who grow throughout the years playing in the organization.

What are some long term goals, dreams, or hopes for PWO?

Zechariah: PWO should continue the good work they have done so far in concert programming, community outreach, composition workshops and reading sessions for Singaporean composers. They should have a 5-years, and 10-years plan to set artistic directions with a focus trajectory in developing the technical and musical skills of their musicians and training the next generation at the same time.

Tim: I hope that PWO will go on developing and making videos, because their videos are great things for the world to see. The sort of programmes they do, and maybe continuing with commissioning, because the new works are very exciting. I also hope they continue to nurture young Singapore composers: they have these programmes where they play a lot of Singapore music, and the influence of the orchestra on the development of music internationally is splendid.

Lionel: Having been more involved in organizational development in the more recent years, I’m especially concerned with the longer-term sustainability of PWO. It’s no mean feat staying afloat while being fiercely independent, and that’s something all of us treasure and will want to preserve. So my long-term dream is for us to be financially self-sufficient, to be able to draw on funding, donations and income sources that are stable and recurring, and to have an organizing team in place so that our musicians can focus on rehearsing and presenting our best music that our audiences have come to love.

Sean: As the group evolves and some of us older members start to reach our prime (old) age, I hope we can continue to enjoy playing music and performing together as a seniors’ band (PW silver band?) to the community. There is nothing to prove, just plain enjoyment of our hobbies together.

Kai Tze: Firstly, the hope that PWO will continue to be a driving force in the local and international arts scene, and secondly, to continue to be a strong advocate for wind band music.

Robert: Keep going, keep going, keep going! For any player to commit to an ensemble, it is an investment in time and energy, so I hope that PWO stays relevant for them and that they find it worthwhile to take that time and spend that energy. It is a tricky balance – it must be musically rewarding (the fun part) that can balance the effort one has to put in it. There is also a social dimension that when you play music together with very different people – everyone should be working towards one common goal and that should form bonds of friendship. 

Leonard: It is my dream and vision that PWO is a place for lifelong learning as well as lifelong engagement and love for music and the arts.

Planet Earth: 20+ Anniversary Gala Concert

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Esplanade Concert Hall, 7.30pm

Tickets: $48, $35, $25

Limited Tickets available here


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.