Interview: OMM Restarts! | The OMM Management Team
Following the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Sept 3 announcement that there would be small-scale performances with live audience in a move towards the reopening of live performance venues, professional arts organisations such as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Singapore Dance Theatre have planned their pilot trials after months of online performances and broadcasts. This Sunday sees one of Singapore’s volunteer orchestras, Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM), present the Live Pilot Performance OMM Restarts! at the Singapore Conference Hall.
Aileen Tang talks to the OMM Management team to find out more about how they have navigated around the pandemic and closing of performance venues.
The Flying Inkpot: There has been a lot in the news about how the pandemic has affected the livelihood of professional artists. What has been the impact on OMM, which is largely a volunteer orchestra?
OMM: As a volunteer orchestra, we are fortunate in the sense that we don’t have full time salaries to pay, but it has been heartbreaking to watch the effect of the pandemic on the livelihood of professional artists.
We took the chance during the circuit breaker period to upskill our management team via free online courses, restructure our organisation and also work through some of our archival recordings. Quite a number of these were recorded without the intention of a public release, but we managed to do some work on them so they can be presented in a way which works for a digital audience – albeit with some limitations. We were also able to take the time to work through our recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre which we had performed in January. We are very pleased and excited that it is almost ready and will be released soon.
TFI: We hear that OMM recently did a new recording, to be premiered next month. Why did OMM decide on a recording rather than a live stream?
OMM: We recorded an all-string programme at the end of August, and felt that it was an opportune moment for our musicians to gain a new experience – performing within the rigour of a studio recording. This is something which we have never been able to do before, for financial reasons, and was only made possible by the NAC’s Digital Presentation Grant.
Many things can go wrong in a live stream (especially technical ones), and it requires your audience to be present at a media device at a specific time to watch a live stream. It seemed to us that people prefer to consume media at their own time, and enjoy this flexibility.
TFI: What were the biggest challenges in preparing for and executing the recording? Can you share with us what were some of the sentiments of the musicians?
OMM: Many of the challenges involved having a very short lead time to plan. We usually plan programmes a year and a half or two years in advance. This was planned within four weeks – from booking of the venue and scheduling, to forming the orchestra. To top things off, we also commissioned a new work from Jonathan Shin and several arrangements.
The years of experience in organising concerts helped, as we managed to pull all of these together in record time, while working with our venue partners about implementing orchestra-specific safe management measures.
Some musicians were definitely rusty too. We usually perform every three to four months, but it had been a good eight months without a concert or ensemble activity – and it wasn’t like they could have performed with other groups either! It was important to have some time devoted to letting all the musicians get used to playing together again and having one meter between the string players.
TFI: So OMM is going to be playing to a live audience this month as part of a pilot trial – the 1st live performance by a full western orchestra in Singapore since the circuit breaker! Why do you think this honour, responsibility and duty has fallen on OMM? And what prompted OMM to go ahead with it?
OMM: The Singapore Chinese Orchestra played two shows in September to a live audience – and we are glad to be performing in their hall (Singapore Conference Hall), as their staff and crew are familiar with the safe management measures required. When NAC asked if we were interested to be part of the pilot live performances, it was an easy decision for us to say yes, and we had a repertoire from the August recording project which we could perform – this time for a live audience.
TFI: OMM has worked with many illustrious soloists and the upcoming pilot will be the 2nd time cellist Qin Li-Wei will be sharing the stage with OMM. Can you tell us more about that?
OMM: We had a great time performing Ho Chee Kong’s Passage – Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra at the 2012 edition of the Singapore Arts Festival. We had always looked for opportunities to work with him again, and are delighted to have found this opportunity to perform with him again. He will be playing Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major for this concert.
TFI: The pandemic has led many artists and arts organisations to turn to digitisation. Does OMM see the digital medium as a resigned placeholder until live performances fully resume, or as limitless possibilities for the arts in the modern age?
OMM: We don’t think this is something necessarily related to the arts – physical marketing, retail, and many other industries have all received a strong push to move towards digitisation.
We envisage that there will be a mixture of digital and live performances even when full halls are allowed again. There are many possibilities which each medium provides, and they are indeed complementary in many ways. We have actually seen some of this through the advent of recorded music – where concerts were recorded for posterity, and audience members could relive the experience through their hi-fi sets and headphones, and subsequently through YouTube and “Digital Concert Hall” type experiences.
TFI: OMM has been lauded for being groundbreaking and almost fearless in bringing us some of the most talked-about productions. How does OMM see its role in the reopening of the arts sector in Singapore?
OMM: At this point, we don’t have any particular ambitions except to just do our part, together with other organisations and artists, to catalyse the resumption of music-making. We see this as absolutely essential to the sustainability of music-making as an art form, and to the development of Singapore’s arts and cultural sector. We are in unprecedented times, and many artists and musicians have had to confront existential questions in recent months.
We hope to help light a small spark of hope, that we are all cautiously taking small but sure steps towards the reopening of this sector.
NAC’s Live Performance Pilot OMM Restarts! plays on Sunday 11 Oct at 5pm and 8pm at the Singapore Conference Hall. The programme, which features cello soloist Qin Li-Wei and includes the premiere of OMM’s commissioned work by Jonathan Shin, will be conducted by Maestro Chan Tze Law.
Very limited tickets are available at $10 from firstname.lastname@example.org