SembCorp Industries launches its first arts sponsorship programme

Singapore, Sep 06, 2000

SembCorp Industries has launched its first arts sponsorship programme since its formation in October 1998.

This arts sponsorship programme comprises two music projects – a classical music concert presented by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the first recording and production of orchestral works by the local composer Dr Tsao Chieh (1953-1996) on compact discs.

SembCorp Industries will be the sponsor for the concert entitled ""SSO Sounds of Asia Series / Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle"" to be held on September 8 and 9, 2000 at 8.15 pm at the Victoria Concert Hall. SembCorp Industries’ member company, Pacific Internet, is co-sponsor for the same concert.

The first of Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Sounds of Asia series, this concert’s highlight is Singapore, Symphonic Suite for Large Orchestra of Dr Tsao Chieh.

Dr Tsao Chieh, being one of Singapore’s composers of serious music, was also one of the pioneer team that started Pacific Internet.

Subsequent to the concert sponsorship, SembCorp Industries will undertake the main sponsorship for Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s first recording and production of Dr Tsao Chieh’s orchestral works on compact discs.

SembCorp Industries’ Deputy Chairman and CEO Mr Wong Kok Siew said: ""This is our first arts sponsorship project and it underscores our mission – that while we work hard at building our businesses, we must not neglect those around us. We would like to do our bit for the communities we are in.""

Mr Wong, who is also Pacific Internet’s Deputy Chairman, continued: ""Tsao Chieh was one of our senior employees and he helped us establish Pacific Internet. And he was very gifted in music. I feel it is fitting that our first arts sponsorship project is one that not only demonstrates our support for local talent but is also a form of appreciation to one of our colleagues. Tsao Chieh had made a valuable contribution as a member of our company and left behind a legacy of musical works. Through this sponsorship, we hope to bring his works to life for everyone to enjoy.""

Three of Dr Tsao Chieh’s compositions have been selected for the recording – Singapore, Symphonic Suite for Large Orchestra (which will be played at the concert on September 8 and 9), Two Little Pieces for Orchestra and Singapore Artillery March 1988.

The recording and production work will start in mid-September 2000. The compact discs are expected to be released in early 2001. All proceeds from the sale of the discs will be donated to charity.


- END -


Released on September 6, 2000

NB: Accompanying this press release are the profile of Tsao Chieh and the musical notes written by the composer himself on his three compositions.

Media contacts:

Chow Hung Hoeng (Ms)
Senior Executive, Group Corporate Relations
SembCorp Industries
Tel: (65) 3579 152
Fax: (65) 3522 163

Cindy Lim
Marketing Communications Executive
Singapore Symphonia Company
Tel: (65) 336 1448
Fax: (65) 336 6382

About the sponsors

SembCorp Industries is Asia’s foremost engineering services group formed from the merger of STIC – Singapore Technologies Industrial Corporation – and Sembawang Corporation in October 1998. It has two core businesses – infrastructure development and marine engineering. SembCorp Industries has the largest engineering and construction business in Southeast Asia and operates the largest ship repair and conversions yard in East Asia. In Singapore, SembCorp Industries owns the country’s first central multi-utility facility on Jurong Island and the leading environmental engineering services company. Listed on the main board of the Singapore Exchange, SembCorp Industries is a component stock of the Straits Times Index and the Morgan Stanley Capital Index.

A member company of SembCorp Industries, Pacific Internet offers internet services in six countries - Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia, India and Thailand - including internet access, portal sites and the ultimate web lifestyle with the ""4Cs"" - connection, commerce, content and community - under Pacific Internet won the ""Best ISP in Asia-Pacific"" award in 1999 and 2000 from Telecom Asia, and also the ""Best ISP in Singapore"" award for three consecutive years (1997, 1998 and 1999) from ComputerWorld Publications. Pacific Internet is also the first Asian internet service provider to list on the NASDAQ stock exchange (PCNTF).

About the composer
TSAO Chieh ( 1953-1996 )

Tsao was born in Singapore and first studied the piano under Victor Doggett. He was awarded a Singapore Armed Forces scholarship to do engineering at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology). While in England, he was able to attend some orchestration classes, but mostly, his informal musical education was through reading widely and listening to a wide repertory of music. On his return to Singapore in 1975, he worked for MINDEF in various aspects of defence for several years before he was sent to do a PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University in 1980.

It was at Stanford that Tsao found the opportunity to take up composition lessons under Leland Smith and achieved his most cherished ambition, to write serious music. His musical talent was recognised when he won first prize in the Paul and Jean Hanna Music competition with his ""Four Songs from Romantic Poets"". He composed several other pieces for flute, an instrument that he took up during this period of his life. His largest orchestral work, "" Singapore, Symphonic Suite for Large Orchestra"" was completed at this time. This work was subsequently performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in the Arts Festival of 1986. At the end of this period at Stanford University, Tsao obtained his MA in Music Composition, and MSc in Mathematics and his PhD in Electrical Engineering.

On his return to Singapore in 1985, Tsao continued with his career at MINDEF, and then at the Defence Science Organisation. He left to join the then Sembawang Corporation (now known as SembCorp Industries) as technical advisor to the Chairman in 1995, where he helped the company establish Pacific Internet.

In his spare time, Tsao Chieh continued to write several works for orchestra, Stasis, Amidst the Sough of Winds…, amongst others. He was interested in extending the boundaries of the even-tempered scale and worked on various pieces using microtonal tunings for synthesisers and computer. He embarked on a study to use the KYMA and other systems. A few experimental test pieces have been recorded. Tsao planned to eventually put out a collection of computer music on a CD. He had plans to write an opera based on the local legend of Bukit Merah, incorporating new sounds with those of the conventional orchestra. However, this was barely started upon when he discovered that he had a terminal form of cancer. He died at the age of 42.


The idea for composing a symphonic work depicting the history of Singapore came as early as 1982. It was inspired by C.M. Turnbull’s ""A History of Singapore 1819-1975."" The first two movements, Prelude & Fugue, and March, were composed during the first half of 1984. The last three movements were composed during the spring and summer of 1985.

Singapore, Symphonic Suite for large orchestra depicts five historical scenes from the days of Temasek to the founding of our multi-racial Republic. Although each movement is intended to be evocative of some period in the history of Singapore, the work is not strictly programmatic, and is in many respects, a five - movement symphony. Hence, each movement is modelled after a certain musical archetype - Prelude and Fugue, March, Scherzo, Passacaglia, and Finale, and has programmatic sub-titles describing the appropriate period in Singapore’s history.

Stylistically, the work is eclectic in that it draws upon everything from romantic symphony (Finale) to aleatoric techniques (Scherzo). Each movement, however, is consistent within itself and in a cinematic sense, with the period in history it is depicting. It is scored for large orchestra, consisting of triple woodwind, three trumpets, four horns, three trombones, tuba, piano, harp, strings and an extensive percussion section which includes instruments like the glockenspiel, chimes, vibraphone, and a water gong.

Prelude and Fugue ( Temasek )

The first movement begins with a slow introduction (Prelude) which is intended to evoke the Malay fishing village of by-gone days through melismatic woodwind solos over slowly shifting string harmonies. The musical texture gradually becomes more complex and dissonant as memories of Temasek’s bloody past return.

Then a jaunty Fugato begins, depicting the adventures of Sang Nila Utama. Legend says he was ship-wrecked on the island in a storm (the climactic crash on the tam-tam) and espying a beast resembling a lion, named the island Singa-pura. At this point, (l’istesso tempo) the national anthem is first heard in the guise of a quiet, highly chromatic wind chorale, over which fugal figures continue a diatonic interplay. As the anthem fades, the music of Prelude returns. The movement ends softly in a Lydian A major, reminiscent, perhaps, of sand, sea and coconut trees.

March (Colonial Days)

The second movement is a straight-forward March, and is meant to evoke the pomp and circumstance of colonial days. A leaping, strutting tune in G with occasional ""wrong note"" harmonies leads into a lyrical middle section which is in turn, sentimental and melancholy. The first tune returns, leading again into the lyrical section which now takes the form of a grandiose peroration to the movement.

Scherzo (War)

The ebullient mood is shattered suddenly by a sharply dissonant brass chord. Strings and woodwind alternately iterate a terse, angular figure. They are joined first by horns, then trumpets. The angular figure disintegrates into a frenzied improvisation for strings which leads to a climax amidst brass fanfares. A section entitled "" Notturno"" begins, suggesting the stillness of a tropical night broken only by the sound of nocturnal creatures and distant gunfire. Ominously, the battle draws nearer. The music of the first section returns, leading to a big climax. This ""War"" movement takes the place of a symphonic Scherzo in the Suite. It depicts the period of the Second World War when Singapore fell to the Japanese and the music was inspired by Stanley Falk’s "" Seventy Days to Singapore"". The final hammer blows in the orchestra graphically depict General Yamashita slamming his fist on the table as a distraught general Percival capitulates (English Horn wistfully recalling the tune of March.)

Passacaglia ( the Aftermath )

A pedal F-sharp leads into the fourth movement, which is a set of free variations on a ground bass ( Passacaglia ) depicting the aftermath of the invasion. Bleak, angular lines in a strongly dissonant, contrapuntal texture recall the suffering of the people. As a solo bass clarinet plunges into the depths of the orchestra, we are reminded of the darkest moments in our history. A section marked "" Agitato"" begins with syncopated seconds in the strings, suggesting political unrest. This motif is developed and culminates in climactic fanfares between horns and trumpets, recollecting the threat of communism. After the catharsis, an alto flute muses despondently as the pizzicato ground bass makes its last appearance.

Finale ( The Republic)

The fifth movement Finale, is in a sunny C major and cast in sonata form. It is a tone picture of the Republic, a "" multi-racial society living in peace and harmony"". Indeed , the music takes this last statement rather literally. The movement opens with a perky tune reminiscent of an old army song, which immediately appears in counterpoint with the Rasa Sayang. A short transition leads to two statements of Siao Bai Chuan,( Small White Boat ) which form the second subject group. This starts off in waltz time but ends up vacillating between triple and common time as Rasa Sayang derivatives enter into dialogue with the main melody.

The codetta begins with yet another derivative of the Rasa Sayang, which is recalled with fanfare on a pair of trumpets shortly afterwards. Now a figure from the tail-end of the transition - an upward step followed by the downward leap of a sixth - is dressed in lush, chromatic harmonies and greatly augmented as the development begins. Here codetta figures are treated sequentially. Soon the momentum of the sonata-allegro weakens; the music becomes pensive. An episode marked "" Andante religioso"" begins as a solo, muted horn plays a new, long-breathed melody under a shimmering inverted pedal on the violins. This is the "" theme of peace and harmony"", which expresses a fundamental aspiration of the republic. This theme is repeated with fuller harmonization on strings and woodwind. The episode ends with wind chords chiming bi-tonally over an A major pedal in the strings.

The development resumes where it left off, and codetta figures soon start a fugato which leads to a contrapuntal dialogue among motives from the exposition. As first subject fragments are tossed about the brass, the theme of peace and harmony emerges from within the orchestral fabric, maestoso, for the third and last time, lingering nostalgically at the end in a prolonged farewell among strings, horns and woodwinds.

The idyll is rudely interrupted by a pungent brass chord, followed by Passacaglia’s "" communism"" motif chattering over fortissimo string tremolandos. The spectre fades, however, and we are left with an insouciant dominant pedal over which the recapitulation begins. This closely follows the exposition, although the second subject group is shortened. The coda starts off like the codetta, but a modulation to F major prompts a sort of danse joyeaux, which leads to a statement of the national anthem, now triumphant, in the home key.



Two Little Pieces for Orchestra

The ""Two Little Pieces"" were written for the Temasek Junior College orchestra upon the request of its resident conductor Mr Chan Tze Law. The pieces are deliberately written in an easily accessible late-romantic idiom so that they can be mastered in a relatively limited time by a young orchestra. They are, in a way, pieces which I had always wanted to write as a teenager many years ago but which could not be satisfactorily penned down at that time owing to the lack of compositional technique.

The first piece "" Idyll"" is in the key of E major, a favourite among romantic composers and one that I am particularly fond of myself. The piece starts with characteristic pizzicato figurations in the strings over which a rising yearning melody unfolds in the first violins. These first 20 bars or so provide almost all the material with which the movement is composed using Wagnerian techniques of motivic development. After moving in to the tonic minor, the music reasserts itself in major keys while the rising intervals of the opening melody become increasingly prominent. Chromatic figurations finally lead to a catharsis which is built upon the opening figurations. The movement dies away in a hymn-like passage embroidered by solo cello and violin.

""Dance"" is stylistically reminiscent of Grieg and Schumann, and is probably best described as being in abridged sonata form. The first subject group comprises three main portions : the jaunty, opening figures in A minor, a pastoral section characterized by unexpected modulations, and a semi-quaver figuration which acts as a bridge to the second subject. This is a long, flowing melody which modulates to remote keys and which is subsequently embroidered with figuration derived from the first subject group. After reaching a climax, the recapitulation begins with an elliptical version of the first subject group. This leads to a restatement of the second subject on cellos and horns, this time in the tonic major and decorated with semi-quaver figurations from the transition. The piece ends triumphantly with a short coda in A major.


Singapore Artillery Centennial March 1988

This March was written at the request of his friend, the then Chief of Artillery for the centennial celebrations of the Singapore Artillery. A version for the military band exists. The orchestration of this piece was done by Tony Wei, who is director of music at the SAF Music and Drama company.

back to top