Orches­tra for Myan­mar ready to tango

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - DOU­GLAS LONG d.long@mm­times.com

THE Mon­soon Arts Fes­ti­val shifts its at­ten­tion from the vis­ual arts to mu­sic this week with a con­cert by the Orches­tra for Myan­mar tonight at the Yan­gon Gallery. The orches­tra was founded in 2014 by Bri­tish vi­o­lin­ist and con­duc­tor Se­bas­tian See-Schieren­berg, who had moved to Myan­mar when his wife was posted to work at the Bri­tish Coun­cil in Yan­gon.

“I was think­ing there was not go­ing to be any­thing for me to do here as a clas­si­cal vi­o­lin­ist, but I was very wrong be­cause there’s a huge string-play­ing tra­di­tion [in Myan­mar], I think started by the mis­sion­ar­ies. The Karen and the Kachin play in church ev­ery week,” See-Schieren­berg told The Myan­mar Times ear­lier this week.

“I started vol­un­teer­ing as a teacher try­ing to raise the stan­dard and con­trib­ute some kind of train­ing, and af­ter that I got the idea of try­ing to start an orches­tra train­ing pro­gram called the Orches­tra for Myan­mar.”

The aim was to bring to­gether dif­fer­ent groups of mu­si­cians who had pre­vi­ously played sep­a­rately, in­clud­ing those from gov­ern­ment-run in­sti­tu­tions and non-gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions who had long har­boured mu­tual sus­pi­cions of one an­other.

“It was the right mo­ment to start a train­ing pro­gram open to all in­sti­tu­tions, to bring ev­ery­one to­gether, with mu­sic as a sym­bol of peace, and to start prac­ti­cal, in­ter­na­tional-level train­ing, which was not avail­able for a long time be­cause the coun­try was quite closed,” Se­bas­tian See-Schieren­berg said.

The orches­tra was formed with 20 core mem­bers aged 18 to 28, rep­re­sent­ing the most ad­vanced play­ers from var­i­ous univer­si­ties, schools and non-gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties in Myan­mar. Af­ter months of re­hearsals, the group held its first con­cert at the Na­tional Theatre in Yan­gon in Jan­uary 2015.

“Sur­pris­ingly, we got phe­nom­e­nal in­ter­est. We got an au­di­ence of 2000 peo­ple, and we got a me­dia reach of 7 mil­lion. That re­ally brought home the fact that there was a lot of in­ter­est in young peo­ple in Myan­mar, in cul­tural de­vel­op­ment, and in the way we were try­ing to de­velop West­ern mu­sic and also Myan­mar mu­sic, bring­ing it all to­gether,” Se­bas­tian See-Schieren­berg said.

Shortly af­ter the con­cert, the Orches­tra for Myan­mar was of­fered a 10-year spon­sor­ship by the Marga Youth Foun­da­tion based in Hong Kong.

“Ten years is a re­ally good span to de­velop the young mu­si­cians of Myan­mar … [and ] get­ting them to a stan­dard where maybe they can be cul­tural am­bas­sadors for Myan­mar one day,” he said, adding that in ad­di­tion to train­ing its 20 core mem­bers, the orches­tra also in­vites other or­gan­i­sa­tions to send mu­si­cians they feel can ben­e­fit from the pro­gram.

He said the orches­tra is also at­tract­ing in­ter­est from in­ter­na­tional mu­si­cians keen to vol­un­teer their time and ex­per­tise to help with the train­ing.

“Next April, we have a team from the BBC sym­phony orches­tra com­ing, who have vol­un­teered to men­tor the orches­tra and per­form with them. So our men­tors keep get­ting more and more high-pro­file. I’m very happy about how it’s de­vel­op­ing,” he said.

Tonight’s per­for­mance at the Yan­gon Gallery fea­tures guest soloists from the Taipei Mae­stro Orches­tra in Tai­wan, in­clud­ing con­duc­tor I-Chun Hsieh, pi­anist I-Chun Huang, vi­o­lin­ist Hsiang-Yu Liu, vi­o­list Pei Hs­ing Hsu and cel­list Wei-Yu Huang. They will be joined by ac­cor­dion­ist Rodger French from the United States.

The reper­toire will in­clude tango mu­sic by Ar­gen­tinean com­poser As­tor Pi­az­zolla, as well as clas­si­cal mu­sic com­posed by Joseph Haydn, An­tonin Dvo­rak and Lud­wig van Beethoven.

“We like to give a bit of va­ri­ety to the au­di­ence,” Se­bas­tian See-Schieren­berg said. “We don’t like to force West­ern clas­si­cal down any­one’s throats. We want it to be a nice va­ri­ety that ev­ery­one is go­ing to en­joy.”

The Orches­tra for Myan­mar Pow­ered by Marga Youth Foun­da­tion per­forms at the Yan­gon Gallery to­day at 5pm and 7pm. The gallery is lo­cated in Peo­ple’s Park near the Plan­e­tar­ium Mu­seum off Ahlone Road.

Pho­tos: Face­book/Orches­tra for Myan­mar

The orches­tra prac­tices in ad­vance of tonight’s per­for­mance.

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