Orchestra for Myanmar ready to tango
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.
The orchestra practices in advance of tonight’s performance.