ONE GREAT SYMPHONY / Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Concert / Review


Goh Soon Tioe Centenary

SCO Conference Hall

Tuesday (30 August 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 September with the title "Tribute to a Singapore legend".

It is easy to forget our history amidst the rapid pace of life in Singapore. Whenever we enjoy the sumptuous string sound of the Singapore Symphony and local youth orchestras, it would be apt to remember the pioneering work of Goh Soon Tioe (1911-1982). He was the foremost violin teacher from the 1940s through 70s, besides multitasking as performer, conductor, luthier and impresario.

His students represent a Who’s Who of Singapore music, including Choo Hoey, Lee Pan Hon, Seow Yit Kin, Lynnette Seah, Kam Kee Yong and Lim Soon Lee amongst many others. They in turn mentored the movers and shakers of music today, but how many people younger than middle-age remember his name?

Goh Soon Tioe and some of his illustrious students: (Clockwise) Goh, Choo Hoey, Kam Kee Yong, Seow Yit Kin, Lynette Lim, Lim Soon Lee, Lynnette Seah & Vivien Goh

This concert, uniting alumni from the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra, was a timely celebration of his centenary. The centrepiece of the evening was a 40-minute film by Cheng Lai Yee documenting Goh’s life as a starving student in pre-War Europe to his legacy as master pedagogue. One is challenged not to be touched by his passion and dedication to his students, several of whom were reduced to tears in their interviews.

As for the performances, how would the arch-perfectionist and strict disciplinarian in Goh have responded when Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor grounded to a halt in the slow movement? Perhaps with words of comfort and encouragement, as the ensemble of mostly amateur musicians picked itself up to complete the piece, and went on to play works by Dell’Abaco, Mozart and Vaughan Williams with conviction and without further hitches.

There was an air of informality, like family birthday gatherings, with Goh’s second daughter Vivien Goh directing the proceedings with much congeniality. His eldest daughter, flaming redhead Sylvia Goh-Luse, was an equally proud stalwart in the cellos, also providing a steadying influence.

The future of Singapore music: Seah Huan Yuh, Jonathan Ong, Yang Shuxiang & Beatrice Lin (From L to R)

The other performances came from one of Goh’s youngest students Lynette Lim, now a successful teacher herself, and her students. Lim and Seah Huan Yuh mastered the tricky cross-rhythms of Martinu’s Sonatine, also blending amiably with Jonathan Ong in three light pieces by Shostakovich, both accompanied by pianist Beatrice Lin.

The most stunning performance came from another Lim student Yang Shuxiang, whose command of Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs was hair-raising. These young talents are the bright future of Singapore music, a future made possible by the vision of Goh Soon Tioe.