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Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise

以个人力量推动艺术 by Lianhe Zaobao

October 12, 2020 | Highlights, In The News, UTOPIA Symphony

[English Translation of Article Excerpt]

Two local arts lovers Kris Tan and Michael Tay have individually set up arts foundations to support young, local musical talents, and through music, bring Singapore to the global stage.


Michael Tay: This former ambassador has more to give

In contrast to the focus on individual musical talents at the Kris Foundation, another local founder of an arts foundation – the Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise, aims bring Singapore to the global stage through music.

Adopting the role of a project planner

Former ambassador Michael Tay was stationed in Russia from 2003 to 2008. In his youth, he was a music critic specialising in jazz records. He was also one of the founders of the Singapore International Jazz Festival.

Michael Tay was inspired by his time as ambassador in countries like Japan and South Korea, where art is a way of life, and theatres and concert halls often attract full-house audiences. He feels that Singapore is still a young country with lots of potential in the arts. Hence, in 2013, he set up the Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise after leaving public service, leveraging on his personal local and foreign networks to drive the local arts scene.

As a former public servant, Michael sees himself as a project planner, rather than a philanthropist. To him, cultivation of good relationships between artists and arts patrons is key to a sustainable arts ecosystem. Since 2015, Michael has regularly organised ‘Fridays at Gilstead’ – private parties at a Gilstead Road condominium, where he would invite artists and patrons to network, indulge in art, and discuss ways to collaborate.

“Whenever I have a new idea, I will consult with patrons and organisations regarding their interest. I never ask for big sums. Donations are typically $5k to $10k, just enough to complete the project,” says Michael Tay. “My team is also very lean. We do not have full-time staff, but instead rely mostly on volunteers, which means we are able to drive every cent to projects and artists. Transparency in this area is very important.”

In 2014, The Foundation supported a new local jazz band The Steven McQueens to make an album in London with world-famous producer Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick and to perform at London’s O2 arena, allowing the local band to get noticed on the global stage.

Since its inception, The Foundation has also funded local musicians Charlie Lim and Linying to produce various music projects, allowing them to perform at international festivals.

A symphony composed in honour of Singapore

Michael Tay thinks that a good musical composition can sometimes have greater, and longer-lasting impact and life than a music performance.

“When I was stationed in Russia, I realised that the impression most Russians had of Singapore was just that of a tropical island, a vacation destination. Most had no idea about Singapore’s economic prosperity and modernity.” To change perceptions, Michael decided to commission a world-class Russian composer to write a symphony about Singapore.

In 2004, Michael found Russian composer Vladimir Martynov and invited him to Singapore to experience the country and look for inspiration for the commission. Martynov is an important figure in today’s classical music world whose composition style is heavily influenced by minimalism. He had previously been commissioned to write a film score “The Beatitudes” that became famous through the Italian film La Grande Bellezza.

At the beginning, Michael had hoped for Martynov to write a chamber piece inspired by Singapore. But after Martynov returned to Moscow from his trip to Singapore, he expressed to Michael how he was so moved by Singapore’s prosperity and vibrance, multiculturalism and good social governance, that he was unable to limit his composition to a chamber piece. Instead, Martynov created at 50-minute symphony and choral work.

For the choral parts, Martynov borrowed from the Tao Te Ching, and he named the symphony “SINGAPORE. A Geopolitical Utopia”

In 2005, the symphony premiered in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, allowing many Russians to see Singapore’s face of prosperity and modernity. In 2007, the work was performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in a concert attended by Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew and then President S. R. Nathan. MM Lee had also penned the foreword for the concert booklet.

Releasing a commissioned album

Heading into 2020, The Foundation once again worked with composer Martynov, tweaking the ‘SINGAPORE Symphony’ and renaming it the UTOPIA Symphony. The symphony was recorded and made into an album by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the famous Abbey Road Studios under the baton of maestro Vladimir Jurowski, featuring local young Singapore violinist Loh Jun Hong on the violin solo.

The album will be officially released next month. The Foundation has invited the People’s Association to help promote the album, with the hope that more Singaporeans will get to know this symphony that was created by a world-class composer, conductor, musicians at a world-class recording studio for Singapore.

Looking into the future, Michael Tay has a 10-year plan for a commissioning series where a Singapore composer will be commissioned to write a serious work every year. He hopes to gain the support of multi-national companies, to bring Singapore music to the far reaches of the globe.


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Singaporean Jazz-vocalist Joanna Dong teamed up with composer Chok Kerong to release ‘第一章’ (The First Chapter) on the 24th of September, marking the first in the UTOPIA Reimagined series “The Series” – which will see four artists reimagining a symphony written by Russian composer Vladimir Martynov and recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jazz Vocalist Joanna Dong Releases Single Inspired by Symphony about Singapore

Press Release: Singaporean jazz singer Joanna Dong’s new single titled 《第一章》will be released on 24 September on major digital platforms, the first in the UTOPIA Reimagined Series (“the Series”) – an initiative by the Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise (“The Foundation”) that will see four artists reimagine a symphony inspired by Singapore, written by a Russian composer and recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO).

Robb Report Singapore’s Thought Leaders of 2021

Michael Tay’s early interest in philosophy has profoundly shaped the way he thinks about issues and trends – simultaneously teaching him how to seek underlying motivations and causes in the area of problem-solving. This, together with his passion for the arts and its place in society, led to the genesis of Foundation for the Arts and Social Enterprise, which aims to pin Singapore’s art scene onto the world map.