Established in 1979 by former Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong (then Minister for Culture), the Cultural Medallion is given to the country’s most prominent artists in the fields of dance, theatre, literature, music, photography, art and film. Gwen Pew talks to this year’s three recipients, who received their awards at the end of last month, to find out about their career highlights and what’s next for them.
23 Oct 2013:
Born in 1963, Heng graduated with a law degree from the National University of Singapore but soon decided that his true calling in life was theatre. He went on to build up an impressive resume working with everyone from local theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun to the Hong Kong Tang’s Opera Troupe, and flirting with ballet and Shakespeare in between it all. The awards poured in, and the actor-director founded W!ld Rice in 2000, which is now one of the largest theatre companies in Singapore.
Career highlight: ‘[When I was] creative director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. When the cauldron burst into flames at the Opening Ceremony, it was a dream come true. It put Singapore on the world map.’
Looking ahead: ‘In the immediate future, I will be directing a new production of Jack & the Bean-Sprout, our holiday blockbuster musical for all the family. We’re also in the process of lining up a season celebrating 2015 and we are also planning to restart our Young and W!LD division to nurture aspiring theatre professionals.’
As the music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, conductor laureate of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and music director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Yeh is the first person to be leading a major Chinese and Western symphony orchestra simultaneously. Born in Shanghai in 1950, he joined the SCO in 2002 and has since taken the company from strength to strength with his innovative vision, with numerous performances every month.
Career highlight: ‘It was my honour to be appointed the music director for Singapore’s National Day Parade 2007. There were many firsts in this event which was truly a memorable moment for myself and for the nation. It was Singapore’s first NDP at the Marina Bay floating platform, the first to feature a combined orchestra of our nation’s national orchestras (the SCO and SSO), have a conductor as music director and feature local classical vocalists.’
Looking ahead: ‘Three directions for SCO – to soar to new heights (go international), to drive forward (be innovative in our programmes) and depth (to engage and serve the community).’
Mohamed Latiff Mohamed
A prolific writer who often centres his works on the struggles faced by the Malay community after Singapore gained its independence, Mohamed, 63, has produced a number of influential poems, short stories and novels. He is a three-time winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and some of his most notable works include Confrontation and Ziarah Cinta.
Career highlight: ‘One that I remember vividly is the World Congress of Poets that I attended in Seoul, South Korea in 2002. The people there greeted us with great warmth and respect. They would crowd around and follow us while we visited the city. Such was the reception that it seemed to me that the people of Korea gave great honour to people whom we call “poets”.’
Looking ahead: ‘To be able to translate all my works into English to be read worldwide.’