My love and fascination with orchestral music was the catalyst for becoming a conductor. As a child I didn't go to the library for books, I went to look at music scores; I just couldn't get enough of them and was so excited to discover a new piece. I wanted to know how the music worked, its structure, the choice of key, the combination of instruments that would produce certain colours and blends of sound.
I'm still curious about music, but intrigued to examine how it will serve society in these challenging and ever changing times. And things really are changing - the modern day classical music landscape is morphing into something quite different from when I started my journey into music. The concert itself is developing and so are the needs of the audience. There are no fast answers or quick fixes, just a commitment to curiosity, creativity, and communication.
What can I offer? How can I use my passion for music to engage? What will the orchestra look like in a decade? How can live music inspire? How can musicians look after themselves and keep well? These are some of the questions that I attempt to answer through the work I do today. It's no longer just about conducting beautiful music, it's also about how we conduct our lives.
Jason Lai is the Principal Conductor at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan, and former Associate Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Hong Kong Sinfonietta. He’s been a prominent figure in Singapore’s musical life since his arrival in 2010, but also active internationally giving masterclasses in Europe and China. He has also guest conducted the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Swan, and Podlasie Opera Philharmonic in Poland. This season he returns to conduct Orchestra of the Swan, Macao Orchestra, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, and debuts with the Osaka Symphony.
Intent on broadening the appeal of classical music to audiences who would not normally think of going into a concert hall, Jason is also building a unique reputation as a communicator with mass appeal through his television appearances in both the UK and Asia. He has frequently appeared on BBC television as a judge in both the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition and the classical talent show “Classical Star”. He reached his widest audience when, as a conducting mentor in the series “Maestro”, his celebrity student, the popular comedienne Sue Perkins, won with a nail-biting final in front of the BBC Concert Orchestra and a live studio audience. Other BBC television appearances have include “How a Choir Works” and “The Culture Show”. Jason also starred in “Clash” for the children’s television channel, CBBC.
Since settling in Singapore he has continued with his television work. He was presenter and conductor for “Project Symphony”, an eight part series for Okto where he was filmed setting up a community orchestra. He has recently been involved in filming for a BBC series “Heart of Asia” which explores the contemporary arts and culture scene in Thailand, Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines, and a further series for BBC World called “Tales from Modern China”.
Jason’s roots lie in Hong Kong but he was born in the UK and was a pupil at the prestigious specialist music school in Manchester, Chetham’s, where he studied cello. At Oxford University he studied both cello and composition, and went on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where he was awarded a Fellowship in Conducting.
Despite having toured as a cellist with the Allegri String Quartet and having been a finalist in the BBC Young Composers Award, Jason gravitated increasingly towards conducting after he won the BBC Young Conductors Workshop in 2002. This led to his appointment as Assistant Conductor to the BBC Philharmonic with whom he made his BBC Proms début in 2003. Following his work with various British orchestras, he was appointed Artist Associate to the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and became their Associate Conductor in 2009. Jason most recently had debuts with the Adelaide Symphony and Macau Orchestra and made return visits to conduct the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Swan.
Education is an important part of Jason’s work in Singapore. At the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory he trains the next generation of conductors, many of whom have had many successes both at home and abroad, and with the SSO he spearheaded the education and outreach programme, helping the orchestra reach new audiences notably through his Discovering Music and Children’s concerts