A royal classic

HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana talks about her support and vision for the leading symphony orchestra of Thailand

RH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana with the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. (Photos by Patipat Janthong)

Clad in an elegant white suit, Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the youngest daughter of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, was seen enthusiastically monitoring rehearsals by the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) prior to last Friday’s Romantic Variations, the 2019 opening season concert in honour of HM the King. Entrusted by her royal father to oversee the Royal Patronage of the RBSO Foundation since last year, her tireless efforts ensure that RBSO is progressing towards excellence and a world-class reputation.

The multi-talented 32-year-old Princess is a fashion designer, a badminton player and an equestrian (dressage). Her passions and talents extend beyond fashion and sports to classical music, with a particular fondness for the baroque and classic periods.

The Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation was established in 1982, giving birth to the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (BSO) which went on to flourish. It was renamed the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra in 2016 and placed under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana in April last year. Presently, Harald Link of B.Grimm is chairman of the foundation.

The RBSO represents Thailand as a cultural ambassador both locally and internationally. It performs classical, operatic, musicals, popular music and contemporary Thai music concerts, and has successfully brought many internationally renowned soloists and orchestras to perform in Thailand.

HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana has expressed a strong desire to help the RBSO become a truly world-class orchestra. She regards music as a universal language and a “soft power”, which promotes good understanding and relations beyond boundaries, languages, traditions and cultures. For Her Royal Highness, having a world-class orchestra is a symbol of cultural development.

The Princess is serious about making the RBSO the best it can be by ensuring that it has passionate and dedicated full-time members who meet international standards. The orchestra must also incorporate modern methodologies and new communication channels to make classical music accessible to all, promoting programmes that help raise its profile among the younger generation.

In 2019, the RBSO plans to perform 30 concerts throughout the year to entertain audiences of different types and enable its musicians to hone their skills and gain experience. These are the Great Artists Concert Series at the Main Hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre, 13 concerts featuring internationally-renowned guest soloists; eight Concerts In The Park; six concerts at the Small Hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre; and three ballet performances. The RBSO performs both as a big orchestra and a small band with the aim of attracting a wider range of listeners in Thailand.

In addition, HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana has established the Audition Committee to promote young musicians and help them maximise their potential. She aids the RBSO in entering alliances with local and international orchestras, forming collaborative networks to better the quality of concerts.

The Princess spoke to Life about her vision for steering the RBSO towards excellence.

Q: What is your vision for the development of the RBSO?

A: I am both an active patron and director of the RBSO. I am also the chair of the Artistic Committee which oversees musicians, music programmes and all events. We decide which famous guest artists to invite to perform with the orchestra over the next two years.

We have set goals for the orchestra to go as far as possible. Passion, dedication, teamwork, discipline, community and family are our keywords for success. The RBSO is the orchestra that I grew up with. It has been around for a long time and we want it to move forward, making classical music accessible to all.

A big goal for the orchestra is to become the best in the Asia Pacific region -- at the same level as Japan’s NHK orchestra. After that, when we become internationally famous, we must embark on world tours and exchange programmes. We want to have enough pull to invite the world’s most outstanding artists to perform with us, as well as exchange our musicians with those of other orchestras.

We are doing things step by step, setting clearer rules, having more auditions. In the auditions, we listen to applicants playing behind a screen -- so-called “blind” auditions -- with only scorecards with a number marking system for making assessments and additional comments. We organise an orchestral repertoire for the musicians and also a sight-reading test for those applying for the concertmaster position. We inform them about sight-readings so there are few surprises. We judge based on sound and education. Now the orchestra has two concertmasters and two teams -- A and B -- which are classified based on their audition results and called according to the listing.

Q: Is your aim for the orchestra to become truly world-class?

A: It has to be. The musicians are not just playing in a big orchestra, they must be able to perform all genres of music. Everyone must develop their skills, because audiences in Thailand listen to different types of music, not just classical.

Q: Do you play music? If so, what instruments do you play? And who are your favourite composers?

A: I play piano. I used to play the violin and the jakhe [Thai zither]. Now I am back on the piano. I love music and like a lot of composers, but my favourites are Chopin and Debussy for classical music, and Ludovico Einaudi and Olafur Arnalds for contemporary music.

Q: How long before you expect the orchestra to become truly world-class?

A: Let’s look long term and give ourselves 10 years. But it could be as soon as five years, or even three if we can progress in a speedy manner.

Q: Do you look at foreign orchestras as examples for the RBSO to follow?

A: I have been to several concerts. I just visited Vienna and am going to Paris, Berlin and Belgium. We ask Thai embassies overseas to notify us about any interesting musical activities so that we can mark the dates. When attending a concert, I prefer to be seated in a central box to ensure good acoustics. The most recent concert I attended was by pianists Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim. I try to watch 2-3 concerts a month. When in France, I go to various places. For example, I recently went to an event which featured Gustav Klimt’s paintings and music from various periods, from baroque to contemporary. It was very interesting.

I am the first person to encourage the RBSO to combine classical music and fashion. At first, I used small bands. My inspiration was the Chanel Spring/Summer 2007 collection, which was inspired by Le Jardin des Tuileries. After that, Burberry, Dior and Dior Homme did it. I wanted to do it as well. Dior Homme selected good-looking musicians, all string instrument players, who were seated in a long row wearing Dior Homme suits and sneakers. The music and lighting were good. Now, it’s popular around the world. Thailand has done it but not at full steam yet. We have begun to do more difficult things by presenting fewer instruments in more and more exotic and Thai ways.

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