Meet Hans Graf, polyglot, part-time wine connoisseur and member of the Robb Report Singapore Thought Leaders community
The world has asked many times over: “Are conductors really necessary?” Hans Graf, Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, answers: “Each musician has a vision of what they play; 100 people do not form one personality. A conductor needs to give an artistic vision to a piece of music. If conductors are really proven as unnecessary, no one will have a conductor in 20 years.
“Our job, with a very religious word, is a vocation. It needs talent, endurance, perseverance.”
Graf has conducted over 1,500 concerts, leading world-renowned orchestras like the Houston Symphony. “Conductors learn brutally by doing. You learn with each concert and it never stops. With the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, we’re always learning together and from each other, we just don’t call it learning anymore – it’s a mutual inspiration,” he reflects.
Not all was smooth-sailing for Graf: he recalls a time he did not land an orchestra in 1992.
“I had a lady manager in my first 20 years. She said: ‘My husband always said if something is not good, wait, it can turn out to be good.’ Setbacks can often reposition someone to rethink and do something better. Back then, I thought I was too young, it’s not right for me. Ten years later, I got this orchestra.”
And at 73 years of age, the maestro has no fears. “I don’t fear sickness or disability, I don’t fear death. It just comes. If I had to have one, I fear my age will one day stop me from conducting ever again. But this isn’t a fear, it’s just a day in people’s lives when they retire.”
The great maestro is also a polyglot (he is fluent in five languages) and part-time wine connoisseur. “Anyone who knows me knows that I like wine, it’s a wonderful thing, a great pleasure. Great wine is like great art – it takes wonderfully skilled and complicated people to make it better, like great artists and technicians.”
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Photography by Singapore Symphony Orchestra