In Conversation: Noella Yan, Cellist, Artistic Director of Bridges Collective

“…one example of how the cultures are bridged through our work, Australian musicians would have had to understand the history behind the music about Chek Jawa and Bukit Brown, as well as the history and celebration of Singapore’s independence through the national day songs in our commissioned works.”
Noella Yan, Artistic Co-Director, Cellist


This may well be your last chance to celebrate Singapore’s 50th in 2015 thanks to Bridges Collective. We were fortunate enough to steal a short interview with Noella Yan, Cellist and Co-Artistic Director, from their busy schedule in preparation for the upcoming concert, ‘Our Island Home’. Noella joined the Bridges Collective at the end of 2014 and have been working on conceiving and developing ‘Our Island Home’, the Australia-Singapore Friendship multi-media concert set to take place at the Lee Foundation Theatre on Saturday 19th December 2015 at 7.30pm. The non-profit Melbourne-based Australian-Singaporean ensemble specialises in creating and performing new intercultural, cross-genre music; think of it as a mesh of Australian-Singaporean tunes, composers, musicians, arrangements, instruments! This time in Singapore, they have brought together composers and musicians to celebrate the 50 years of friendship between Singapore and Australia! So if you enjoy new classical music, Australia, Singapore and a party, you should not miss this one!


Tell us a bit about the Bridges Collective.
Noella: Bridges Collective is a Melbourne-based Australian-Singaporean ensemble which specialises in creating and performing new intercultural, cross-genre music. Its mission is to foster cross-cultural exchange in the Asia-Pacific region by bringing together composers and musicians from different cultures to collaborate on, produce and perform new music.

Each concert is curated by our artistic directors to feature a specific focus culture or genre of music. Performers and composers from the focus country with vast intercultural experience are solicited and collaborate to produce concert programmes that are collective distillations of our artists’ talents, experiences and life journeys. These unique collaborations have resulted in a growing body of nuanced and exquisite new intercultural musical compositions that we have had the privilege of presenting in our concerts.

Every 2-3 years, Bridges Collective also spearheads a cultural exchange programme in which our associate artists participate in workshops and conduct masterclasses for young musicians from partner countries in institutions of higher learning in the Asia-Pacific region.

How did ‘Our Island Home’ come about?
Noella: This project came about as 2015 celebrates the 50th year of Singapore’s independence and also 50 years of Australian-Singaporean Friendship. Our aim was to celebrate the coming of age of Singaporean music and musicians in Singapore’s 50th year both at home and abroad. The idea of this friendship concert was also to share our celebrations with Australian friends through collaboration by Australian and Singaporean composers. The title ‘Our Island Home’ came from the striking parallel of 2 popular songwriters, Christine Anu (Australia) and Joshua Wan (Singapore), who both independently produced hit songs with very similar content about their respective countries entitled “My Island Home”. As an ensemble founded by individuals from both countries, the project therefore has a very special meaning for Bridges Collective.

What’s the relationship like between the musicians of the Bridges Collective?
Noella: We are a scalable ensemble and depending on the nature of our project, we get to meet and play with a variety of musicians, both western and ethic. As with any ensemble/organisation, we all have our differences and strengths we bring to each rehearsal, particularly their own style and interpretations. This, however, keeps things exciting and interesting, and over time, we have learnt to work well together as a team.

How long has the event been running? Is this the first year and if so do you see it gaining momentum? Why are you holding it? What are your aims?
Noella: This is the first year that we are embarking on a project of such nature and scale, wherein the concerts span several venues and across two continents. The event has been running since August starting with our first concert at The Parliament House in Canberra in August as part of the Singapore High Commission’s National Day celebrations. Since then, we have also performed in Melbourne in October, to be followed by our concert here in Singapore on the 19 December. As part of our education outreach, we will conclude this project with a concert at the Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia where our artistes will also be conducting masterclasses for the students. Our projects are mostly short term and as such we don’t see it gaining momentum. However, we certainly hope that with each project, it opens doors to the next one and that we will continue to have future collaborations of such a nature between Australian and Singaporean musicians.

Our aim for this project was to bridge the Singaporean and Australian cultures through the collaboration between artistes from both nations. As but one example of how the cultures are bridged through our work, Australian musicians would have had to understand the history behind the music about Chek Jawa and Bukit Brown, as well as the history and celebration of Singapore’s independence through the national day songs in our commissioned works. During the performances, the audience, which would have comprised of many different nationalities residing in Australia and not just Australians, would have the opportunity to discover the same through the programme synopsis and presentations.

What sort of audience has your events attracted in the past and what numbers do you expect for this one?
Noella: Individuals from all walks of life and ideally a full house (????)!

What is your target audience?
As this concert is a friendship concert, there isn’t really a specific target audience. We’d love for anyone and everyone to come share in this collaborative effort between Australian and Singaporean musicians, and to hear for the first time two Singapore premieres by Bernard Tan and John Sharpley.

What’s your most memorable and/or favourite part of this particular project?
Noella: Being a part of this project has opened my eyes to a myriad of things, from the technical challenges that arise during rehearsals working with cross cultural instruments, to the different ways in which we approach interpretation and interact in rehearsals. What has been memorable of this project is the fusion ensemble set up for our commissioned works which hold many surprises along the way. Not only do we learn to exchange musical ideas but this particular project has enabled me to discover, bridge and also appreciate cultural differences through music and personal interactions.

Brenna Wee (Artistic Co-Director, pianist):
What I am really enjoying about this project is interacting with musicians from different ethnic traditions, in particular from the Indian and Chinese traditions, both in Australia and in Singapore. Not only do we exchange on a musical level, we also learn about each others’ cultures through personal interactions and it is a really rewarding and enriching experience. Music is a universal bridge between gulfs of language and culture. In music, you hear the voice of a place, a history and the sounds of life within a particular civilisation. In some sense this is more intimate than words. It brings us together in a special way and this is what makes this project meaningful for me.

Alex (Director of Communications, visual artist):
Doing a project like this is a challenging process that really forces you to confront your limitations, your expectations and your own comfort zone. There is always something unexpected; even in the most ordinary of things, and one of the insights that is most vivid for me is the realisation of how rich and simultaneously fragile human relationships are. As the Director of Communications for Bridges, I learnt that it was not just about communicating across cultures, but that even within a single culture, small differences matter. At the end of the day it’s about connecting with people, whether through music, art or even just an everyday conversation. Our project ends but the bridges we build continue.

I see some of you taking on double roles in Bridges Collective; managerial and as musicians. Is that tough? Is there any advice you’ll like to give musicians out there?
Noella: It has certainly been tough. This project has been by far been the biggest project all three of us on the core team have taken on, especially given that each of us hold day jobs and have to juggle this alongside family commitments. We do our best to help each other out and are thankful for the tremendous support (and patience!) from our wonderful families.

My advice to other musicians would be to acquire basic business skills in writing proposals, organising and managing small teams, budgeting and reporting…before embarking on any project! I have also learnt that confidence is built by taking calculated risks, being proactive and keeping a positive outlook throughout.

What was the hardest part planning for such an event?
Noella: Finding time for all the administrative work!

Will there be a sequel?
Noella: Given that this concert series is in commemoration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary, there won’t be a sequel. However, we will continue to work on further cultural exchanges in our new 1°N (One Degree North) initiative.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years time?
Noella: It’s hard to know what will happen within these next 5-10 years. What I do know is that I hope to have met with many others who share the same passion to collaborate on new projects, both musically and philanthropically. I’ll also begin a new concert season with Trio Anima Mundi next year and it’ll be exciting to embark on new projects with them. What’s important to me is continuing to learn new things, hone my skills on what I already know and maintaining a good work life balance.

Anything else you’ll like to add?
Noella: Hope to see all of you at the concert!

How can interested individuals get in touch with you?
Noella: You can find us at or on our facebook page For more info, you can email us at

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Melodie Ng
Melodie Ng, Melodie graduated from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. She loved riding the pirate ship at Fun World in Parkway Parade. Melodie rings handbells and plays percussion. When the weather gets cooler, she enjoys taking long dog walks, penny boarding and a good green tea frappe at ECP.
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