Hubert Burda Media

International Women’s Day Special: Odile Benjamin (1of4)

As we celebrate women this month, we speak to a multi-hyphenate with an ambition to make classical music accessible.

ODILE BENJAMIN

Through her SSO fundraisers, she helps bust the perception that classical music is inaccessible to the masses

It’s only morning, but Odile Benjamin has had a busy day. First, there was a situation with her domestic help, then a medical check-up for her youngest daughter, Rayna and now this interview with Prestige. Simply call it a day’s work for the multi-hyphenate who says that achieving a balance in life, is really about prioritising.

“As a general rule, family comes first. But on a day-to-day basis, it can be difficult to live this way, so the key lies in deciding what needs my attention the most. Today, it was my daughter,” explains the mother of four, who is divisional CEO and co-creative director fashion dynamics at FJ Benjamin.

With her daughter well and taken care of, she now turns her attention to her work as chairlady of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) Ladies League, a position she has held for 12 years — the subject of today’s interview.

“Classical music has always been a part of my life. Growing up, my dad often visited Russia and came back with classical music tapes. We would listen to it together. Even though I’m not musically inclined nor [do I] play any instruments, I enjoy music tremendously,” says Benjamin, who also sits on the SSO board.

Hoping to share this passion, she suggested giving its annual benefit dinner a spin not long after joining the Ladies League. “Some people may find classical music boring, intimidating and unapproachable — I wanted to change that,” she shares. This she did by bringing in a singer to perform Broadway tunes alongside the orchestra that first year. “It was a hit and we raised a record amount of money, close to a million,” says Benjamin, whose own favourite classical composition is Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 “.

“The dinners became popular and we managed to reach out to a new group of people — those who never followed the orchestra before. This is what we wanted,” she says. 

The league has taken a similar approach when organising their benefit galas ever since and have, in the process, demonstrated that music isn’t bound by genres. Just last year, the orchestra performed a seven-minute medley of songs from The Sound of Music, in line with the gala’s theme of reminiscing one’s childhood. “It was beautifully done and the orchestra received a standing ovation,” Benjamin says with pride.

Next month, the SSO will host its 2017 fundraiser themed Café Society, featuring American cabaret music performed by the orchestra. Proceeds will go towards the orchestra’s community outreach programmes.

“It is quite a stretch for a classical orchestra but they are enthusiastic about it. They don’t get paid for this initiative and do it in the name of charity. It’s something we appreciate very much,” she says.