This article was published in December 2014; here are our favourite excerpts. Photos courtesy of Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.
When a group of music graduates, music teachers, amateur musicians and music lovers approached Atchara Tejapaibul to set up a professional orchestra, it was only with a few key serendipitous factors that the current Bangkok Symphony Orchestra took shape.
For one, Atchara happened to be the ideal candidate to get things done, as she mirrored many Thais’ experience with Western classical music at the time – she had grown up educated mainly in the Thai arts, and her appreciation for Western music only blossomed as she grew older. At the time her love of music took flight, she lived in London as a trainee with Chartered Bank (now Standard Chartered Bank).
Current patron and director Nunthinee Tanner (also managing director of Thai luxury lifestyle group LBG), who joined the board at Atchara’s urging, echoed this experience, having been exposed to opera in her early 20s. “From the first moment I really enjoyed and understood, I fell in love with opera… it’s high art. I really enjoyed how they sing, there are no words.”
In addition, Atchara had a deep familial connection with international philanthropist and arts patron, Dr Udane Tejapaibul, her brother-in-law through her late husband, Uthai. They would become the catalyst for the setup of the BSO.
A Mission and a Vision
Dr Udane had long been involved in many charitable foundations, ranging from religious organisations to welfare, healthcare and educational funds. With Atchara at his side, he structured the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation as a non-profit organisation with an impressive list of members of the board of directors, who also appreciated culture.
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn also graciously bestowed his royal patronage to the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation (BSOF) with a donation of 10 million baht. The dedicated directors on the board similarly gave from their own pockets, with a spirit of art appreciation, something Atchara felt was central to the sustainability and growth of the BSO.
After 21 years of chairmanship, Dr Udane stepped down and Dr Sukum Navapan carried on the mission, and still does to this day. The BSO grew in leaps and bounds: at the beginning, the BSO performed four times a year; in 2015, they were scheduled to give over 30 performances. Fundraising through corporate and private donors is now their main source of income. (Unlike nearby Singapore’s national orchestra, the BSO receives no government support.)
The BSOF has weathered its fair share of financial storms. For one, it was shaken by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, as many businesses and nonprofits that relied upon donations were.
The foundation survived, thanks to the persistence of its chairman and its board of directors, who continued to fund the organisation out of a sincere appreciation for the fine arts. Nunthinee is a prime example of this spirit, effusively praising classical music, and recounting the need for music appreciation. “We are surrounded by art, but we have to learn to recognise it,” she says. “Art surrounds us every day of our lives.” (B. Grimm, of which LBG is a subsidiary, donates a substantial amount each year to the organisation.)
The BSO’s most successful concert series, “Great Artists of the World”, was initiated in 2007 to celebrate HM the King’s 80th birthday anniversary. The roster was full of impressive soloists, namely Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang, Mi Do Ri, Yo Yo Ma, Sir James Galway, Katherine Jenkins and more.
The issue of creating a culture of not only music appreciation but concurrently philanthropy is one that the foundation must constantly seek to address. Atchara notes that the US is top (in 2013) in terms of giving, despite the belief that, as centres of classical art and culture, European countries most generously patronise artists and musicians. (Canada and New Zealand are runners-up.)
When there are political or financial crises, the BSO must also take a backseat. The free public Concerts in the Park series scheduled for in 2014 had to be halted when Lumpini Park became the campground for anti-government protestors. (The BSO was undaunted, and restarted the concerts in November.)
Atchara is satisfied with the BSO’s progress, but insists that their mission is not complete, nor has it evolved much through the past 30-odd years. “It has not changed. We have not achieved what we want yet,” she says. “We’re working on the five- and 10-year plans.”
“There’s a lot of music in the world,” she concludes, speaking of the importance of classical music. “Everyday, you get a new composition here and there. But what lasts a long time, continues to last and is timeless, is classical music.”