Lim Yau

Singapore Infopedia

by Koh, Angeline


Lim Yau (born 1952, Singapore) is a prominent orchestral and choral conductor whose long conducting career has included stints as Resident Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Chorus (SSC). He is reputed to be the only conductor to have premiered works by all the major Singaporean composers. A keen promoter of orchestral and choral music, Lim was involved in the establishment of various local music groups, notably the Singapore Lyric Theatre (now known as the Singapore Lyric Opera). Lim continues to nurture future generations of musicians in his role as an arts educator at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).1 For his contributions to the music scene in Singapore, Lim was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Music in 1990.2

Early years3
Lim did not come from a musical family but music, nonetheless, filled his childhood home. The young Lim listened in daily to Rediffusion radio broadcasts from the coffee shop opposite his family’s Tiong Poh Road flat in Tiong Bahru. In the mornings, it was snippets of Tchaikovsky and Ravel in radio soap operas. In the last half hour before midnight, he would fall asleep to the strains of nanyin, a traditional form of music hailing from Fujian Province in China. The Chinese music would be followed by the British national anthem, God Save the Queen, as the station closed for the night.

The youngest of four children of a Chinese literature teacher and a housewife, Lim started learning to play the piano at the age of four or five but never took any formal exams. His mother would cane him whenever he failed to practise his piano. His father, who passed away when Lim was 11, enjoyed listening to Beijing opera and passed this interest on to his son.

During his secondary school days at River Valley High School, Lim helped members of the school’s Chinese orchestra notate music from cassette tapes. Lim also sang in the school choir. His love for choral music began when he heard the Vienna Boys’ Choir perform on television when he was in primary six.

Artistic development4

In his late teens, Lim earned his Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) in singing, for both teaching and performance diplomas. The seeds of Lim’s musical career were planted during his National Service in 1972. He was assigned to perform with a Chinese orchestra and harmonica group for an event at the National Theatre. Following this performance, he was asked to stay on to work with the Singapore Armed Forces Reservists’ Association (SAFRA) Male Choir. Over the following two years, Lim transcribed and arranged choral music for the choir. It was also during this time that Lim had his first taste of conducting a choir.

Lim took on a job as a school teacher after he left the army. It was then that he decided to pursue music as a career. Financed by his siblings, Lim left Singapore in 1975 to study voice and choral conducting at the Royal College of Music in London, where he graduated with honours. Subsequently, Lim was awarded a scholarship by the British Council to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where he graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Orchestral Conducting. While in Europe, Lim also attended the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy, and won a scholarship to work with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany. His mentors included eminent conductors such as Franco Ferrara in Siena and Sergiu Celibidache in Munich.

Artistic career5

Lim has held numerous conducting appointments over the course of his music career, including Chorus Member, Concert Manager, Assistant Conductor, Associate Conductor, Chorus Master, Conductor, Music Director and Artistic Director. He was notably the Resident Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Chorus (SSC), a dual appointment he held from 2001 to 2011. Under his directorship, the SSC went beyond the standard symphonic choral repertoire to become a highly anticipated feature in the SSO’s concert calendar.

Besides the SSO and SSC, Lim has also conducted for local music groups, such as the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Choir, Singapore National Youth Orchestra, and Singapore Lyric Opera. Lim is a strong advocate of local music and is reputed to be the only conductor to have premiered works by every major Singaporean composer. He has a prolific career in opera and ballet conducting, performing no less than 30 productions.

Lim’s passion and enthusiasm for orchestral and choral music led to his involvement in the formation of various professional and amateur music groups.

In 1990, Lim co-founded the Singapore Lyric Theatre (now Singapore Lyric Opera) with Leow Siak Fah, Choo Hwee Lim and Toh Weng Cheong.

In 1994, Lim became founder and artistic director of the Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The choir went on to become one of Southeast Asia’s leading chamber choirs and won major international awards, such as first prize in the 19th Bela Bartok International Choir Competition, Debrecen, Hungary, where Lim himself was awarded the Conductor’s Special Prize. The choir has had the distinction of having performed alongside the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus, the oldest professional choir in Asia, at the Tokyo Opera City.

In 1998, Lim founded the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (now known as the Philharmonic Orchestra Singapore). Under his baton, the orchestra has performed both symphonic and chamber works for the Singapore Dance Theatre and Singapore Lyric Opera.

Despite all his professional accomplishments, Lim is most proud of his work with the Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Philharmonic Orchestra Singapore. These two ensembles are so highly regarded that they have been described as “Singapore's most accomplished semi-professional classical outfits”.6

Lim’s work with these two music groups is all the more remarkable given that he is not paid for his time. He explains, “I don't want them to pay me. We are all putting in our spare time and let us build it up together”.7 Lim’s involvement with these amateur groups has given music lovers who do not pursue music as a career the opportunity to continue pursuing it as a passion.

Lim has nurtured a whole generation of young musicians, among them his own two children, Veda Lin and Lin Juan. He has known many local musicians since they were teenagers with the youth orchestra. He even refers to them as “my children”.8

Since 2012, Lim has continued nurturing future generations of musicians as an arts educator at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), where his appoints include: Head of the Department of Music; Head of Orchestral Studies & Chamber Music; Director, NAFA Orchestra & Chorus; and Principal Lecturer.9

Wife: Quek Soo Hiang.
Children: Veda Lin and Lin Juan.


1957–1963: Seng Poh Primary School.
1964–1969: River Valley High School.
1974: Royal Schools of Music in Voice Teaching.
1975: Royal Schools of Music in Voice Performance.
1975–1979: GRSM (Hons), Royal College of Music, London.
1980: Masterclass with Sergiu Celibidache and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
1983: British Council scholarship – Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Orchestral Conducting, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.
1984: Franco Ferrara’s conducting course, Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, Italy.

Career milestones12
Positions held
1973: Conductor, Singapore Armed Forces Reservists’ Association Male Choir.
1976–1979: Chorus member, Philharmonia Chorus, London, UK.
1979–1981: Chorus member, Bayreuth Festival Opera, Germany.
1980–1982: Concert manager, Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
1981–1997: Assistant Conductor, then Associate Conductor, Singapore Symphony Orchestra; Chorus Master, Singapore Symphony Chorus.
1986–1990: Conductor, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Choir.
1990–2002: Music Director, Singapore National Youth Orchestra.
1993–1997: Principal Guest Conductor, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus.
1994–1999: Guest Conductor, Shanghai Symphony, China; Guangzhou Symphony, China; Orchestra of the National Opera and Ballet, China; Philippines Philharmonic; Satu Mare and Constanta, Romania; State Philharmonic of Târgu Mureș, Romania; State Symphony of Krasknoyarsk, Russia; Russian Philharmonic; Philippines Madrigal Singers; Lund University Male Chorus, Sweden.
1997–2001: Music Director, Singapore Lyric Opera.
2000–2011: Resident Conductor, Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
2001: Guest Conductor, Latvian State Choir; Music Director, Singapore Symphony Chorus.
2005: Guest Conductor, Latvian State Choir.
2006: Music Director, Singapore Symphony Children’s Choir.
2012: Guest Conductor, Philippines Philharmonic Orchestra; National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra; Shanghai Opera Chorus, China; Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
2012: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore: Head of Department of Music; Head, Orchestral Studies & Chamber Music; Director, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra & Chorus; Principal Lecturer.

1990: Cultural Medallion for Music.
2000: Conductor’s Special Prize, 19th International Bela Bartok Choir Competition, Hungary with the Philharmonic Chamber Choir.
2011: Lifetime Achievement Award, Composers and Authors Society of Singapore.

Groups founded
1990: Co-founder, Singapore Lyric Theatre (now Singapore Lyric Opera) with Leow Siak Fah, Choo Hwee Lim and Toh Weng Cheong.
1994: Founder and Artistic Director, the Philharmonic Chamber Choir.
1998: Founder, the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (now the Philharmonic Orchestra Singapore).


Angeline Koh

1. (2012). Lim Yau. Retrieved from
National Arts Council. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: ttps://
3. (2012). Lim Yau. Retrieved from;
Yap, S. (2008, June 16). Cool Conductor. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. (2012). Lim Yau. Retrieved from; Yap, S. (2008, June 16). Cool Conductor. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. (2014). Our People: Academic Directory – Lim Yau. Retrieved from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts website:
5. (2012). Lim Yau. Retrieved from; The Philharmonic Orchestra Singapore. (2011). Music Director: Mr. Lim Yau. Retrieved from The Philharmonic Orchestra Singapore website:
Yap, S. (2008, June 16). Cool Conductor. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Yap, S. (2008, June 16). Cool Conductor. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Yap, S. (2008, June 16). Cool Conductor. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.(2014). Our People: Academic Directory – Lim Yau. Retrieved from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts website:
Yap, S. (2008, June 16). Cool Conductor. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. (2012). Lim Yau. Retrieved from
12. (2012). Lim Yau. Retrieved from

The information in this article is valid as at 3 March 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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