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Michael Wong Pakshong grew up in Durban, South Africa to the sounds of Chinese folk tunes and records played by his family members. He was introduced to Western music only when he started school. Arriving in Singapore in 1961, he was appointed chairman of The Esplanade Co. Ltd from 1997–2003, instilling a spirit of inclusiveness that would result in purpose-built spaces in the Esplanade at the suggestions of the Singapore arts community. He described his time with the Esplanade as “a labour of love”.
As a child with family members who were Chinese scholars, Wong grew up in Durban, South Africa to the sounds of Chinese folk tunes and records. These became familiar tunes to him. It was only when he started going to school that he was introduced to Western music.
Wong graduated from the University of Bristol. Many summer vacations were spent in London where he frequently attended concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. This developed his love for orchestral music. He recalled a memorable concert of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the Philharmonia of London conducted by Otto Klemperer.
Wong arrived in Singapore in 1961 and joined Price Waterhouse as an audit assistant. He was a banker at OCBC Bank when he was appointed the first Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore in 1971, holding this appointment until 1981. During this period, he also served as Chairman of NTUC Income, Neptune Orient Lines Ltd and a Director of SIA. Minister of Information and the Arts, George Yeo appointed Wong as chairman of The Esplanade Co. Ltd in 1997, and he held this office until 2003.
Working together with Benson Puah, who was the CEO, he had a pivotal role in laying the founding principles to Esplanade as a centre of the arts. His vision was based on a guiding philosophy of inclusiveness: the Esplanade is a space that is open to everyone in the arts community in Singapore. To this end, in order to reach out and hear the arts community’s views on the imminent new space for the arts, Wong and his team held several meetings with the diverse groups in the Singapore arts community to hear their opinions and views. Among the many he consulted with was Singapore theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun (1939–2002).
This outreach generated many useful suggestions from the arts community, especially how they wished to see the Esplanade as spaces for them. Their views were incorporated into Esplanade’s plans. Besides the two main large performing halls, smaller purpose-built venues were created. Not only is Esplanade a space for the performing arts, but visual arts was also considered as part of the programming. Spaces for the visual arts in the form of exhibition spaces were specially earmarked on the masterplan. One example is the Jendela, which had first been conceived as a bar for concert-goers. Jendela is now a visual arts exhibition space, and together with the Concourse, the Tunnel, and other smaller spaces in the centre, there are ample opportunities for the visual arts to make its presence felt.
Wong concurrently discharged his responsibilities in several business and finance-related organisations. Esplanade was an arts centre which was an exception among his commitments. He was so personally involved in Esplanade that he called this endeavour his “labour of love”.
With the opening of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay under the chairmanship of Michael Wong, the arts-going culture grew and there emerged greater opportunities in the arts.
On 2 Aug 2017, Wong passed away at the age of 86 in Singapore.
Born in Durban, South Africa.
Enrolled into Bristol University (Bachelor of Arts with Honours and a Hon. L.L.D).
Joined Price Waterhouse, UK.
Came to Singapore as a Price Waterhouse employee.
Assistant General Manager, Oversea-Chinese banking Corporation, Singapore.
Director of the Malaysia-Singapore Airlines .
Chairman of Board of Directors of NTUC Income.
Managing Director of Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Chairman of Board of Directors of Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.
Managing Director of The Straits Trading Company Ltd.
Honorary Consul of Luxembourg.
Board Member, The Straits Trading Company Ltd.
Director of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd.
Board Member, Bukit Sembawang Estates Ltd.
Member of the Wearnes Board.
Chairman of The Esplanade Company Ltd.
Chairman of Board of Directors for Great Eastern Life Assurance.
Chairman of Board of Directors for Great Eastern Holdings Limited.
Vice Chairman of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd.
Passed away at age 86 in Singapore.
TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.
In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.