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Robert Liew was born in Singapore in 1948, and is a pioneer in the Singaporean arts industry, serving as the artistic director of the Singapore Arts Festival from 1985 to 1988, and thereafter forming his successful impresario company, Arts Management Associates. Some of the more notable acts he was responsible for presenting in Singapore include Placido Domingo, Sylvie Guillem and the New York Philharmonic. He has served as Chairman of the Economic Development Board’s Performing Arts Task Force, and also on the Renaissance Singapore Committee. Today, in addition to running his own arts agency, he is also governor of the Federation of Asian Cultural Promotion and chairman of the Association of Concert and Event Managers in Singapore.
Robert Liew picked up the guitar as a child, teaching himself how to play Elvis Presley songs before he could even speak properly. In his teenage years, he formed a rock band with his brother on the bass. He continued to nurture this early interest in music in university, where he involved himself with musical societies and radio work.
In 1973, he embarked on a short unfulfilling career in advertising before leaving everything behind, moving to London to study music at the London College of Music. He continued his musical journey in the United States where he obtained two Masters degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he would also meet such internationally celebrated artists such as Placido Domingo, Martha Argerich and John Williams.
In 1982, Liew began working at TV station in Texas programming educational, cultural and documentary programmes. He would do this for three years—in the meantime earning his Ph.D in interdisciplinary arts at Texas Tech University—before he was invited to return to Singapore to be the artistic director of the Singapore Arts Festival. His many years in the United States had enabled him to gain knowledge and experience in the arts, and realising that he could put this to good use back in Singapore, he accepted the offer. Liew became the first Singaporean artistic director of the Singapore Arts Festival.
Liew went on to helm the Singapore Arts Festival for three years, and was instrumental in bringing in international artists from around the world. He believed that having quality arts performances would only be beneficial for the development of Singapore’s arts environment. As a result of this belief and his pioneering work, the festival saw 90% attendances each year under his charge.
This was a fulfilling period of Liew’s artistic career, but he felt limited by the once-a-year presentation of arts events at the festival. To allow himself to do this year-round, and also sensing a gap in the marketplace, Liew worked on a model of corporate-sponsored arts production and left his role as artistic director in 1988 to establish his own arts management agency, Arts Management Associates. This was to be the start of a successful career that saw Liew present several internationally acclaimed artists in Singapore, many of whom had never performed in Singapore before.
In 1989, Liew brought the New York Philharmonic to Singapore for a free outdoor performance in the Padang. This was an unprecedented arts event that also received substantial sponsorship, which was unheard of at the time. Liew would go on to cement his reputation as an inventive and resourceful presenter, putting on performances that were the first of their kind in Singapore, and paving the way for future arts events.
He has since contributed to the Singapore arts calendar each year through his impresario work with various international acts, branching out into genres of theatre, musical theatre, classical music, dance and acrobatics. Under his directorship, Arts Management Associates presented artists of international renown such as Sylvie Guillem, Zubin Mehta, Wynton Marsalis, the Paris Opera Ballet, and Marcel Marceau. In 1998, he launched Singapore’s first International Comedy Festival, an annual event that continues to run today.
Liew has also contributed his expertise on national committees, chairing the Economic Development Board’s Performing Arts Task Force, the Federation of Asian Cultural Promotion, and the Association of Concert and Event Managers Singapore (ACEMS).
In 2007, Liew was conferred the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for significant contributions to the arts. And in 2012, he received the Order of the Star of Italy for promoting Italian culture in Singapore.
Coupled with his desire to inspire audiences with the arts, Liew is driven by his own passion for performance, which he channels into his daily duties as an arts presenter with his company. He continues to serve as chairman of ACEMS and plans to next present an Italian opera in Singapore.
Born in Singapore.
Enrolled in Anglo-Chinese School.
Enrolled in National University of Singapore.
Worked in advertising.
Moved to the UK to study the guitar at London College of Music.
Moved to the USA to study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, graduating with a Master of Music (Hons).
Consultant, Youth Committee, Nanyang Fang Shee Association.
Worked at a Texas TV station programming educational, cultural and documentary programmes.
Taught guitar at Texas Tech University, USA.
Received Ph.D in Interdisciplinary Arts, Texas Tech University.
Adjudicator, National Music Competition.
Returned to Singapore.
Artistic Director, Singapore Arts Festival.
Governor, Federation of Asian Cultural Promotion.
Founder and Director, Arts Management Associates.
Chairman, Performing Arts Task Force, Economic Development Board.
Advisor, Esplanade Users Advisory Group.
Member, Resource Panel, Renaissance Singapore Committee.
Arts, Culture, Sports and Recreation Working Group, Economic Review Committee.
Chairman, Association of Concert and Event Managers Singapore.
Adjunct Lecturer, Philosophy of Art, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, National University of Singapore.
Member, National Arts Council Audience Development Resource Panel.
Received Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for significant contributions to the arts.
Received Order of the Star of Italy by Italian government for contributions to promoting Italian culture 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.