Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Review of the Keppel Corporation's 40th Anniversary Concert / 19 August 2008

Singapore Symphony Orchestra / LIM YAU
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (19 August 2008)

World premieres of a new symphony are special and rare occasions. For the 40th anniversary of Keppel Corporation, Singaporean composer Ho Chee Kong (above), also professor of composition at the Yong Slew Toh Conservatory, unveiled his 20-minute long Of Passion And Passages, a symphony in three movements. Far from being a quasi-Schoenberg exercise of the avant-garde, his idiom was surprisingly accessible, one in which the vast majority of the capacity house would have readily related to.

Brucknerian brass chords opened the work, pouring forth reassuring strains resembling a John Williams film score. One can easily hear and imagine this music accompanying a seabird's flight over Tanjong Pagar container terminals, skirting the greenery that was Pulau Brani and to the western reaches of Pasir Panjang. Without actually pandering to the lowest common denominator, this very well-crafted showpiece was both eloquent and spoke from the heart.

The slow movement exhibited a Sibelius-like calm, exuding mellowness before the finale's parade of percussion. Representing the dynamism of Singapore's maritime industry, an ethic of "never static, forever pulsating" seemed to permeate the message of the music, all through to its vociferous end.

There is no programmatic agenda to this work, but given the context, one could try and extrapolate what the composer was trying to convey in his use of aurally gratifying harmonies and rhythms – the pride and wealth of a nation. No big surprises if Ho is invited to write music for future National Day Parades.

The Singapore Symphony under Lim Yau's direction responded with immediacy, and this same attention to detail accompanied 16-year-old pianist Abigail Sin (left) in Liszt's Second Piano Concerto. Sin is neither a child but barely an adult, yet she coped admirably in the virtuosic solo part like a seasoned veteran.

Her small frame (barely five feet tall) belied a wellspring of power, and she managed to conquer the work’s many octaves, chords and finally, glissandi. While not every passage went like precision clockwork, her instinctive responses in the more expressive pages were hard to better, among these her sensitive partnership with principal cellist Nella Hunkins’ exquisite solo. This is a work she will gradually but surely grow into.

The balance of the programme featured SSO's favourite warhorses, Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture and Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, also undoubted crowd pleasers.

As an encore, the punningly-titled CanDo Overture (with apologies to Bernstein and Voltaire, and thematically by way of a sprinkling of Moszkowski's sparkling Piano Concerto) by Bernard Tan (left), a long-time director in both SSO and Keppel Corporation, closed the evening on a rhythmic and tuneful high.

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