Monday, 4 May 2009

The Philharmonic Winds: Give Us This Day / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
John Boyd, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (3 May 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 May 2009.

Ever wonder what happens to the thousands of students who take part in the Singapore Youth Festival’s inter-school band competitions over the years? A tiny handful become professional musicians while the vast majority hang up their instruments and live on memories. There however remains a bunch of diehards - the musical professionals - who become the prime-movers of Singapore’s amateur and semi-professional music groups, such as members of The Philharmonic Winds.

Their reward is the joy of playing together, entertaining friends and family in concert, and going on tour. The Philharmonic Winds, which will soon make its Japan debut, presented a varied and entertaining programme on its pre-tour concert conducted by John Boyd (left).

Early music, filtered through modern sensibilities, opened the proceedings. Gabrieli’s antiphonal music was skillfully adapted by the young American Kathryn Salfelder in Cathedrals, where separate brass choirs on opposite sides of the stage provided a real-life stereophonic effect that audiophiles could only dream about. Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (BWV.564) gave opportunities for displaying virtuosity in unison and contrapuntal playing in the outer movements, but why omit the central Aria and rip out the work’s heart?

Music of a more commercial kind came in Robert Sheldon’s Flight Of The Piasa, a near-cinematic portrayal of a mythological man-eating bird, and arguably the most interesting work of the evening, American David Maslanka’s Give Us This Day. A 15-minute-long symphony by name, its inspirations lie in Buddhism and Christianity. Zen-like stillness gives way to quasi-Wagner chorales, a march-like development and finally a grand apotheosis in C major on a Bach chorale.

The orchestra led by the American guest conductor John Boyd gave an energetic account, which reveled in its profusion of ideas and intricate details. This same verve followed in Alfred Reed’s Trumpet Concerto, where the orchestra ably accompanied former SSO trumpeter Yeh Shu Han (left) from Taiwan who played on three instruments – the trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn.

The work traversed a mishmash of styles, from neoclassicism, romanticism, jazzy blues, a Taiwanese song, to the Brazilian samba. It was never meant to be academic, serious or stuffy – just plain fun and letting one’s hair down. Conductor Boyd’s own transcription of Mussorsgky’s Great Gate Of Kiev (from Pictures at an Exhibition) closed the concert on a deluge of decibels, just the right tonic before an overseas splash.

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