Thursday, 30 July 2009

METAMORPHOSIS by Singapore Youth Festival Orchestra / Review

Singapore Youth Festival Orchestra
Chan Tze Law, Conductor
Victoria Concert Hall
Tuesday (28 July 2009)

With so many new and young orchestras and ensembles emerging here, one often wonders where these come from. Look no further than two national institutions of the Ministry of Education: the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) and the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO), where thousands of school students have honed their instrumental skills over the years.

The Singapore Youth Festival Orchestra was the logical union of the two, the SNYO augmented by musicians from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, SAF Music and Drama Company, school orchestras and the outstanding Orchestra of the Music Makers.

The début of this über-youth orchestra was as demanding as it was impressive. Tasked with partnering Qian Zhou (left), violin professor at the Conservatory, in the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major (Op.77), the opening orchestral tutti was itself a statement of intent. Its rich, confident and beefy sound matched Qian’s authority of delivery every step along the way.

There was genuine cut and thrust in the outer movements, culminating in Fritz Kreisler’s punishingly difficult cadenza that Qian dispatched with great aplomb, and a very exciting Magyar-flavoured finale. This was not mere accompaniment but a bona fide collaboration where teacher and students are first among equals. The orchestra also had its own star in the silky oboe of Howard Ng, who tenderly coloured the sublime slow movement.

Twentieth-century German composer Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber was the veritable concerto for orchestra, one where solo and grouped instruments were given opportunities to shine. These were accepted with great relish and virtuosity. The solo flute in the Andantino was a gem and the fugal inversion of the Turandot Scherzo, open season for trombones, French horns and trumpets, totally rocked in its jazzy swagger. Here conductor Chan Tze Law (left) merely laid down his baton, and the young musicians did the rest like seasoned pros.

The concert closed with the ear-shattering recorded cannon bursts and carillon clangour of Tchaikovsky’s celebrated 1812 Overture. While there was much to enjoy in the obligatory rowdy bits, true admiration was to be found in its quiet opening. The ten cellists and nine violists found a svelte sonority that was seamless and breathtaking. Surely such refinement is the reserve of professional orchestras, not mere kids. However for young people who do not know the meaning of mediocrity, the sky’s the limit.

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