Monday, 2 November 2009

Colours of Music: SPH 25th Anniversary Gala Concert / Review


SPH 25th Anniversary Gala Concert
Singapore Chinese Orchestra
TSUNG YEH, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (31 October 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 November 2009.

For the 25th anniversary of Singapore Press Holdings, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra served up a variety show that showcased an eclectic range of music while attempting to involve every possible sector of Singapore’s musical community. It was an ambitious undertaking, but one laudable for its inclusiveness and enjoyable for many reasons.

The concert opened with a “suite” of Western works arranged for Chinese instruments – Grainger’s Molly On The Shore, Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances and Bizet’s Farandole (L’Arlesienne Suite No.2) – which actually sounded convincing. Folk music and dances translates well across cultures, and Grainger and Bartok, both inveterate collectors of indigenous music, would have been pleased and amused.

Englishman Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending was treated to a most sumptuous performance by violinist Ling Yunzhi, a Yong Siew Toh Conservatory student. Her purity of tone, close-to-perfect intonation, and unobtrusive accompaniment from the orchestra, was matched by photochoreographer James Westwater’s (left) visuals of verdant virgin rainforests, flora and fauna in Vanishing Forest.

Kuan Nai Chung’s Singapore Capriccio is perhaps better named Rhapsody on Chan Mali Chan, a blatant but probably deliberate rip-off from Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody. Credit goes to pianist Lim Yan for playing knock-offs of the 18th and 19th variations with a straight face and not falling of his stool from outright hilarity.

Far more authentic were the bona fide Chinese pieces, Torrents Of The River and Night Thought, that featured superlative solos from Han Lei’s guanzhi (a reed instrument with a timbre somewhere between a clarinet and oboe) and concertmaster Li Bao Shun’s jinghu (the highest pitched stringed instrument).

Of the two specially commissioned works, Cultural Medallion recipient Iskandar Ismail’s Time Changes Light (left) is a symphonic poem with the virtuosic elements of a concerto for orchestra. Employing amplified sounds, Chinese motifs with Minimalist techniques, and a central section with solo cello and piano that simulated sentimental film music, the nine minutes did not overstay its welcome.

Engaging Moments – 25 Years Of Photojournalism was a joint effort by two composers, Eric Watson and Law Wai Lun, which accompanied Westwater’s collage of heart-warming Singaporean scenes celebrating ethnic diversity and harmony in work and play. The music was suitably self-congratulatory, aided by contributions from the SYC Ensemble Singers, no doubt fuelling the feel good factor. Pure NDP fodder, but isn’t that commemorating anniversaries all about?

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