Monday, 12 April 2010

SINGAPORE COMPOSE! by The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
Zechariah Goh Toh Chai, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (10 April 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 April 2010.

In what is likely the most significant concert of Singaporean music in recent years, The Philharmonic Winds performed ten works of local composers, including eight World Premieres. The mastermind behind this ambitious undertaking was Zechariah Goh Toh Chai (below), composer-conductor well known for his forays into new music and NAC Young Artist Award recipient, who conducted the concert.

Over 160 minutes, the varied musical tapestry that is Singapore’s growing composing fraternity was unveiled to fascinating effect. If one thought that the genre of wind music was a limiting factor, think again. Other than Kelly Tang’s Decathlon and Wang Chenwei’s Rhythm Of The City, which were more or less straightforward concert band showpieces that skillfully assimilated film music and jazz influences, the others aspired to bring the medium to parts unknown.

The two most modern-sounding works came from youngsters Chen Zhangyi and Bernard Lee Kah Hong. The former employed deft impressionist brushstrokes and colour in the gradual crescendo of Toward Dawn, while the latter revived Second Viennese School atonalism in the fancifully-titled There Is No Date Tree On The Maroon Sky. Both represent a breath of fresh air on our musical landscape.

Then came two very different concertos for tuned and untuned percussion. Conductor Goh’s own Concerto For Vibraphone++ was a subtle union of the Baroque concerto grosso and jazz. Percussionist Ramu Thiruyanam (left) eschewed virtuosity for its own sake, more intent in crafting an optimal atmosphere for this luminous music to shine. An epitome of cool, his encore of Brazilian Abreu’s Manha a Carnaval brought on the loudest cheers.

Not credited in the programme was Dennis Sim, who theatrically mastered the bass drum, Japanese taiko drum and two gongs for Robert Casteels’ Holler Across The Holler (composer left). Here, the conductorless ensemble assiduously responded to the rhetorical questions posed by each instrumental cadenza. The work closed with Seow Shu Feng’s enigmatic piccolo solo played high up in the organ loft.

Coming back to earth were two works flavoured with Southeast Asian themes. Ho Chee Kong’s Perayaan (Celebration!) carried the musk and aromas of a bustling Javanese bazaar, and Jun Wong Kah Chun’s Krakatoa was a well-structured symphonic poem about the 1883 eruption. Both utilised gamelan effects, naturally.

To pour syrup on the fine spices hitherto offered, the band finished with two medleys of popular songs by Xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook (left) and musical-meister Dick Lee. One almost forgot they are Singaporean composers too. A sequel to Singapore Compose! is keenly awaited.

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