Tuesday, 17 August 2010

World Youth Orchestra of the Singapore Games / Review

Darrell Ang, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (15 August 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 August 2010.

After the visual spectacle that was the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games, it was only appropriate for the World Youth Orchestra of the Singapore Games to deliver its sonic equivalent. The well-programmed concert led by the highly decorated young Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang was an aural feast.

The cosmopolitan first half was a whistle-stop world tour of orchestral showpieces from the 20th and 21st century. Performed in chronological order, the opener Shostakovich’s Festive Overture (1954) was in fact a socialist realist crowd pleaser. Never mind the banal left-leaning Soviet slant, its effectiveness was immediately felt with flawless trumpet fanfares and a delicious solo clarinet part that was gratefully lapped up.
Moving to the communes of Red China, Chen Yi’s Ge Xu (Antiphony) of 1994 showcased a virtuosic tapestry of instrumental threads, coalescing into rhythmic chants and a raucous percussion cadenza. Like Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring in reverse, a plaintive bassoon solo closed an impressive showing.

America was represented by Michael Torke’s Javelin (1994), which gained prominence during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Its agreeable tonal machinations gathered pace and momentum as it blazed a trajectory for a dramatic photo-finish. Peruvian Jimmy Lopez’s Fiesta! (2007), a four-part suite, accomplished much the same with some spicy dissonances lighting its flame.

Singapore’s own version of this quadrennial orchestra was formed by students of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, augmented by further musicians from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Great Britain and USA. Their stunning prowess with only one week of rehearsals was capped with Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony (“From The New World”), a stirring performance breathing the spirit and vitality that only the young and young at heart can muster.
The string sound was unvaryingly gorgeous, and woodwinds plenty of confidence, typified by the lovely cor anglais in the Largo, which proffered palpable pangs of nostalgia. The French horn solos were on occasions wayward but that did little to dampen the overall pulse and fervour of the reading.

Conducting completely from memory, Ang mastered his constituents with a force of will that came through single-mindedly and tightly held together. For their efforts in offering two glorious hours of orchestral music making, all on the Esplanade stage deserved to be awarded a gold medal.

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