Friday, 21 January 2011


Singapore National Youth Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (20 January 2011)

The Musical Olympus Festival is an international platform showcasing top young musical talents of the world, including winners of international music competitions, performing in the world’s great concert venues. Founded in St Petersburg, Russia in 1996, Musical Olympus has made its mark in celebrated locales such as Berlin’s Philharmonie and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Singapore’s debut in this prestigious series was to be no less auspicious or rewarding.

Supporting this concert was the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) led by its newly appointed Music Director Darrell Ang. Considering the age of its musicians, the orchestra did a fine job accompanying five excellent soloists, rising young artists all, in various concertos and concertante works.

First off was Armenian saxophonist Hayrapet Arakelyan who performed Francois Borne’s Fantaisie Brillante on Carmen, adapted from the original flute favourite. It is a somewhat darker cousin of the famous Sarasate Carmen Fantasy for violin, but nonetheless contains the ubiquitous Habanera and wildly swirling Danse Boheme. Arakelyan crafted a creamy, mellow sonority, deeply breathed and freely wheeling, typical for the instrument usually associated with jazz. Never strait-jacketed, he allowed the music to breathe and flow unabated, a virtuoso outing setting the tone for more fireworks to come.

Russian Ilya Maximov is more than your common garden Russian pianist who thrives on keyboard gymnastics, which is the minimum requirement for Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. At once, his incisive and fearless approach made one sit up and really listen. Thunder he did in this chord-heavy and octave-strewn score, but there were also moments of introspection, in the second movement and finale, where sheer poetry came to the fore. When it came to barnstorming, he left the orchestra breathlessly trying to catch up. But they did, living dangerously if not for Darrell Ang’s razor-sharp direction that held this tricky masterpiece together. Credit also goes the excellent young clarinettist in the opening solo, which was rock-steady and confidence itself.

Young Singaporean violinist Kong Xian Long, just 15 years old, was invited to share in the spotlight. A multiple winner in the National Violin Competition, his version of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy was in no way overawed by the surfeit of prodigiousness on display. His unerring articulation in the many twists and turns, and close-to-faultless intonation was a marvel to behold. Notwithstanding some raw edges, he is a major local talent to observe in the years to come.

Lanky Hungarian cellist Istvan Vardai, at 25, was the most mature of the instrumentalists, and the most subtle of them all. His lovely singing tone, supple and flexible, was a joy to behold in Schumann’s late Cello Concerto in A minor. This was a performance conceived on a large scale, with every theme and phrase lovingly nuanced; no detail was too minor to be overlooked. He blended nicely with the orchestral cello in the reflective slow movement, and paid due emphasis to the resolute three-note-motif that drove the finale to its satisfying close. A subtle work from a sublime soloist; it’s just as simple as that.

The audience’s favourite was most probably Korean tenor Jaesig Lee, who sang three popular operatic arias. His compactly-built frame belied the booming quality of his voice, which was as fresh and youthful as they come. He evinced genuine nostalgia and regret in Lensky’s Aria (Kuda kuda) from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, followed by the flush of young love in Rodolfo’s Che gelida manina from Puccini’s La Boheme. His is a totally believable and likeable portrayal of opera’s heroes and anti-heroes. Verdi’s La donna e mobile (Rigoletto) brought on the cheers, which was amply rewarded with an encore - a heroic Nessun dorma (Puccini’s Turandot), one that is ripe for any of the world’s top opera houses.

This audience was asked to vote for their favourite star on this Musical Olympus. My vote goes to conductor Darrell Ang and his Singapore National Youth Orchestra, which grew together to became solid and dependable accompanists within a short week of rehearsals. Without them, this two and half hour musical feast of champions would not have been possible.
The Musical Olympus Festival was presented by the Musical Olympus Foundation.

No comments: