Sunday, 9 January 2011


Siow Lee-Chin & Oberlin Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (6 January 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 January 2011
with the title "Grit, glamour and Mambo"

The first concert of the year took a leaf from Vienna’s New Year’s Day Concert with a rousing fare of lollipops. The Orchestra of Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory of Music, completing the final leg of its Asian tour, signed off in a blaze of fireworks.

The concert began with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, blatant piece of 1950s Soviet Socialist Realism but nonetheless effective opener. Brass fanfares were bold and confident, ushering in an excellent clarinet solo that set a racy pace tautly held by conductor Timothy Weiss.

Singaporean diva of the violin Siow Lee-Chin, an Oberlin alumnus, then lit up the stage in an eye-popping turquoise gown. More importantly, her playing matched poise and purpose with glitz and glamour, producing a full-bodied voluminous tone that resonated richly through the hall.
Her big solos in two concertante works were revealing. The opening and ending of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending were a rapt study in dreamy and meditative playing. Although highly exposed, she never flinched, instead rising to the musical challenge in this English second cousin of the Butterfly Lovers Concerto.

Singing and soaring then turned to the free-wheeling exuberance of Ravel’s gypsy rhapsody Tzigane. No problem, as Siow switched modes effortlessly as all stops were pulled for the extravagant showstopper. Perhaps even more caution could have been thrown to the wind, but after that it was hard to resist the encore, as she milked Mexican composer Manuel Ponce’s tear-jerking Estrellita for all its worth.

Lee Chin addressed the audience,
saying "Nothing beats performing at home!"

The orchestra was star in the second half, beginning with Johann Strauss the Younger’s Tritsch Tratsch Polka, which fizzed like newly uncorked champagne. A huge helping of Americana followed with the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Brass and percussion were in fine fettle for this highly rhythmic riot of sound, and if an orchestra’s enthusiasm level be judged by the manner it hollers “Mambo”, the Oberlin Orchestra tops the SSO any day.

Cut from the same fabric of stars and stripes was Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, another extroverted romp like only the Americans know how. Three encores, including Johann Strauss the Elder’s Radetzky March, a further helping of Mambo, and John Williams’ March from Raiders of The Lost Ark got the audience up on its feet. Another fine year for music awaits.

No comments: