Sunday, 14 August 2011

ASIAN YOUTH ORCHESTRA in Singapore / Review

Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (12 August 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 August 2011 with the title "Pure and pristine Jackiw".

Audiences in Singapore may be excused for being sated by the excellent youth orchestras that abound in our island-state, which could be the reason for the smallish house that greeted the Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO) on its fourth leg of a 16-concert tour of ten Asian cities. The 100-strong AYO, formed by the cream of East Asian musical talent, including four Singaporeans, nevertheless impressed with its show of polish and purpose.

Beginning on a rousing note with Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, the strings immediately shone with a silky sound which could turn flexible and resilient at a moment’s notice. There were also excellent solos from the flute, oboe, clarinet and cor anglais, adding to the tonal allure of this popular opener.

In an unfortunate repeat of that infamous “Poets of Poland” SSO concert, the Third Circle again erupted with noise from rowdy students. It took British conductor James Judd and American violinist Stefan Jackiw almost a minute of staring down the mob before a semblance of decorum was restored. Don’t our self-centred and far-too-pampered youngsters ever learn?

Total silence was crucial as from the ether of pianissimo string tremolos emerged Jackiw’s (left) pure and pristine solo for Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor. Here is an uncommonly sensitive soloist, from whom every note and phrase is so carefully weighted and thoughtfully shaped as to bring maximum pleasure. Rarely has this rough-hewn masterpiece been played with such beauty and poise.

Credit goes to the orchestra which provided tautness and nervous tension to keep the performance on a knife’s edge throughout. The rhythmically tricky finale was a brilliant case in point, romping home with the authority of far more experienced and matured performers.

The final showpiece was Rachmaninov’s sprawling Second Symphony in E minor. Its hour-long musings never felt protracted, as Judd (left) guided his charges on a thrilling journey displaying not just mere virtuosity but also sheer cohesiveness. The mellow sheen of strings provided the “wow” factor, pulling at the heartstrings in the manner only the Russians know best. The clarinet solo in the slow movement was breathtaking in its clarity and simplicity as it unfolded.

Climaxes were brought to almost unsupportable highs, only to mount further surges to prove that the players had even more in reserve. Their unity and passion had made this an unforgettable reading. The 21st century is destined to be dominated by Asian orchestras.

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