Monday, 19 December 2011

SOUNDS OF JAPAN 2 / The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (16 December 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 December 2011 with the title "Rousing sounds of Japan".

When many local musical groups opt for the tried and tested, trust The Philharmonic Winds to do just the opposite. Its well-attended concerts have consistently programmed new music and works that are unlikely to be heard on disc or broadcasts, and have the quality of memorable once-offs.

Its latest project was Japanese wind band music, not exactly exciting on paper but rousing and raucous in reality. Led by the highly regarded British conductor Douglas Bostock (left), the concert opened with Kiyoshige Koyama’s Hana-Matsuri, a brief monothematic work that recounts a solemn procession of the Okagura festival. A strict percussion beat dictated the proceedings, a prelude for more to come.

Hiroshi Ohguri’s A Myth, programme music on the creation of light on earth, was made of sterner stuff. Its almost atonal beginning soon gave way to rhythmic exuberance of a dance that sent the gods into a frenzy and flights of fantasy.

Yasuhide’s Ito’s …Yet The Sun Rises was a reflective look at the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake-tsunami tragedy of March this year. Instead of wrath and gnashing of teeth, its elegy is channelled into something positive. Piano and percussion was judiciously employed, and the overall effect that recalled big Straussian gestures and film music radiated a karmic warmth. From despair comes hope, it declares.

The longest work was Isao Matsushita’s Hiten Trilogy, three linked movements on the “Flying God” of Japanese mythology. The hall was plunged into complete darkness, before the sounds of flutes and piccolos issued antiphonally from the aisles as the musicians paraded on stage to their seats. Last to appear was Bostock and the taiko drummer Makoto Tashiro (left), whose muscle-bound arms appeared to have the girth of thighs.

That sort of physique comes from a strict discipline of drumming, and he was made to sweat throughout the vigorous and enervating work. Beginning with impressionistic hues, the music then shifted irreversibly to its main inspiration – the insistent and violent beat of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Through this unrelenting score for both musicians and listeners, the ears ached from Tashiro’s pugilism on a number of drums before closing with a tour de force on the wadaiko, the biggest drum of them all. When Stravinsky carefully chose his moments to shock and awe, Matsushita seemed to go apoplectic from the outset. It was an impressive showing for certain, but one that was exhausting as well.

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