Monday, 2 July 2012

THE BLUE PLANET LIVE / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (29 June 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 July 2012 with the title "Awesome dive into the oceans".

Using live music to accompany images projected on a screen is not something new for the SSO. In 2001, the Eisenstein black and white classic Alexander Nevsky was screened to stirring music by Prokofiev. Two years ago, Debussy’s La Mer lent an added dimension to stunning marine photography by SSO violinist William Tan. The Blue Planet Live!, a two hour documentary-concert adapted from the BBC natural history series, is unsurprisingly the most spectacular culmination of this genre. 

Drawn from 7000 hours of film shot in 300 localities over 5 years, every minute provided its own thrills and spills. Acclaimed film composer George Fenton’s score was memorable, wide-ranging in style and vividly captured the spirit of the oceans. The sea is an awesome, almost unfathomable and most unexplored expanse of our world, and its denizens among the most curious and diverse.

It is also dangerous and unforgiving. An advisory warned of the disturbing visual scenes of predatory animal behaviour, and nothing quite prepares one for the carnage of a pod of orcas tearing into a defenceless grey whale calf. Low brass and ominous percussion set the prefatory mood. Equally gut-wrenching is seeing seal carcasses tossed like cabers by captors before crashing limply into oblivion. The music was just as harrowing.

The sentiment changed considerably in The Frozen Oceans, where Arctic and Antarctic scenes stitched together become seemingly inseparable geographically. A medley of Christmas carols and melodies accompanied polar bear frolics and the belly-gliding ballet or waddling march of penguins.

The plaintive flute and unaccompanied choir provided a soothing nocturne to the verdant mass of kelp forests. Jazzy trumpet and flugelhorn solos lit up Life In The Flow, which highlighted some of the more quirky fauna, including the mass migration of Christmas Island (once of Singapore) red crabs. Fact is indeed often stranger than CGI.

Swift changes of scenarios prevented any possibility of any subject from lingering longer than necessary, each preceded by narrator Remesh Panicker’s calming baritone declamations. The orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan was excellent throughout, whether capturing the majesty of sailing marlins or sei whales gulping down breakfast. They were well augmented by singers from the Hallelujah and Singapore Symphony Choruses trained by Wong Lai Foon.

Their parts were mostly wordless until the final number with Charles Trenet’s chanson La Mer, which carried the vital ecological message of conservation. The heavy price exacted by homo sapiens by pollution and over-fishing in our oceans will mean that in fifty years, all the wondrous scenes seen this evening will be a thing of the past. That was the one singular abiding message of The Blue Planet.

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