School of the Arts Concert Hall
31 March 2013)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 April 2013 with the title "Rousing overtures for Mother Earth".
The Singapore Wind Symphony (SWS) is not a new outfit. It was formerly known as the National Theatre Symphonic Band (NTSB), and having undergone several personnel changes over the years, it was good to welcome back an old friend to vigourous concert life, now led by the dynamic young conductor Adrian Tan.
This concert, endorsed by the National Environment Agency, had a message of promoting conservation, and warning about climate change, global warming and mankind’s troubled relationship with planet Earth. Conductor Tan also doubled as master of ceremonies, doing his part by reminding the audience to save electricity, reduce, reuse and recycle.
Two Singaporean works were premiered, beginning with Wong Kah Chun’s Vox Stellarum Overture, a rousing work that rehashed the big sound found in those Star Trek and Star Wars movie soundtracks. The playing was impressive in its immediacy, as was its majestic portrayal of the view of our planet from outer space.
Philip Tan’s Landscapes Gradation was more down to earth, pitting two percussionists alongside the might of wind and brass. Ng Sok Wah, playing the marimba and vibraphone, was the more conventional, while Riduan Zalani manned a series of traditional Malay drums. Both had ample opportunity for solo display, and each were spectacular in their own way.
Their individual textures however became submerged when the orchestra joined in, having to contend with the ensemble’s own eight percussionists. There was a poignant little duet between tambourine and vibraphone (above) towards the end, symbolising that nature and man could co-exist harmoniously after all.
The largest work was Masamicz Amano’s Ohnai, a 30-minute long programme symphony written in remembrance of victims in the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. It went through the predictable course of depicting carefree life before the disaster, the violence and upheaval that followed, and a new dawn – introduced by Ow Leong San’s oboe plaint – with the triumph of the human spirit as the music is elevated to a loftier plane.
Also making an impact was Franco Cesarini’s Blue Horizons, a paean to the great oceans in three movements. The very personable score sounded familiar as it recycled ideas from Benjamin Britten’s sea-inspired opera Peter Grimes for the battle between the Leviathan and Krakken, before closing with a Mahlerian adagio, accompanied by recorded blue whale songs.
The concert also included music by John Mackey (Sheltering Sky, which quoted the popular hymn Shenandoah), David Maslanka (the short but energising fanfare Mother Earth), and Satoshi Yanagawa (the feel-good Hymn to the Sun), before closing with a jazzy arrangement of the John Lennon song Imagine. The audience was reminded of its lyrics again by the very enthusiastic conductor. Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world / And the world will live as one. Those are thoughts worth pondering about.