Thursday, 28 November 2013

MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS / Singapore National Youth Orchestra / Review

Singapore National Youth Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (26 November 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 November 2013 with the title "Youths up the game in the music stakes".

Singapore’s youth orchestral movement is riding high on the crest of wave of musical excellence, none as evident as this year. Following in the examples of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra and Orchestra of the Music Makers, the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) has considerably upped its game to match the accomplishments of its colleagues.

This latest concert conducted by American guest conductor David Commanday was a proud showcase of the maturity of its young musicians, both as an ensemble as well as in disparate solo parts. Marcus Choo’s solo French horn that opened Weber’s Oberon Overture was a portrait of composure and confidence despite being so exposed, and that set the tone of the concert as the whole.

Its slow introduction, so expertly traversed, was the perfect foil to the work’s mercurial and energetic main body which could boast of slickly homogeneous string playing and a responsiveness that was totally gripping.   

The orchestra sympathetically partnered Canadian violist Max Mandel in Carl Stamitz’s Viola Concerto in D major (Op.1), with very cohesive tutti playing and attentive accompaniment. It was left to the soloist to weave a charming spell of singing tone in the first two movements and folksy jocularity in the Rondo finale, with a surprising and jaw-dropping glissando slide down to the nether reaches.  

The truest test came in Brahms’s mighty First Symphony in C minor, which was clearly the highlight of the evening. From its opening measures, the intent was clearly spelt out. This was to be an account infused with urgency and nervous tension, the good kind that drives the music forward. Yet under Commanday’s command, it also sounded spacious, one that had ample room to breathe.

The warmth and breadth of the playing was a unifying factor, lit up be excellent solo playing by oboe and violin in the beautiful slow movement and clarinet in the flowing third movement. Only inappropriate applause (by a quite clueless audience that insisted on clapping after every pause) spoilt the hush and transitory silence that led into the glorious finale.     

Thankfully that lapse was fully made up by the atmospheric playing capped by another wonderful French horn solo from Mindy Chang in the “alphorn” motif that heralded the dispersing of dark clouds and the emergence of blazing sunshine. The work concluded on the loftiest of joyous moods, hence the epithet Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony stuck, but the orchestra was not yet through.

The encore of Orange Blossom Special, a fiddlers’ “national anthem” captured in a train ride, was the icing on the cake. A strong SNYO is a vital for the strong future of classical music in Singapore

Concert photographs by the kind courtesy of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra.

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