The year 2013 was a good one for classical music in Singapore, and there were many highly satisfying concerts vying for top honours in my final list for The Pianomania Awards. Too bad that The Straits Times did not carry its usual Best and Worst of the year column, but that has given me the chance to include more concerts in my list of favourites.
Here they are in no particular order:
BRITTEN War Requiem
Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Choruses and soloists
conducted by SHUI LAN
Esplanade Concert Hall (5 April 2013)
The Singapore Premiere of Benjamin Britten's anti-war classic that brought out the best of the SSO, Singapore's choral community and three soloists representing Britain, Germany and Russia. A spectacular blockbuster that rivalled Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand in 2004.
The Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra, just 10 years in the making, has gone from strength to strength, and its consistency of delivering top notch performances of varied symphonic repertoire under different conductors has greatly impressed. These are the three great performances of this year:
Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring
conducted by Eiji Oue
Esplanade Concert Hall (18 April 2013)
Sibelius's Symphony No.7
conducted by Robert Spano
Esplanade Concert Hall (4 September 2013)
Mendelssohn's Symphony No.3 "Scottish"
conducted by Jason Lai
Conservatory Concert Hall (9 November 2013)
MODERN VOICES - CLASS OF 1978
Ding Yi Music Company
conducted by Lim Yau
Esplanade Recital Studio (3 August 2013)
The traditional Chinese chamber ensemble has distinguished itself with concerts of excellent programming, diversity and instrumental virtuosity. The pick of the crop was its concert of music contemporary Chinese composers Zhou Long, Tan Dun, Chen Yi and Chen Qigang, which showed that the ensemble was far more than a folk music group but one with serious artistic intentions.
Singapore Lyric Opera and soloists
directed by Andrew Sinclair
conducted by Joshua Tang Kangming
Esplanade Theatre (1 February 2013)
Despite the paucity of opera productions in Singapore, the Singapore Lyric Opera pulled out one of its finest productions in its 22 year history. This Butterfly evoked true pathos, not least in the casting of Japanese soprano Mako Nishimoto in the title role, who was a revelation. Tenor Israel Lozano as Pinkerton was so convincing that he was actually booed.
MY NIGHTS WITH DIDO
AND MY DAYS WITH AENEAS
New Opera Singapore
directed by Mathias Behrends
conducted by Chan Wei Shing
SOTA Drama Theatre (26 & 27 July 2013)
Singapore's second opera company should not be ignored, because of the vibrant and modern way it stages traditional classical opera. Its production of Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas was not perfect but the updating of its tragedy to modern-day Singaporean middle class aspirations was totally believable. Soprano Teng Xiang Ting as Dido was in imperious form, and the juxtaposition of English baroque music and Charles Ives songs was inspired.
STEVE REICH'S DRUMMING
Roberto Alvarez and Friends
Esplanade Recital Studio (13 September 2013)
There were many wonderful chamber concerts this year, but the most unique one featured the Singapore premiere of Steve Reich's iconic masterpiece Drumming. Nine percussionists, two singers and flautist Roberto Alvarez brought from this 75-minute rhythmically complex work a wealth of nuances and sonorities. Ten years ago, this would not be possible simply because there were not so many percussionists then.