Thursday, 2 January 2014

NEW YEAR'S EVE GALA CONCERT / The Philharmonic Orchestra / Review

The Philharmonic Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Tuesday (31 December 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 January 2013 with the title "Good start for music in new year".

Call it what you want, it was the last concert of the year 2013 or the first concert of 2014. For The Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lim Yau, this was its third edition of what appears to be hopefully an enduring tradition. Vienna has its New Year’s Day Concert and London boasts of The Last Night of the Proms, so why not a Singaporean New Year’s Eve Concert including a countdown in the absence of Gurmit Singh?

Dvorak’s Carnival Overture began the concert on a rousing high, enveloping the generously filled and reverberant hall with a sonorous lustre. There was a delicious violin solo by concertmaster Loh Jun Hong which rose magically above the hubbub of the music’s general busyness.

There was even time to include a symphony, and it was American Don Gillis’s Symphony No.5 ½, or Symphony for Fun, one stocking-filled with musical in-jokes and gags. The warm brass chorale and Veda Lin’s lovely cor anglais solo at the beginning of the slow movement Spiritual? were an obvious dig at the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  

The final two movements swung from serious Italian opera to jazz (the 3rd movement was titled Scherzophrenia) in the company of excellent clarinettist Ralph Emmanuel Lim, and the wild conclusion mashed the gaiety of Stravinsky’s Petrushka with a Coplandesque hoedown. Good humour went into full swing when conductor Lim ordered the audience to get up and shake, rattle and roll to the traditional Cuban Peanut Vendor’s Song.   

Two vocal items also proved a hit, when sopranos Yin Yue and Su Yiwen blended beautifully in the Flower Duet from Delibes’s opera Lakmé, which will forever be remembered as that British Airways commercial. Su also warmed up to the dazzling coloratura flourishes of Johann Strauss the Younger’s Voices Of Spring, comfortably rising above the orchestra’s beat.

Two familiar but contrasting waltzes, Strauss’s On The Beautiful Blue Danube and Sibelius’s bittersweet Valse Triste, gave listeners opportunities to revel and reflect on the past year, while looking forward to the new one. The bubbly emcee Andrew Mowatt asked audience members for their new year resolutions, while his should be not to refer to his employers The Philharmonic Orchestra as the Singapore Philharmonic Orchestra, a defunct outfit from the 1970s.

The countdown played out magnificently to the striding rhythm from Respighi’s Pines of The Appian Way (from The Pines of Rome), representing the inexorably march of time. Amid handshakes, hugs and hurrahs, Strauss The Elder’s Radetzky March accompanied a clap-along and hands were held for a nostalgic rendering of Auld Lang Syne. All these portend for a good year of music in 2014.

All photographs by the kind permission of The Philharmonic Orchestra.

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