Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Sunday (23 February 2014)
Esplanade Concert Hall

This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 February 2014 with the title "Blast of a concert".

After the New York Philharmonic Orchestra completed its Asian tour in Taiwan last week, a few of its principals made the short trip to Singapore to give masterclasses at the Conservatory. In the case of its Principal Trombonist Joseph Alessi, he also headlined a concert with the Singapore Wind Symphony (SWS) conducted by Adrian Tan, providing a massive boon to brass enthusiasts here.

Central to this assignment was the World Premiere of young local composer Terrence Wong Fei Yang’s Trombone Concerto, also entitled Empire. With its inspiration being the 18th and 19th century Javanese kingdom of Mangkunegara, the solo trombone had a virtuosic narrative which served like a witness against a vast orchestral canvas that is turbulent history.

Its three contrasting sections began with the percussive and martial air of Menacing, with the trombone obliged to boldly emblazon its credentials in the thorny and dissonant solo part. The slower central section was more reflective, which gradually built up to a Benjamin Britten-like climactic catharsis.

Following a typically showy cadenza, the finale marked Furioso erupted with a volcanic violence dictated by drumrolls and an ominously persistent beat. The ends of empires are typically cataclysmic, echoed by Alessi’s trombone and its final brief oration which seemed to ask the rhetorical question: what is the point of it all?

The concerto was sandwiched by two showy pieces also starring Alessi, the more formal lines of Alexandre Guilmant’s Morceux Symphonique contrasted with the brilliant Brazilian samba vibe of Philip Sparke’s Sambezi. The inordinate range and versatility of the sliding brass instrument were all evident in this masterclass.

Alessi himself took on the baton for Paul Creston’s Celebration Overture, an upbeat work which gave clarinets, muted trumpet and the tuba grateful solos under the spotlight. SWS Music Director Tan opened the concert with Bernstein’s popular Candide Overture and closed with the Irish dance rhythms of The Seville Suite by Bill Whelan, better known for his Riverdance music.

There were three encore-like showpieces to end, all starring Alessi. Arthur Pryor’s Air Varie and Fantastic Polka were Paganini-like with their breathtaking feats of instrumental acrobatics, with the ensemble scrambling to keep up. The grand finale saw 18 young trombonists, including a number in street clothes, join Alessi in Meredith Willson’s 76 Trombones from The Music Man, one of the most famous marching band numbers of all. In short, the concert was a blast.

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