Tuesday, 8 July 2014

WHO'S AFRAID OF CLASSICAL MUSIC? / Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra / Review

Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Sunday (6 July 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 July 2014 with the title "Making a case for classical music".

Every artist and arts organisation knows the value of building audiences for the future. The Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra under its Music Director Adrian Tan has gone to the grassroots with this rhetorical question. Conductor Tan, who also served as the concert’s master of ceremony, built an entire programme of orchestral favourites to state their case.

“Classical music is all around us,” he proclaimed and went on to provide a capsule history of Western music which he humorously referred to as his cheat-sheet. All four major periods of classical music were covered with ample musical examples. “When you hear a harpsichord,” as the orchestra started on Pachelbel’s Canon in D in a modern arrangement by Mohamad Rasull, “Think of the Baroque period,” he advised.

Never mind if that updated version included snatches of pop songs including the Beatles’ Let It Be, the idea of the concert was to be fun and inclusive. The Baroque era was also represented by Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons, with 13-year-old violinist Wu Shuang leading as the soloist. She was confident and played with no little flair.

The Classical period saw movements from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Haydn’s Symphony No.94. Tan explained why the latter was called the Surprise Symphony, as the quiet Andante movement was interjected with a loud crash from the orchestra. That elicited an audible yelp from a child in the audience, exactly what the composer had intended.

Four emphatic notes marked the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and heralded the Romantic era. Tan handed his baton to Assistant Conductor Darren Sim to conduct the first movement, which was a development of the insistent theme of “Fate knocking at the door”. Romantic opera and silly plots meant an airing of Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot, sung heroically by excellent Johorean tenor Kee Loi Seng (above).

The second half was all 20th century with John Adams’s The Chairman Dances expounding the idea of minimalism. The orchestra coped very well with its intricately woven repetitions and syncopations, with the woodwinds, brass and percussion in fine form for this symphonic foxtrot. The final work was also the longest, with all three movements of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto performed with Philippines-born pianist Albert Tiu.

Tiu showed immediately why he is considered one of the finest pianists resident in Singapore. His immaculate technique, overall control, impeccable taste and judgement prevented this all-too-familiar work from sounding slushy and over-sentimental. And when the big climaxes arrived, he delivered with all guns blazing. Conductor Tan had earlier advised that if the audience applauded long enough, they would be rewarded with an encore.

Thus Tiu obliged with a variation from Rachmaninov’s Chopin Variations. By this time, this primer of classical music had run past two and a half hours. At least the audience will have no grounds to accuse the performers of not giving their money’s worth.

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