PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA ISRAEL
MasterCard Theatres at
Sands Marina Bay
11 November 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 November 2014 with the title "Terrific orchestra, terrible acoustics".
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s debut concert in
Singapore was a late addition to its East Asian
tour, and because of the unavailability of Esplanade Concert Hall, had to be
held in the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. There are good reasons why
symphony orchestra concerts are not held at this cavernous venue far better
suited for Broadway musicals and pop concerts. This otherwise historic event
may be summarised in four words: terrific orchestra, terrible acoustics.
But first, the audience stood to attention for the opening works conducted by the IPO’s Music Director for life, Zubin Mehta. Zubir Said’s Majulah Singapura in Phoon Yew Tien’s arrangement was followed by Hatikvah (The Hope), the national anthem of
Israel. Contrasts could not be greater, Singapore’s extroverted major-key march with Israel’s melancholic minor-key plaint. Both
were greeted with heartfelt applause.
Vivaldi’s popular Concerto for Four Violins in B minor featured four of the orchestra’s lady violinists as soloists. Electrical amplification was apparent from the outset, and while all four were evenly highlighted, it was curious to hear one player ornamenting her part far more than the others. A case of one-upwomanship was beginning to upset the balance.
By the time Mozart’s Symphony No.36, nicknamed the
(after the Austrian city), came on, the
artificial boosting of certain sections of the orchestra started to play havoc
on the ears. This was no fault of the players or the conductor who strived to
give an honest and committed account. Instead of hearing a homogeneous sound, amplified
woodwind and brass with added reverberation emanated from the giant speakers on
either side of the stage. Linz
Depending where one sat in the hall, the perspective of sound was glaringly off centre, and this got worse when the orchestra played louder. As much as one tried to enjoy the playing, the unfortunate distortions were both trying and distracting. The audience also did not help by clapping in between movements, and conductor Mehta had to raise his hand to stop premature applause in order for the finale to begin. This alone raised ripples of laughter, rather than outright embarrassment.
Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony is an ideal showcase for touring orchestras, and in terms of sheer passion and virtuosity, the IPO did not disappoint. The sense of cohesion, tightness of ensemble, and the 78-year-old conductor’s magisterial approach to tempos and dynamics all contributed to a stirring performance. In the slow movement, the principal French horn’s solo was a thing of lingering beauty. The 3rd movement lilted with rare grace before the finale’s hell-for-leather development section and grand apotheosis.
All this had, of course, to be filtered through the morass of unnatural sonority, which included extraneous noises of microphones being accidentally knocked and other indignities. At least the audience saw fit the orchestra’s valour in this field of battle to be accorded an instant standing ovation. Their reward was an encore, the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, with its gorgeous string playing.
At a post-concert reception, conductor Mehta thanked his hosts and expressed the hope of IPO returning to play in a “better hall”. Although the event to commemorate SG50 was well-meaning, this humiliation of sorts was a corollary to the state of the pitch in the Sports Hub, another big question mark as to whether we know the true meaning of being “world class”.
To add insult to injury, concert programmes were sold at a ridiculously inflated price of $30. Classical concerts in Marina Bay Sands should not be like shopping for mobile phones in
Sim Lim Square, where one is likely to be
|Conductor Zubin Mehta at the post-concert reception,|
with Israel's ambassador to Singapore
H.E.Yael Rubinstein fondly looking on.