Friday, 2 January 2015

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

The Philharmonic Orchestra
School of The Arts Concert Hall
Wednesday (31 December 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 January 2015 with the title "Good music and champagne to ring in best wishes".

The Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Concert conducted by Lim Yau has become an iconic fixture of the annual calendar, judging by the rising attendances over the years. After all, who could resist a healthy serving of good music with champagne, soft drinks and assorted nuts on the house to usher in the new year.

The opening works by Johann Strauss the Younger, Die Fledermaus Overture and Emperor Waltz, did not quite do the trick. Perhaps it was a combination of inertia and nerves which made these feel like champagne that had lost its bubbles.  It thus took the best efforts of top-hatted emcee William Ledbetter and sometime circus ringmaster by his teasing and bantering to drum up festive spark in an otherwise sober and sedate audience.

By the time of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No.8 in G minor (Op.46 No.8), both spirit and flesh were up and going. This was followed by Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, which played like a miniature concerto for orchestra with its virtuosic solo parts. Standing out were Jasper Goh’s flute, concertmaster Siew Yili’s violin and a quartet of French horns, and the sequence of rollicking dances truly invigorated the overall mood.

The jazzy arrangement by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite proved the right tonic after a well-watered intermission. The orchestra was transformed into a big band ensemble complete with drum-set, saxophones and a zealous brass section ready to go. Syncopations and blues notes ruled, turning the character dances into swaggering and almost tipsy dervishes.

The audience got to its feet in Richard Hayman’s Pops Hoedown, with Western and cowboy dance steps taught by chief instigator Ledbetter, who was more than happy to lead in the “yee-ha”s and later tossing his hat into the crowd.

The Main Theme from John Williams’s Schindler’s List with violinist Siew as soloist provided a sombre reminder of the losses of the past year, including the passengers of the ill-fated Air Asia jetliner, and artists like Iskandar Ismail, Lorin Maazel, Claudio Abbado, Robin Williams and Shirley Temple, their everlasting images projected on an overhead screen.

Soon the countdown to 2015 was underway, accompanied portentously by the strains of Respighi’s Pines Of The Appian Way, as ominous and inexorable the march of time can be. Balloons fell and ribbons flew as the audience urged the orchestra for a one final encore. As with Vienna’s New Year’s Day Concert, Johann Strauss the Elder’s Radetzky March provided the beat for an audience clap-along, ringing in best wishes for the coming year.   

Photograph-taking was permitted by the orchestra throughout the entire duration of the concert. What wonderful sports!

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