Wednesday, 2 December 2015


The Chamber, The Arts House
Monday (30 November 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 December 2015 with the title "Delightful sounds from young and old".

The Singapore Clarinet Festival took place over two days at The Arts House, bringing together the nation's small but dedicated community of clarinet players in instrumental workshops, competition and concert. It culminated with a concert demonstrating that musical talent abounds, especially when it involves youthful and enthusiastic souls.

Both adjectives might not be used to describe the clarinet quartet from Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The foursome of Ma Yue, Tang Xiao Ping, Yoko Liu and Li Xin represent the cream of the profession, all of whom are highly-respected teachers in local music institutions. Their intonation, balance and ensemble were immaculate in the delivery of Harry Staplers' Clownery and Patrick Hiketick's Three Latin Dances.

The former was a delightful scherzo of in-jokes and cliches to be found in fairground and popular music, while the latter played on familiar idioms and melodies of Spanish and South American dances. Their first encore continued irresistibly on this thread in Zequinha de Abreu's Tico Tico No Fuba, but the atmosphere turned sombre for the second, Miao Kaiwen's arrangement of Brahms' Lullaby. Its simple melody was transformed into a solemn hymn, performed in solidarity with the bereaved people of France.

The festival's competitive segment saw the participation of 17 ensembles. The top prizewinners included Katong Convent (B Division) which performed a jazzed-up version of Scarborough Fair and CQN (A Division) which had fun in a medley of tunes from Lehar's The Merry Widow. The schoolgirls in their sky-blue uniforms showed much promise, while their more mature counterparts sounded like they could turn professional soon.

The concert's second half was performed by the Singapore Clarinet Festival Combined Choir, uniting clarinettists from top three wind orchestras: The Philharmonic Winds, Singapore Wind Symphony and West Winds. Conducted by Alan Mills, the 14-member group generated a big and warm tone, swelling to a fulsome bloom, with deep bass notes from Sean Tan's contrabass clarinet.

Vaclav Nelhybel's Chorale & Danza contrasted ceremonial pomp with more angular lines, while Jan van der Roost's Hikudim was a suite of four Israeli songs, where soulfulness alternated with cheerful vibes. The final dance relived the joy of klezmer players and the celebratory whoops of their instruments.  

The final acts belonged to French virtuoso Florent Héau, who was starry soloist in Ralph Emmanuel Lim's arrangement of Rossini's Introduction, Theme & Variations, where he was accompanied by the clarinet choir. This was the wind version of the bel canto opera tradition that flourished in the early 19th century. Beauty of line and extraordinary agility was central to his imperious showing, where the human voice was not just simulated but also surpassed.

Loud cheers yielded two encores, a virtuosic solo klezmer number and the popular song Dream A Little Dream Of Me, where Héau upped the ante by accompanying his playing with an impromptu tap dance of his own. One can already see the headline: where hot lips met twinkle-toes.

All photographs by the kind permission of Singapore Clarinet Festival.

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