Thursday, 21 January 2016



In a word, YES. Way back in October 1989, on a fine London Sunday, I first went to Steven Isserlis's late morning cello recital at Wigmore Hall, then made it to Barbican Hall for Pinchas Zukerman's violin recital in the afternoon, and finally to Royal Festival Hall to hear Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct The Philharmonia.

That was London, but what about Singapore today? Last Sunday (17 January 2016) provided the rare opportunity to do just that, and even cram all the concerts in an even shorter space of time! This was what transpired:

3 pm. Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, for a cello-cum-chamber recital by the Canadian cellist Gary Hoffman. A fairly large audience was in attendance for a treat of Slavic chamber music, which included Janacek's Pohadka, Arensky's Piano Trio No.1 and Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata. My review for The Straits Times may be found in a post below.

With the listening done and autographs collected, I zipped off to Esplanade Concert Hall to attend the OMM Prom entitled Phantasia. Having a car helps cut through the commuting, but if you choose to park at the Parliament House Car Park ($2 per entry) instead of the Esplanade Car Park (an usurious $9, if one includes the 60+ minutes before 6pm), there is a chance of turning up late.

5 pm. Esplanade Concert Hall, ...and that was what happened. So I missed the first piece performed by the Orchestra of the Music Makers directed by Chan Tze Law, which was an innocuous suite of melodies from Puccini's La Boheme. The main work was Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantasia, a 45 minute conflation of melodies from his musical The Phantom of the Opera

The pleasure was in witnessing SSO Concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich and SSO Principal Cellist Ng Pei-Sian as guest soloists tackle the virtuosic solo parts as if it were Brahms's Double Concerto. They sportingly blended into the ranks of the orchestra to play the final work, the Rosenkavalier Suite from Richard Strauss's opera. SSO had recently performed this, and it could be said that the young musicians of OMM matched their seniors every bit in terms of passion if not technique.

Equally heartwarming was its encore, Sunset from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, which was followed by a reprise of the final waltz from the Strauss suite. Several members of the full-house audience were placed within the ranks of the orchestra to experience what it was like to be inside an orchestra. It must have been overwhelming, at least none of them were caught falling asleep!

7.30 pm. Victoria Concert Hall. A quick dinner at an Esplanade eatery before rushing off to attend a Chinese New Year Concert by the Kids Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the dynamic young maestro Tan Kah Chun. The Kids Philharmonic is where people from six to eighteen get a chance to play, and its string section is filled with children, but the winds, brass and percussion were all adults, which sort of diminishes the overall youthful look of the group. 

It is about three weeks to go to the Lunar New Year, so it was not too early to wallow in melodies like Zhu Xin Nian, Gongxi Gongxi Ni, Da Di Hui Chun and the one that goes Yahohei (not Yohotoho!), which were performed in a rightly celebratory spirit. 

The choral contribution was provided by the SYC Ensemble Singers and SMU Choir, but the ones who stole the show was the excellent Chinese-speaking emcee Li Rong De and the 84-year-old singer Chong Sit Fong (Take that, Birgit Nilsson!), who crooned the way to the hearts of the audience in Tian Mi Mi. 

If the procession of Chinese songs did not sound lacklustre, it had to be because all the arrangements were written by no less than Cultural Medallion recipient Phoon Yew Tien.

The audience down in the stalls was, however, appalling. There are people (whom I'll disrespectfully refer to as lao tou er, or old farts) who think nothing of talking and commenting on the proceedings while the music is being played. Little wonder the wonderful emcee pleaded with the audience to be considerate (“qian wan bu yao shuo hua”) after the interval.

So that was three concerts in a day in Singapore. Can there be such a thing as too much music for one's good? In a word, NO.

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