Saturday, 2 January 2016

NEW YEAR'S EVE COUNTDOWN GALA CONCERT 2016 / The Philharmonic Orchestra / Review

The Philharmonic Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Thursday (31 December 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 January 2016 with the title "Rousing start to the new year".

If there is a local musical tradition worth preserving, that might be The Philharmonic Orchestra's annual New Year's Eve Concert, now in its fifth edition. Although that may seem a short span of time compared with the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day Concert, it has nevertheless started a trend of sorts.

TPO Music Director Lim Yau has been the mainstay of this series, but this year he shared the conducting responsibilities with young composer-conductor Terrence Wong Fei Yang. Lim led the opener, Otto Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives Of Windsor, which began with refined string sound in its introduction before erupting to ebullient life in its allegro section of Mendelssohnian lightness.

Wong then took over the baton for Johann Strauss Junior's popular Pizzicato Polka, which was accompanied by a short film of orchestra members recounting their favourite moments of the year 2015. His steady guiding hand also brought charm to the familiar Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, which was followed by two movements from Grieg's Peer Gynt.

Flautist Paul Huang's solo was fluid and mellifluous in the atmospheric Morning Mood, while the orchestra churned out an exciting crescendo for Hall Of The Mountain King, which had bassoonist Goh Mok Cheong in suitably belligerent mood.

With less music performed this year, master-of-ceremonies William Ledbetter was compelled to stir up the proceedings, pad up the time with anecdotes and poetry reading, besides priming the  usually sedate Singaporean audience to bellow out a robust “Happy New Year!” at the stroke of midnight. Unfortunately when the time came, he had all but forgotten that cue.

The orchestra performed a couple of rarities, including The Jolly Village Smiths with its striking anvils by Julius Fucik, the Czech composer better known for his Entry Of The Gladiators. The other was David Lovrien's Minor Alterations, a witty medley with Christmas songs like Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Good King Wenceslas and Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer performed in minor keys. It closed with a hilarious mash-up of Tchaikovsky's Trepak from Nutcracker with Deck The Halls.

As with last year's concert, there were several minutes of sobriety and reflection in memory of personalities who made their departure in 2015, including Kurt Masur, David Willcocks, BB King, Jonah Lomu and Lee Kuan Yew. The aptly moving accompanying music was Estonian composer Arvo Pรคrt's Cantus In Memoriam Of Benjamin Britten, which consisted of a series of descending scales built on a cantus firmus in A minor.

The countdown to 2016 was ushered in by Respighi's Pines Of The Appian Way, representing the unrelenting march of time and Roman legions, conducted by Lim Yau. Having missed the chance for a communal wishing of new year greetings, the audience nevertheless had a cheerful clap-along to Johann Strauss Senior's Radetzky March. An eventful year of great music beckons.

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