Tuesday, 5 April 2016

FUN WITH MUSIC! / The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (3 April 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 April 2016 with the title "Blown away by fun tunes".

Every arts group knows it is vital to build audiences and future supporters for its cause, which is why light music is often programmed with that aim in mind. Although this concert by The Philharmonic Winds was not billed as a young people's concert, it was attended by many families and children who knew that the titular “Fun” was not to be resisted.

Conducted by its founding artist director Robert Casteels, the 80-minute long afternoon concert opened with Eric Coates' London Bridge March, a rousing curtain-raiser that also introduced that master of Masters of Ceremonies, William Ledbetter, who played the role of circus ringmaster and agent provocateur as only he knows how. Following which, Michael Markowski's arrangement of Turkey In The Straw was so luxuriantly and jazzily orchestrated in the form of variations that the original melody was almost completed masked.

The first soloist to appear was 12-year-old Chen Xinyu, whose breathtaking pipa solo in the Chinese classic Ambush From All Sides (arranged by Ong Jiin Joo for wind orchestra) was literally a showstopper. There was a section when conductor Casteels stepped off the podium and the orchestra silenced as she evoked the raucous sounds of furious battle, later joined by shouts from the players. 

Not to be outdone was clarinettist Ralph Emmanuel Lim in Adolf Schreiner's Immer Kleiner (Always Smaller), who had his instrument dissembled joint by joint until he was left with its mouthpiece. As the pitch got progressively higher, so did his playing get faster, capping off this virtuoso vehicle with a shrieking squeak.

Three percussionists. Dennis Sim, Yeow Ching Shiong and Sng Yiang Shan, then took centrestage in a hilariously choreographed version of Leroy Anderson's Sandpaper Ballet, where three pairs of sandpaper blocks jostled and scraped for their place in the spotlight. Judging from the delighted audience response, they were obviously rubbed the right way.

Sand artist Lawrence Koh gave a masterclass in his rare skill of projected animation, with a sequence of African motifs set to Robert Smith's Africa: Ceremony, Song And Ritual. Visions of tribal art, savannah flora and fauna miraculously surfaced to the strains of indigenous song and drumming.

The final soloist was Singapore Symphony Orchestra tuba player Hidehiro Fujita who proved that his ungainly instrument, the largest in the brass family, was anything but clumsy. The story of Three Billy Goats Gruff was narrated by Ledbetter to outlandish effects in Fredrik Hogberg's Trolltuba, a nifty act that was only exceeded by lots of horseplay and lung power in Vittorio Monti's Csardas, a work usually associated with the gypsy violin.

Shouts for an encore were rewarded with an elaborately dressed version of Do-Re-Mi from the musical The Sound Of Music, which prompted a clap-along and an avalanche of balloons that used to be de rigeuer at SSO's Christmas Concerts. It is another eight months till the Yuletide season, but The Philharmonic Winds was not going to deprive anybody of their quota of fun. 

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