Saturday, 17 December 2016

TITANIC MASTERPIECES / Orchestra of the Music Makers et al / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall
Wednesday (14 December 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 December 2016 with the title "Bravo for a stunning show"

The Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) is one group that does not operate in half-measures. Its concerts, like a Mahlerian symphony, aim to encompass the world,. Its latest concert, a collaboration with the Western Australian Youth Orchestra (WAYO), was a sequel to their last concert together in 2009 entitled When Heavens Collide.

It was more a case of “when bodies collide” when over 180 instrumentalists ascended the stage of Esplanade Concert Hall for two popular symphonies. The first was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Gustav Mahler's orchestration which featured the OMM-School of the Arts Camp Orchestra with the Australians, conducted by Peter Moore.

Refreshing was to hear an old-fashioned big sound in a Beethoven symphony when the new normal was a lithe, Twiggy-like sonority favoured by many orchestras today. Opulence is a sin for some, but not so in Moore's expansive approach which could never be called sluggish. The entries were mostly very precise, amazing for so many young musicians huddled closely together.

The violas and cellos in the opening of the slow movement were svelte and mellow, so homogeneous that one imagined them to be seasoned professionals. Even if the 3rd movement's goose-stepping was not always perfectly in sync, the sweep in the propulsive finale hugely impressed. Here, Mahler's favour boosting woodwinds and brass made their parts stride to the forefront. Even the humblest piccolo began to sound like a solo instrument.

Not wanting to neglect the concertante element, Quebecois violinist Alexandre Da Costa took centrestage in Sarasate's Gypsy Airs, accompanied by WAYO. His was another old-fashioned wallow with a vibrato that stretched the Nullabor Plain, and the virtuosic tricks to match. His encore, accompanied by just a string quartet was a stanza from the Canadian national anthem, O Canada.

The main event was the second half OMM-WAYO pairing in Mahler's First Symphony, also known as The Titan, conducted by Chan Tze Law. The opening had shaky moments for woodwinds and offstage trumpets despite the rapt pianissimo from the strings, but the dawn was evocatively captured. The strolling main theme, quoting one of Mahler's own Wayfarer Songs, stole the scene and the early awkwardness was soon forgotten.

Even better was the rollicking country dance of the 2nd movement, where contrasts between the earthy and the spiritual were well delineated. The next movement's droll funeral march with the Frere Jacque theme was lit up with some lusty Klezmer-like playing that truly brought out the spirit of Mahler's sound world.

The finale's “cry of the wounded heart” was delivered with a directness and vehemence that was simply stunning. If one thought this mega-orchestra was all about dash and flash, the quiet and slow bits between showed the young musicians were also capable of nuance and sensitivity. 

Where did the conductor go?

As if to also demonstrate its total independence, conductor Chan stepped off the podium, and the players performed its encore, Franz Waxman's Ride Of The Cossacks from the movie Taras Bulba, on their own. Bravo indeed! 

Here they are! Partners in crime:
Peter Moore & ChanTze Law

Here's how to fit almost
200 people on stage.

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