Monday, 2 January 2017

NEW YEAR'S EVE COUNTDOWN CONCERT 2017 / The Philharmonic Orchestra / Review

The Philharmonic Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Saturday (31 December 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 January 2017 with the title "Countdown concert a boisterous start to the new year".

Now into its 6th edition, The Philharmonic Orchestra's annual New Year's Eve Countdown Concert has become a cherished local institution. A full-house greeted the year's final musical event, and a formula that has served well was relived. Host-of-the-evening William Ledbetter, sporting a gold top-hat, was his usual bubbly self and TPO Music Director Lim Yau conducted Hector Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture as a spirited opener.

Bernice Lee's oboe solo provided a lovely prelude to the festivities that followed with a full-throated showing from the brass, led by a irrepressible trio of trombones. This was a good start, and the orchestra was just as impressive under the baton of prize-winning guest conductor Lien Boon Hua, recently appointed Assistant Conductor of the Polish National Radio Orchestra.

His first task was to navigate the ensemble through two Strauss favourites, Josef Strauss' Music Of The Spheres, a waltz as lilting and graceful as any of his famous elder brother Johann's, and the incessant chatter of Johann's Tritsch-Tratsch Polka. The latter was accompanied by projected slides of the orchestra's favourite moments of the year, with an inevitable salute to Joseph Schooling, Singapore's first ever Olympic gold medallist.

The dance rhythm was lovingly captured, and this continued into Bedrich Smetana's Die Moldau. A pair of flutes, skilfully helmed by Shirley Tong and Andy Koh, teased their way through the symphonic poem's evocative opening, leading into the broad melody which was gratefully lapped up by the orchestra.

Robust yet sensitive, the Bohemian spirit that pulsed through the splendid showing was repeated after the intemission's nuts and champagne, in two Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak. Taken from the Op.72 set, the first dance's rousing fervour was contrasted with the quiet melancholy of the second dance.

Ledbetter reprised his annual circus ringleader act by getting the audience to follow his cowboy actions in Richard Hayman's Pops Hoedown. This year it was a rather tame sit-down affair, for fear of patrons seated in the Circle seats who had downed a little too much spirit. However, it was the busy percussion section that sounded the most tipsy.

As with previous concerts, there was a work of sobriety that gave time for reflection on the illustrious lives that departed in 2016. Former President S.R.Nathan, Thailand's King Rama IX, conductors Sir Neville Marriner and Pierre Boulez, pop culture icons George Michael and Carrie Fisher were among the names remembered as the orchestra played Jean Sibelius' Valse Triste.

For the final countdown, Respighi's ominous Pines Of The Appian Way was replaced this year by Georges Bizet's more cheerful Farandole from L'Arlesienne, now conducted by Lim Yau. Its driving beat, which got faster and more intense by the minute, steamrolled the seconds into 2017, and a much-loved cascade of gold and silver balloons.

There was enough time for one encore, the ubiquitous Radetzky March by Johann Strauss the Elder and its rounds of synchronised clapping. An auspicious new year for more good music beckons.         

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