Friday, 2 June 2017

BEETHOVEN AT AN EXHIBITION / ADDO Chamber Orchestra / Review

ADDO Chamber Orchestra
Esplanade Rehearsal Studio
Wednesday (31 May 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 June 2017 with the title "Classical music concert with smells of grass and sweat".

When one thinks of concerts, the idea is that of a seated audience listening and watching passively to whatever is being performed. This concert by the ADDO Chamber Orchestra conducted by Clarence Tan was conceived to challenge that convention. Even the venue, the secluded 6th floor Rehearsal Studio in Esplanade, reached only by a long flight of stairs, seemed to further the notion.

Seating was strictly optional, and the atmosphere was social media friendly. The audience was heeded to take as many photographs or videos as one liked, and to post them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Everyone was also free to walk between the widely-spaced musicians and immerse themselves in a surround sound ambience.

That was exactly what happened when conductor Tan gave the downbeat for Beethoven's familiar Fifth Symphony. With hardly any practice time and the intimidatingly close proximity of total strangers, the orchestra did not perform at a level beyond rehearsal standards, but that was besides the point.

The experiment of being an interloper moving freely within the orchestra's ranks was an interesting one, if only to experience a player's point of view and to witness how a work can sound so different under the circumstances. There were however some safety tips: keep a safe distance from being stabbed by rapidly wielded bows, and do not stand directly in front of the trombones.

Singaporean composer Hoh Chung Shih's Hi-lo Fide-lio received its Asian Premiere this evening. The work is a deconstruction of the vocal quartet Mir Ist So Wunderbar from Beethoven's opera Fidelio. The orchestra played fragments in the form of a canon, while historical recordings by Furtwängler, Walter and Böhm were blared through three speakers.

The audience could also tune in via handphones after scanning QR codes provided in the programme sheet. This made for one cacophonous outing, with people wandering in and out of the ensemble while others sitting and fidgeting with digital gadgets as the music played. The takeaway was this: there was a uniquely different perspective depending on what one did.

The final work was Mikhail Tushmalov's orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, originally a piano suite with a quasi-interactive inspiration. Its opening piece was titled Promenade, which imagined a visitor walking in a gallery between viewing art pieces, rather apt given this concert's context.

An added sensory element was the involvement of scent artists Christopher Yap and Johari Kazura who mingled with the audience bearing cannisters of various fragrances and odours, including freshly cut grass and fallen rain (pleasant) to smoke and sweat from a 3-day unwashed shirt (not so pleasant).

By now, sceptics might sense that the various scents distracted listeners from the sometimes ragged playing, but that might just be the whole point of it all. Our senses sometimes deceive us by the confusion of multiple inputs, which is why music is perhaps best experienced in complete and utter silence.

Scent artists Christopher Yap and Johari Kazura,
with composer Hoh Chung Shih in between,
taking their bow.

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