Friday, 29 December 2017


Its that time of the year again to relive the landmark classical concerts in Singapore and recordings which I had reviewed for the pages of The Straits Times Life! section. 

Here are the best and the worst. Thankfully, all the concerts I had attended this year were mostly good, and I had no recourse to single out any bad one. So I have decided to focus on a pet peeve of mine: terrible concert etiquette, which were sadly evident on more than one occasion. 


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 April 2017

It took the Singapore Symphony Orchestra some 23 years to perform again Olivier Messiaen’s massive 10-movement, 75-minute long Turangalila Symphony, but it was well worth the wait. The French composer’s grand conception of universal love, encompassing sacred, profane and carnal varieties, with Andreas Haefliger (piano), Cynthia Millar (Ondes Martenot), and over 100 musicians (including 10 percussionist) led by Shui Lan proved to be the year’s most impressive sonic spectacular.

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall, 21 May 2017

Seldom has a visiting soloist so dominated a concert than Chinese dizi exponent Zhang Weiliang with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by Yeh Tsung. Other than the purely orchestral overture, he played in every work of the 2-hour long concert, including his own composition Tears Of Flowers and the world premiere of Cui Quan’s Southern Wind. Showcasing the full gamut of dizi and shakuhachi technique with consummate mastery and effortless ease, the audience could be excused for feeling breathless on his behalf.

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall, 12 August 2017

Edward Elgar’s cantata The Music Makers was given its Singapore premiere by the appropriately named Orchestra of the Music Makers led by Chan Tze Law. Movers and shakers of the independent orchestral scene, the young ensemble got its name from this work’s title, which appears in the first line of Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s Ode. Joined by 200 singers from Singapore and Taiwan, the spine-tingling performance had the strong sense of living out its credo, that is to “carry on dreaming”.

because of concert etiquette befitting the Stone Age.

A blatant case of videotaping a performance,
an activity that is commonplace in PRC.

7 January 2017, Lee Foundation Theatre
Children misbehaving themselves in clear view of the audience and their shameless parents. Only numbskulls will bring kids to a concert of George Crumb and Bela Bartok.

14 January 2017, Lee Foundation Theatre
More children misbehaving including bouncing up and down the seats, with parents being blithely ignorant. How do you say STFU in Mandarin?

13 April 2017, Esplanade Concert Hall
Latecomers spoiling the slow movement of Barber's Cello Concerto by nonchalantly making their way to their seats while the music is playing, not helped by inept ushers who should have known better than to let them in.

4 May 2017, Victoria Concert Hall
A toddler screamed "I wanna go home!" in the front row while Angela Hewitt was playing a Bach partita, and had to be dragged out. Go home and stay home! 

18 July 2017, Victoria Concert Hall
The noisiest concert in living memory was Yao Xiao Yun's otherwise marvellous piano recital. You name it, the audience did it: excessive coughing, dropping of objects, fidgeting children, inappropriate applause, eating, drinking and videotaping with a cellphone.

29 December 2017, Esplanade Concert Hall
Another noisy kid being dragged out, within the very first minute of Melvyn Tan's recital. When will this kiasu madness end?

To make it clear, these concerts were in no way poor, but its takes only a few members of the audience to behave poorly and inconsiderately, thus marring the enjoyment of the moral majority. Young children, in particular, were most culpable but we must lay the blame on their clueless parents who should know better than to bring toddlers to attend concerts of serious music. They deserve to get the "Hamroll of the Year" award (an unenviable accolade created by Troopz of Arsenal Fan TV). End of rant. 


DEBUSSY Jeux, Khamma
& La Boite A Joujoux
Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Lan Shui
BIS 2162

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s second Debussy disc is an even greater success that its first. All three works are ballets not often heard in concerts or recordings, coming from the French impressionist composer’s later years. Jeux contains some of Debussy’s finest music, while the orchestrations of La Boite A Joujoux (The Toybox) and Khamma by Andre Caplet and Charles Koechlin respectively are masterful. Conductor Shui Lan and the orchestra’s close attention to detail and nuance is brilliantly captured in this breathtaking recording.

Complete Works for Flute Vol.1
Roberto Alvarez (Flute) et al
Centaur 3554

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s principal piccolo player Roberto Alvarez is the ideal interpreter of Catalan composer-conductor Salvador Brotons’ flute music. Fully attuned to his idiom and mastering myriad technical challenges, the performances of his two flute sonatas and chamber music with flute (Coloured Skies, Fantasia Concertante, Three Divertimenti and El Port De La Selva) play like a dream. He is ably partnered by a Who’s Who of Singapore music, including Beatrice Lin (piano), Katryna Tan (harp), Kevin Loh (guitar) and Eugene Toh (percussion).

KAM NING (Violin) &
Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort (Piano)
Etcetera 1582

The Dutch label Etcetera has found a winner in Singaporean violinist Kam Ning who displays incisive and sensitive playing, and her lovely string tone, in this wonderfully contrasted recital disc of music by Mendelssohn (Sonata in F major), Stravinsky (Suite Italienne) and Prokofiev (Sonata No.2). All three works have a common factor, namely a fond look back at past musical traditions, which are well-served by Kam’s vision of conceptual simplicity coupled with outsized virtuosity. A joy to listen.    


Warner Classics 837942

Some bright spark had the idea of cramming 100 tracks of music by Hungarian pianist-composer Franz Liszt into six compact discs for this compilation box-set. This was achieved by sub-dividing his two piano concertos into 10 separate tracks, and allotting the Sonata in B minor some 7 tracks. Also reliving the acts of Procrustes, a number of works, such as Les Preludes, Totentanz and Hungarian Fantasy, had been truncated to fit the confines of each disc’s time limit. There are neither programme notes nor a biography of Liszt, so one wonders to whom this exercise of dumbing down was targeted.     

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