Sunday, 4 August 2013

CONCERTI I SOLISTI II / School of the Arts Music Students with Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

SOTA Music Students with
Orchestra of the Music Makers
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Friday (2 August 2013)

It is a rare evening that I am not with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, instead attending a concert by another orchestra. On this evening, it is the young Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) performing a concerto evening at the School of the Arts’ Music Festival. It was a case of putting aside “what has been” for “what will be”, as any concert at SOTA with young people is a crystal ball of what the local music scene will be in the years to come. Indeed the future does look bright, especially with the quality of young musicians that is coming through.

What is less bright is that the audience is lagging way behind. I could swear that there seemed to be more people on stage than sitting in the stalls. Where has everybody gone? Could they all have been at Esplanade? If both parents of those on stage attended this concert, there would still be a sizeable audience to greet the surfeit of young talent. Alas this was not to be. Are there so many concerts in Singapore that people are actually tired of attending?

The concert opened with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture conducted by young conductor Lien Boon Hua. Early jitters from the young orchestra were apparent, and the slow introduction sounded like a trial of nerves. Intonation from winds and brass were suspect, but it all improved with the onset of the fast music, depicting the feuding Montagues and Capulets. The love music, the part everybody loves, came through very well, and buoyed by this rapturous escapade, the world closed on an encouraging note. 

The rest of the concert was conducted by OMM Music Director Chan Tze Law. A smaller band was left on stage to accompany SOTA student Samuel Phua in Jacques Ibert’s Concertino da Camera for saxophone and chamber orchestra. For times, there was a risk that even the pared down forces would overwhelm the soloist, but the young man was a portrait of confidence itself. He projected a big sound throughout, trading the orchestra blow for blow, and never coming out in second place. The second movement was a dreamy nocturne-like interlude leading into an unbuttoned finale, and it was clear he was fully enjoying himself in its jazzy insouciant swagger.

After the interval came Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto in F major,  a deceptively tricky work even though it was written as his teenaged son Maxim’s (later the conductor) graduation piece. Extreme rhythmic steadiness was the key to success, and pianist Ng Jia Ning seemed somewhat rattled from the beginning. She coped well most of the time, bringing out the first movement’s cadenza with much clarity and precision. The slow second movement was lovely, with muted strings providing the sumptuous romantic accompaniment, while the finale’s spoof on Hanon and Czerny studies came unstuck for a brief but agonising moment. Fortunately she regained her composure and the combined forces ended in one accord.

The main highlight was to be the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with soloist Rui Xin Wei, with gelled up hair made to look like some kind of mohawk. Strange looks aside, he gave a totally assured account of the warhorse distinguished with some individual nuances of his own. His was not just some accurate but bland account but one in which he had something to say. Barnstormed he did, with crashing chords, sweeping arpeggios and flying octaves, but it was in the more restrained moments in which he found poetry and a rare dignity which does not always comes with youngsters. The big cadenza was comfortably dealt with, and straining on his leash, the coda saw him racing off and leaving the orchestra one step behind. With further education, thought and reflection, a fine fully-formed artist will emerge someday. Back in 1997, similar thoughts of mine were cast upon a 15-year-old boy who had just played the Tchaikovsky with the SSO. His name was Lang Lang.      

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