Tuesday 14 August 2018

SSO NATIONAL DAY CONCERT / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (11 August 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 August 2018 with the title "Something for everyone in concert of Singaporean music".

What is Singaporean music? That question was partially answered in a first-ever National Day Concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, led by Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang. In premiering new works and reliving popular tunes, there seemed to be something for everyone this evening. 

Cultural Medallion recipient Kelly Tang's two suites on popular local melodies began each half of the concert. The Symphonic Suite On A Set Of Local Tunes had Home, Chan Mali Chan, Bunga Sayang and Singapore Heartbeat as main themes, with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Elmer Bernstein's Magnificent Seven as clever cameos. His Sketches Of Singapore did service to Stand Up For Singapore, Rasa Sayang, Where I Belong and Di Tanjong Katong in the flag-waving Americanised style of John Williams.

It was feel good all the way in the original works, beginning with Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin's Bidasari, a short work based on the pan-Malayan legend of Syair Bidasari. An orchestration of the main theme from her 2016 choreographed work Ikan Girl, atmospheric piccolo and flute solos backed by lush orchestration suggested this to be the Prelude To The Afternoon Of The Fish.

The Malay and marine setting also dominated Wang Chen Wei The Sisters' Islands, based on another legend. This work sounded even more Indo-Malay with the use of the pelog scale, and had solos from a blown conch shell and ocarina as part of its storytelling. The Vienna-trained Wang's Wagnerian orchestration brought echoes of the Rhine to the Straits of Singapore. 

The longest work was Chen Zhangyi 17-minute-long Violin Concerto entitled Vanda, a tribute to the national flower (Vanda Miss Joachim) and our Garden City. The soloist was London-based Kam Ning who mastered its three movements with her usual easy-going aplomb. The first two botanically-inspired movements were slow, and the fast finale, titled A Renaissance, included a virtuosic jazz-inflected cadenza by Kam herself. Her encore relived the raucous sounds of Chinatown, a Paganinian movement from her father Kam Kee Yong's 1976 sonata Huai Ku.

Xinyao (1980s Singaporean mandarin pop) had a look in with Liang Wern Fook's This Is Singapore Medley orchestrated by Samuel Tan, Its big band arrangement that found an apotheosis in his best-known song Xi Shui Chang Liu. The legacy of Sing Singapore and NDP was revived in Phoon Yew Tien's arrangements of Zubir Said's Semoga Bahagia (May You Achieve Happiness, better known as The Children's Day Song) and S.Jesudassan's Tamil favourite Munnaeru Vaalibaa (Come Forward, Youths!), now joined by the 100-strong combined choirs of the Singapore Symphony group.

It would not be a National Day Concert without Dick Lee's ubiquitous Home, arranged by Tang, and the audience stood up for the national anthem Majulah Singapura by Zubir Said. One senses that this concert has merely scratched the surface of Singaporean music. It is imperative that there will be many more National Day Concerts by the SSO to come in the future. 

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