Wednesday 20 October 2021




Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Thursday (14 October 2021)




Orchestra of the Music Makers

Esplanade Concert Hall

Saturday (16 October 2021)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 20 October 2021 with the title "Superb solos from Sayaka Shoji, Kate Liu".

The gradual relaxing of live concert activity over the past weeks has allowed guest performers travelling from selected overseas countries to give concerts here without having to go through the arduous quarantine process. Audiences decrying the dearth of foreign talents also got a boost last weekend when two excellent young soloists took the spotlight.


Partnered by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra was Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji performing Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor. Composed in 1853 shortly before his demise in an insane asylum, the work has suffered in comparison to his piano and cello concertos. Saddled with less memorable themes and almost too long for its own good, it received a noble and totally musical reading.


Shoji has a robust and warm tone, evident in her resolute and confident entry, later softening to encompass more lyrical qualities. This flexibility worked well as the work meandered, but culminated in the short slow movement’s “Ghost” theme which was tender as it was vulnerable.  She remained unflappable all through the finale’s vigorous polonaise rhythm and her solo encore of Reger’s Prelude in G minor, with subtlety being the constant virtue.      


The orchestra led by Hans Graf also performed the Adagio from Bruckner’s String Quintet, a classic slow movement that moved seamlessly from quiet calm to climactic high. Quite different were the four movements from Schubert’s Third Symphony, a teenager’s vision of sunshine and cheeriness, which received an ebullient reading.  


Making a long-awaited hometown debut was the American Kate Liu, who made history in 2015 by being the first Singapore-born pianist to win a major prize at the prestigious Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. She received the Bronze Medal, Audience Prize and the “Best Mazurka” award. With the Orchestra of the Music Makers directed by Chan Tze Law, she performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor.

Photo: Yong Junyi


Arguably the greatest of his 27 piano concertos, its storms and stresses found a voice of reason in her sensitive yet invigorating solo playing. Clarity and purity of sound were ever-present hallmarks, and when push came to shove, she rose to the occasion with big-boned playing, especially in the rough-hewn cadenzas by Beethoven.

Photo: Chen Chan


The best contrasts were to be had in the central Romanze, where elegance and volatility sat cheek by jowl, and the finale’s return to the work’s tempest-tossed origins. A shift to the major key and consequent change of mood, handled with steadiness and authority, made for a joyous conclusion.

Photo: Yong Junyi


The Mozart was well-balanced by two vastly different 20th century works for quasi-chamber sized forces. The Suite from Stravinsky’s neoclassical ballet Pulcinella provided a light-hearted comedic opening while a rare outing of Kurt Weill’s Second Symphony possessed more serious undertones. Both highlighted excellent solos and ensemble playing from woodwinds and brass, an underrated aspect of our young local orchestras.

There will be further concerts featuring visiting guest performers, including London-based violinist Kam Ning (21, 22 & 27 October), Hong Kong pianist Chiyan Wong (31 October), Russian pianist Zlata Chochieva (5 & 6 November), French pianist Cedric Tiberghien (11 & 12 November), Latvian violinist Baiba Skride (1&2 December) and Austrian clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer (9,10 & 11 December) in the coming weeks. Do not miss these!

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