Pre European Concert Tour

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) performs over 50 concerts a year. Yesterday’s concert gave us a glimpse of what the orchestra will be playing at its European Tour next month. The works they will play in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Mannheim and Prague also include at least a concerto for the cello and two concertos for the violin. Touring is important because it raises the orchestra’s profile and gains prestige.

Despite a heavy downpour, a sizeable crowd showed up at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall (at the National University of Singapore) yesterday afternoon. It played three pieces:

Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4 (1943 version) by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) This was originally written for a string sextet when Schoenberg was 25 years old, but later adapted for a string orchestra. The piece tells of a poignant conversation between a man  and woman  as they walk through a ‘bare, cold grove”. A leitmotif system is used to identify the woman, man and narrator (violin, viola and cello) thematically and to reveal their various emotional states.

Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59: Suite by Richard Strauss (1864-1949)                                                    Strauss wrote more than 50 operas, and this one is a crowd pleaser as it is a colourful piece. The Suite (“To The Night of the Rose”) provides a bird’s eye view of the whole opera, containing orchestral adaptations of the introduction, the Presentation of the Rose, a waltz, brief excerpts from trios and duets, a series of sumptuous Straussian climaxes, and a quick waltz bringing it to a rousing end. It is an awesome piece. There is such energy and fervour that conductor Lan Shui’s (Music Director of SSO since 1997 and Cultural Medallion receipient) baton flew off his hand towards the percussion sessiion. It was retrieved and passed back to him later by a violist. Whether he had a baton or not, Shui was able to coax the sound he wanted from the orchestra: be it charm, majesty, flamboyance, grandoise or  full of joviality, swaying, lilting or soaring. With the pleasant melody, it was my favourite piece of the day.

La Valse, poeme choregraphique by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)                                                 Ravel, the harmony master, uses unusual chords and bi-tonality and his writing is exceptionally clear. This piece was written around 1920 and it captured his experience fighting in World War I. It was commissioned as a ballet to be danced to, but Ravel wrote it as a work that has a plot of danger and death. The effect is one of exuberance.

Amidst calls for an encore, “Bravo” and a standing ovation, the orchestra obliged with a buoyant piece that brought the concert to a triumphant end.