SSO Lunchtime Concert

 

Sponsored by Singapore Press Holding’s Gift of Music Series, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) performed a lunchtime concert today at the Victoria Memorial Hall. Perhaps due to the publicity, the queue to enter the hall was already quite long (I estimated about 200 people in front of me) half an hour before the commencement of the concert. It was presented and conducted by the Associate Conductor of the SSO, Jason Lai.

The opening piece is the endearing Morning Mood from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No 1 Op 46. The music depicts a sunrise over a desert after Peer Gynt is stranded in Morocco by his friends, and he is sitting in his tree using a branch to defend himself against a group of monkeys. I was immersed in the sunny, beautiful dawn until baby’s cries and people coughing spoiled the mood!

Johannes Brahms’ Third Movement (Poco allegretto) from Symphony No 3 in F Major Op 90 is Lai’s favourite. It is a lullaby meant to soothe, but it also has a seriousness to it, combined with a sense of romance that is truly beautiful. It is also slightly different from most lullabies as it is in a minor key. I love the beautiful cello solo passage that gets repeated and dressed differently. The middle section highlighted the winds, and listening to the colours and sounds is just an incredible experience!

The next treat is a preview of a concert in next April, to commemorate the 100th Birth anniversary of the composer Leonard Bernstein. Selections from West Side Story today include I Feel Pretty, Maria (my favourite of the day), Something’s coming, Tonight, One Hand, One Heart, Cool and America. I especially liked the harp and violins singing the melodies before being joined by the entire string section and then the whole orchestra, ending on a high  and triumphant note. Mr Lai himself was a delight to watch – his beautiful, expressive body language and gestures was simply infectious!

Another pop concert in the works (in August) is Ennio Morricone”s Cinema Paradiso. The excerpts played today are: Theme, First Youth, Love Theme. For me, the best part was the opening with a long solo passage played by the piano, before the violins then the rest of the strings joined in. (How come it didn’t sound as lovely when I played it on my piano?)

The final piece of the day was Manuel De Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance from El amor brujo. The music, depicting the worshipping of the fire goddess and dancing by the fire has a fiery and Oriental/tribal flavour. Pianist Shane Thio succeeded in making the piano sound like the percussion instrument that it is. Despite three curtain calls , there was no encore as the concert had exceeded the stated duration. Most in the audience would have to scurry back to work.

 

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.