Classical weekend


by Burt Thyng 

On March 19 and 20, the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) and Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) each respectively put up a splendid performance at the Victoria Concert Hall.

From the SNYO came a fun, friendly and family-oriented performance and was conducted by Leonard Tay, featuring iconic film scores of John Williams getting plenty of exposure outside the cinema, which guaranteed a packed concert hall of throughly entertained guests every time they are played. With our SNYO decked out in various costumes from the movie Star Wars and the conductor in a brown yoda-like robe holding a green baton, it was as much a visual spectacle as it was a sonic one. There was even a surprise lightsaber battle within the concert hall perfectly synchronised with the fast rhythms of the piece.

Under the new leadership and management of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, our homegrown youth orchestra are most certainly in good hands, having been a platform for nurturing future generations of musicians no less. These precocious talented teens buckled down and delivered a good performance, albeit juggling full-time school. The pressure of playing a well-known piece showed slightly too, with some wobbly tunes and wrong rhythmic entries, however these were largely forgivable as they still managed to get the larger vital parts well executed.

However, while understandably it is a youth orchestra with tunes that are family friendly, I was not too impressed with the audience though, made up of restless teenagers sitting in the back rows (possibly there to support their friends); tighter measures could have been done by VCH to help keep them from talking loudly or taking wefies mid-performance.

Otherwise, it was a fitting end to a hectic working saturday with a sojourn through the Star Wars cinematic universe complete.

For a Sunday afternoon performance, the Victoria Concert Hall Chamber Series presented 4 soulful pieces to stir our sentiments. The pieces on showcase included Fantaisie for violin and harp by Camille Saint-Saëns, Cantos del Tucumán by Alberto Ginastera, Serenade for Strings in E minor by Edward Elgar, and the showpiece Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg.

The afternoon opened with a violinist and Gulnara Mashurova on the harp. Harpists are few and far between, and Mashurova does not disappoint with her meticulous playing. Glorious harp glissandos, skillfully drawn and ornate passages requiring delicate care were tackled with finesse. Her gold-plated harp glistened under VCH’s spotlights, adding a touch of class to the rest of the concert for the day.

Mezzo-soprano Angela Hogkins was on par too, and shared the limelight performing Ginastera’s quintessential Argentinian piece. Lending her versatile voice to the four love poems and evoking the longings of lost love to the audience with her amber tone, her rendition during the poem Vida, Vidita, Vidala (My Life, My Song) hit an emotional nerve that I am certain caused a tear or two amongst the audience. She definitely did not need an elaborate Argentinian costume which many performances would surely include to have the crowd be mesmerized, for all who heard her definitely bowed under her spell of a soulful voice.

Composed in Bergen, Norway, the Holberg Suite was made to commemorate Ludwig Holberg, a prominent dramatist, often referred to as the “Molière of the North.” Perhaps followed by the earlier sorrowful pieces today, Air, the fourth movement in the Holberg Suite exuded a similar emotional intensity that moved concert-goers. It stirred sentiments with its rich sweeping melodies and gentle pulsating accompaniments.

Finally, like a soothing salve applied over fungating wounds, the muscians today certainly helped ameliorate feelings of darkness and despair within us, and filled deep emotional voids that only artful playing can.