Concerts for Children: Journey Around The World – Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Jessica Gethin | The Flying Inkpot
Iain Grandage: ALL THAT GLISTERS…
Rossini: WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE
Yan Hua & Masato Suzuki: HAPPINESS
Engelbert Humperdinck: THE WITCHES’ RIDE
Vaughan Williams: OVERTURE TO THE WASPS
Debussy: CLAIR DE LUNE
Johann Strauss II: THUNDER AND LIGHTNING POLKA
Grieg: IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING
Kelly Tang: SYMPHONIC SUITE ON A SET OF LOCAL TUNES
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Jessica Gethin, conductor
Sat, 18 Mar 2023, 11am
Victoria Concert Hall
Review by Derek Lim
SSO’s Concerts for Children have long been a mainstay in the concert season, meant to introduce children to classical music in a kid-friendly setting, and perhaps turn a first-time concert-goer into a repeat one.
This interestingly-programmed concert didn’t quite fulfil its marketing premise. Titled ‘Journey Around the World’, it promised to ‘explore the soundscapes of music from across the globe’, and ‘celebrate the beauty of cultural diversity, uniting people through the language of music’, and attracted, not surprisingly, parents eager to expose their children – some as young as 3 or 4 – to the orchestra.
Australian conductor Jessica Gethin, who also acted as presenter, was a dynamo of energy, emerging not on stage but from the hall’s main doors, making her way to the stage while introducing herself and getting the kids excited about what they were about to experience. The stage and podium were decorated with objects characteristic of the countries whose music had been programmed – flags, a pizza box, Big Ben and a King’s Guard, kangaroo crossing signs, Mona Lisa and so on. But the choice of pieces and their commentary left much to be desired.
No one could accuse the programme team of being lazy with this selection of works – indeed the orchestra may even have found them somewhat refreshing, with not-so-frequently heard works like the opening piece, Australian composer Iain Grandage’s All that Glisters, led commandingly and played colourfully by the SSO, before moving on to others such as Vaughan Williams’ Overture to the Wasps, Copland’s Hoedown from Rodeo, and an energetically played account of Johann Strauss II’s Thunder and Lightning Polka.
But kids’ attention spans are notoriously short. While Rossini’s William Tell overture got the kids (and adults) excited, most of the rest weren’t instantly recognisable or ear-worm material to concert novices – surely something to consider when programming what might be a first concert for many (even the adults). The choice of Debussy’s hushed, quiet Clair de Lune was even more bizarre, as if the programmers hadn’t considered their audience at all. Cries around me of ‘Daddy/Mummy, I’m bored’ by this point said it all as attentions flagged and the young audience grew increasingly restless.
After each piece, Gethin described to the children images typical of the country that piece originated from – Italy had a man riding a Vespa with a gelato, Austria had ice-skiing, Wiener schnitzels and so on. While effective in letting the kids guess the origins of the pieces, the actual tableaus painted by the commentary had little to do with the pieces themselves. Some were eye-rollingly stereotypical – for the Chinese piece the conductor spied, among other things, Olympic gold medals for badminton. But this way of introduction also missed an opportunity to let the children know what to look out for.
Perhaps it would have been better to have programmed works more evocative of geographical spots in the countries mentioned. For example, while exciting, it’s probably difficult to relate Humperdinck’s Witches’ Ride to anything in Germany itself that kids might know (and at least my five-year-old seemed to find it scary). More accessible music, please!
As a first touch with the orchestra, there were bright spots in the experience, many of which were with the ‘instrument petting zoo’ at level one of the VCH before and after the show, with musicians of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra demonstrating, explaining and letting the children touch and play a harp, clarinets, flutes, trumpets and glockenspiels. Some, especially the harpist, did a great job of explaining how their instruments worked and helped the kids connect to the music and make it accessible.
And isn’t that what children’s concerts are all about?
What a five-and-a-half year old girl liked and didn’t like
1. The violinists doing the buzzy bees!
2. Yelling ‘pizza!’
3. Guessing the countries
4. The girl conductor!
1. The scary music
2. The decorations