Concert Review: The Philharmonic Orchestra, New Year’s Eve Countdown Concert 2014, Lim Yau, conductor

1418979779-TPO NYE Concert posterStrauss II: Overture to ‘Die Fledermaus’, Emperor Waltz
Dvorak: Slavonic Dance No.8
Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol
Tchaikovsky arr. Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn: Nutcracker Suite
Richard Hayman: Pops Hoedown
John Williams: Schindler’s List*
Respighi: Pines of The Appian Way (from Pines of Rome)

The Philharmonic Orchestra, Singapore
New Year’s Eve Countdown Concert
conductor: Lim Yau
host: William Ledbetter

violin solo: Siew Yili*

School of the Arts Concert Hall

31 December 2014, 10pm

Review by Soo Kian Hing

It is the end of 2014 — where to go for that ultimate countdown party? Fancy a live orchestra, trumpet fanfare, some jazz to sway your date? Complete with bubbly on the house, and billed by The Straits Times as one of the top countdown parties in Singapore, The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) was the only classical act in the country counting down with their audience, giving us the luxury of having a full orchestra playing ‘live’ at the stroke of midnight. Judging by the full house turnout, this was certainly a highlight on concertgoers’ calendars! An exception was made for this concert: the audience were allowed to take photographs. Enthusiasts (including this writer) immediately whipped out their professional-looking gear – a rare opportunity to photograph musicians playing “live” in a concert hall!

The first half was programmed in the tradition of New Year’s Concerts of western orchestras, with lively, light classical works conjuring up a festive ball. Johann Strauss works are de rigeur here and TPO opened with two famous waltzes by the younger composer. Even as the orchestra brimmed over with rash energy, Lim Yau visibly tried to temper its exuberance, perhaps saving the fireworks for later. A few raw edges were saved, at Lim’s direction, by generous phrasing and lyrical passages, and the imperial bearing of the Emperor Waltz was delightful. Completely random thought here: methinks the musicians might just benefit from some hands-on ballroom practice to achieve the effortless glide and graceful whirl of a Viennese waltz.

nyeconcerttpoMoving on, the rest of the evening found TPO firmly in comfortably familiar territory. Dvořák’s ‘Slavonic Dance no.8’ was despatched fast and furious — just like the score marked “Presto” and “Furiant”. Master of orchestration Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Capriccio Espagnol’ passed the spotlight around several soloists, with some stellar results — although I would have preferred the horn player’s solo in the second movement to have had greater projection. Otherwise, the various cadenzas in the fourth movement were well executed and coordinated; concertmaster Siew Yili played a mean Spanish fiddle too.

Champagne was served during the intermission, and the musicians were noticeably more relaxed in the second half. No longer confined to works in the strictly “classical” genre, TPO gave a jazzed-up version of a Christmas staple, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. While no less an “orchestral” arrangement, there were enough of Duke Ellington’s signature big-band elements — and sometimes bold subjugation of themes — to brand it as the jazzman’s own work (with Billy Strayhorn). The Philharmonic Orchestra rose to the task expertly, with soloists on the clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and trombone playing jazz like the great masters of yore. Any doubt as to the players’ confidence and skill were dispelled, and Lim Yau let loose with some moves of his own, making for an enjoyable, chill-out jamming session. Gone were the nerves from the first half, and the band carried on the festive mood with Richard Hayman’s music from Pops Hoedown. While the audience were entertained with several ‘American cowboy’ melodies on the harmonica, xylophone and other special-effects percussion, host Ledbetter got everyone up on their feet to dance an actual hoedown with the music, complete with a Stetson and “yee-haw”s!

The mood turned sombre for John Williams’ Schindler’s List: not only for its musical material dealing with the Holocaust, but also because the orchestra accompanied it with in memoriam, a photo slideshow titled “We Remember” which recalled the figures lost to the world of music and the arts in the year 2014, including conductor Claudio Abbado and actor Richard Attenborough. William Ledbetter led a moment of silence for the victims of the most recent air disaster involving Airasia flight QZ 8501, which had crashed into the Java Sea about three days ago, with presumably no survivors. With poignant strings and a polished, fluid violin solo by Siew Yili, TPO helped close what had proven to be a difficult year for some, marking a chapter in the history of humanity.

nyetpoinmemoriamAs dusk descended on 2014, so would 2015 begin. In the final five minutes of the year, Respighi’s ‘Pines of The Appian Way’ started with a solemn drone in the bass, the unhurried footsteps of a Roman legion heralding the quickening of dawn. Lights were turned down, leaving the hall shrouded in darkness to set the stage, with off-stage trumpets to heighten the drama of sunrise. As the final seconds of 2014 were ticked off, the orchestra welcomed 2015 to the climax of The Appian Way, timed to the second. The audience erupted in a burst of confetti and hundreds of balloons were released into the stalls. A new year begins and, like the stoic pines standing along Via Appia, the optimism of mankind continues to prevail.

What a night! It was a rousing concert to ring in the new year, out with the old, in with the new. Much kudos must be extended to TPO and Maestro Lim Yau for taking time out to be with us for this unique countdown party. Strauss Sr.’s Radetzky March was served up as a standard encore, but for more great music, we will be looking forward to TPO’s Bartok program in April 2015, featuring the Hungarian composer’s Divertimento and Concerto for Orchestra. We at The Flying Inkpot wish all our readers a Happy New Year, which already looks very promising for Singapore’s music scene!


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