Concert Preview: OMM: Igor – Bruch and Bruckner

The Orchestra of the Music Makers, known for their performances of Mahler symphonies and movie music, welcome Bruckner into their repertoire this Saturday with his Symphony No. 7 in E major. Aileen Tang talks to Music Director Chan Tze Law to find out a little more about what this move means for the 11-year-old orchestra. 

The Flying Inkpot: This is OMM’s first venture into Bruckner. Why Bruckner now, after 10 years?

Chan Tze Law: We are extremely excited about OMM’s first foray into the world of Bruckner symphonies! OMM’s programming team has explored the possibility of performing this symphony for some years now, but the opportunity finally came to OMM by way of its planned historic Singapore premiere of Wagner’s Ring Cycle Opera Die Walküre in January 2020 to mark the 150th anniversary of this most iconic of operas.

It thus makes perfect sense for OMM to build up to it by exploring how Richard Wagner influenced the artistic output of his contemporaries, Bruckner being one of them. Indeed, Wagner’s influence in this Bruckner symphony has been the subject of much profound academic research, both historical and musicological. The famous and hauntingly beautiful second movement is widely considered to be Bruckner’s elegy to the great master and in my view, certainly one of the greatest masterpieces of late romantic symphonic music.

Bruckner’s use of Wagner tubas in the opening of this movement also provides OMM with another golden opportunity: on 8 June, OMM will debut its very own set of these beautiful instruments, procured by the orchestra for its upcoming Wagner opera performances.

TFI: How has conducting Mahler shaped your perspective of Bruckner?
CTL: There has been much comparison between Mahler and Bruckner, not only by noted academicians but even by eminent conductors such as Bruno Walter. I am fortunate to have conducted performances of Mahler symphonies 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8, yet I cannot pin down any musicological aspect where I can draw clear parallels between them and this Bruckner symphony. However, in execution, the experience gained from conducting large orchestral forces over the years has been very helpful to me in approaching this symphony. When the big picture is clear, a big work such as this can feel like an exciting journey. Rehearsing Bruckner’s 7 demands detail akin to polishing any of the larger Schubert symphonies, including realising the added impact of the emotive power of his colourful orchestration, within what is still the framework of classical style and structure – albeit stretched across a canvas of extended phrases. I do personally find that the emotional power of Bruckner’s musical language rather more implicit and nuanced, compared to many of the Mahler symphonies which I have conducted, with the possible exception of his fourth symphony. Bruckner symphonies also represent a major developmental waypoint in orchestral brass, and for many aspiring brass players, the exposure and experience with this repertoire is a necessary part of their growth and development – not just in the technical aspects of instrumental performance, but in how they shape and realise Bruckner’s intentions.

Anton Bruckner

TFI: How does performing the Bruckner link to OMM’s past programmes and future artistic direction?
CTL: OMM continues to find ways of bringing fresh programming ideas, and the natural consequence of that is the potential connectivity with related repertoire. By looking for interesting musical works and then making musical or historical connection with related works, OMM’s programming team comes up with programming threads that line up with notable events or dates. OMM’s upcoming Bruckner and Wagner presentations line up in this very way.

TFI: How challenging has the work been for the orchestra? And for you, conducting it?
CTL: It seems that the Music Makers are really enjoying exploring the Bruckner sound world! Of course there are challenges and in this case, managing the length of phrases and projecting them are what we have been working on. From a conducting perspective, I did find presenting the overarching structure of the work a challenge, because for that to be presented well, so many factors come into play – including careful nuancing and balancing of the interpretive details of the work – in order to realise the grand stature of this symphony.

TFI: What can the audience expect from this Saturday’s performance? Is there anything in particular that they should look out for?
CTL: There is something for everyone! For symphonic enthusiasts, Bruckner’s seventh is a necessary waypoint. For string enthusiasts, the Bruch violin concerto, as well as the incredibly expressive string writing of the symphony, will be a treat. I have previously mentioned the brass contributions, and there are also major solos for each of the woodwinds. Finally, all members of the audience will get to decide for themselves if the addition of percussion contribution to the great climax of the slow movement was good advice given to Bruckner by his influencers!

Chan Tze Law conducts the Orchestra of the Music Makers this Saturday, 8 July 2019, at the SOTA Concert Hall. The programme also includes Igor Yuzefovich in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Lee Jinjun’s The Red Longkang. Tickets from Sistic.

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