Monthly Archives: September 2014

Silver and Snow (Part 2)

Singapore Symphony Orchestra: Russian Nights

In a series of fortunes, I ended up procuring a ticket to the SSO concert with returning conductor Rozhdestvensky, before which I would have been ambivalent to attend. Suffice to say I was a little more than pleasantly surprised by the experience.

In the last few instalments that I did attend, there has been a mix of glorious moments and unexpected (rather minor) disappointments: Glazunov’s brilliant Les Ruses d’amour which followed a struggling Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto, and Postinova’s somewhat violent treatment of Brahms’ 2nd Concerto which preceded a glowing 2nd Symphony by the same composer. This time round, it was evident that the Russian pieces fit the conductor and soloist couple to a T, and the gravity of the works had little effect on the energy and freshness that the orchestra brought to bear against the musical demands.

In a classic, complex Russian that this author does not fully comprehend, the theme of death is juxtaposed sharply against the flowing, living, and eventual ascension that death alone is unable to prevent.

Liadov’s Apocalypse – at first sight a vision breaking into tranquil glory, melts into a strange and unfamiliar disintegrating paradise. In between cacophonies of lustres and outbursts of unheard voices, lies a foreign land that is seldom heard (and challenging to digest) but simply heartfelt. Written shortly before his death, it seems the composer himself was expected to have produced more and “better”, but the sparseness and rarity of the music may be part of why it turned out so treasurable, and so ethereally satisfying. No more should be said without listening to it.

The setting up of the pianoforte gave some time for reflection, before Postinova came onstage with a rather fresh image (her husband appeared to be donning an Eastern-styled outfit). It became apparent upon her launching boldly into the sparkling opening that the music would be in her favour. There were some balance (and minor ensemble) issues resulting in the soloist being covered by the orchestra, impossible though it may seem. Some over-pedalling in the first movement seemed apparent from my vantage point, although the sound from the stalls was reportedly dry. These proved to be minor flaws as the orchestra unleashed romanticism that matched the strength of Postinova’s arduour, without due concern to her seven decades (and the conductor’s eight) on this planet.

After carrying a greater weight than the composers would suggest, the first half led to the clear heavyweight in Shostakovich – and his last symphony no less. As if a composer could not be further accomplished, Shostakovich the (mis)fortunate who lived through the War(s) era also went through the lyrical, celebratory, pained, stormy, frivolous, and finally ended here with the transcendent. Not immediately approachable as per the first half, the symphony appeared (as paraphrased from the programme notes) to be a selection of memories, a flashback of sorts by the sick and ailing Shostakovich. With “just 31 bars” of full tutti orchestra, and a 14-strong percussion section, the symphony was as eclectic as atmospheric, diasporic. Strains of restrospection were set against chamber textures of exquisite beauty. Despite the audiences (understandable) restlessness towards the third and fourth movements, there was much to be understood in that which was difficult to listen to and comprehend.

I will leave the enthusiasm of the reader unfulfilled with this abridged quote by Blokker on Shostakovich: “…just as a great poet can convey more in fifty words than a promising one in five hundred.” Perhaps that warrants another listening (and another playing) at some later point in this life.

Two swan-songs bracketing one composer’s first foray into piano concertos seems almost intentional. From his apparent onstage wit to the hideously demanding programming, Rozhdestvensky was obviously pleased by the form of the orchestra and the solo performances Yuzefovich and Ng Pei-Sian, amongst others that I am unable to put a name to the face. Belying his 7 years with SSO, friendship of over 33 years with Souptel, and 83 years of age, Rozhdestvensky brought great music and (most importantly) great joy and humour.

The timelessness of this concert experience may have just been encapsulated in Postinova’s encore – Liadov’s Music Box. A pianissimo piece (the composer’s supposed forte), Postinova’s tender treatment (most unexpected from her usual bravado) put the “tinkle” in the keys, and without the oft-used gimmicks of a perpetual ritenuto or shutting the piano lid at the end, it left the audience both satiated and wanting for more.

Bonus:

On Anatol Lyadov’s Musical Snuffbox, for piano (or orchestra), Op. 32
On Shostakovich’s musical styles and recommended recordings illustrating these

Silver and Snow (Part 1)

Preamble

If I were to tell my busy self on Friday to attend two concerts on Saturday, he might has written it off as weekend madness. By sheer chance and magnanimity, the scenes aligned just sufficiently for this character to pass through, unimpeded.

Picture is unrelated

NUS Symphony Orchestra: Screen Gems

Whilst in keeping the tradition of annual September public outreach concerts, NUSSO tread new ground at the popular and accessible Vivocity Amphitheatre. A fresh change from the NLB open Plaza and scheduled safely away from the F1 races, its proximity to the NUS campus and general weekend crowds served its objective well.

Opening with one of Strauss Jr.’s crowd pleasers, NUSSO launched with wholehearted gusto into Die Fledermaus Overture. Despite sections of killer passages, the musicians went from mock stateliness to beer-drinking frivolity in a manner belying the amateur nature of the ensemble. What was lacking in momentum and articulation was made up with strength in ensemble and melody.

The second movement of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony was a reprieve from the grandiosity of the first number, but no less jocund. Sets of variations riddled with dynamic surprises as per its namesake, a little humour and finesse was lost in the presentation and the sound system. Largely though, it served its purpose as a sweet intermezzo before the heavyweights arrived.

A personal favourite, the Waltz of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet (suite) was paired with the far more famous opening movement, the Scene. Here again, parts were less is more were once again given the generous treatment (tremolo parts will know who you are) as the solo lines were sometimes covered up and the balance upset. The Waltz played much better to the youthful exuberance of the orchestra, and despite (once again) the flows of momentum the audience was noticeably pleased by the hearty and heartfelt romanticism.

Bizet’s Carmen Suite – a collection of dances and scenes from an opera. Without going into more detail regarding the artistic and cultural ties between Russia and France, the musical content of Bizet’s alone covers a wide range of moods, colours and both soloistic and concerted forces. A crowd-pleaser, problems in the balance and details interfered with the orchestration and the portrayal of what is essentially a tragedy of exciting, diverse, and ego-inflated characters. Nevertheless, in the setting of a lossy outdoor concert, the energy and apt tackling of both solo and tutti passages roused the crowd to cheers (some individualised) and applause.

The descent of the tropical sun lent its molten setting to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and the concluding Pirates of the Carribean  suite. Both vastly popular, the scene from A Midsummer’s Night dream drew wry smiles from the audience while the Pirates’ upbeat rhythms seemed to revitalise the orchestra, leading to a energetic finale.

A quick, almost improvisatory Can-Can / Galop Infernal wrapped up the evening.

As a self-confessed sucker for irony, given the amount present in the musical numbers (even the waltz is interrupted by the hero’s mother ordering him to get married), it was a little disappointing missing out on bits of quietness and a lack of energy in the middle of the programme, especially since it would have been apparent even given the outdoors setting and sound system. However, despite the heat, the challenging lines and the several solos, as well as the clearly-visible and overflowing audience, NUSSO pulled off a thoroughly enjoyable and successful concert.

Credit Roll:

Special mention to the organising team, Exco, CFA Staff, Mr Lim, Mr Foo and all the tutors for the back- and front-end work that made the concert both a logistical and musical success. Thanks should also go to Exxon-Mobil, Vivocity, NUS CFA and all other parties for the provision of the practice and concert venues, and unseen contributions in one way or another or many.

Further special mention to the percussion section for the quality of pulse and ensemble.

Also, farthest special mention to the violists for no particular reason.

Half a year too late for Women’s Day

Interestingly enough, the recorded origin of International Women’s Day has links to the “February Revolution in Petrograd”.

Don’t shoot me, that’s what wiki says…

Hopefully next March the 8th will be uneventful on the domestic security front…

Featured Poem

SINGAPORE POETRY

PREFACE 
from One Thousand and One Nights by Gwee Li Sui

When love ends, what do you keep? Some autumns ago, I met a remarkable woman and we fell in love. She is a Korean novelist, I a Singaporean poet. Across oceans of differences and the habits of age, we forged a way to love and to keep faith. Then, as mysteriously as it all started, it ended about a thousand and one nights later.

Modern storytellers beguile us. They bring such freshness to the endings of tales that we willingly hold our breaths in a promise of them. But the best bits are in the middle where often it feels like the adventure can never die. Every day is vast with possibilities as the heart marvels at the new way it beats. These are what I keep.

G. L. S.

Raindancing
by Gwee li Sui

She needed to write…

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Sonnet: First Nap

But lo, beyond a fine cerulean haze
as stepping from the shadows grey, and yet
we gaze upon the fleeting silhouettes
against a greater backdrop silence plays

In distance gleams a stony marble face
whose outline brows a vintage timepiece still
lords over, oversees, observes, until
The age surrounds us with her sweet embrace.

A chime like foghorn, steel on hammer strike
sounds strong above its trove of eras past
Whilst hands of pewter perched on chromium mast
turn wordlessly round rich and poor alike…

…and down the slide of sweet Circadian wine
poured over light of incandescent hue
evolving atmospheres, and then imbues
it with the spirit – transcends faint earth-shines.

then easing into plains of verdant peace
against all better sense, my mind shall cease

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