Silver and Snow (Part 1)
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.
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.
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.