Classical music concert with smells of grass and sweat

REVIEW / CONCERT

BEETHOVEN AT AN EXHIBITION

Addo Chamber Orchestra Esplanade Rehearsal Studio Wednesday

When one thinks of concerts, the idea is that of a seated audience listening passively to whatever is being performed. This concert by the Addo Chamber Orchestra conducted by Clarence Tan was conceived to challenge that convention.

Even the venue, the secluded sixth-floor Rehearsal Studio in the Esplanade, reached only by a long flight of stairs, seemed to support the notion.

Seating was optional and the audience was told to take as many photographs or videos as they liked and to post them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Everyone was also free to walk between the widely spaced musicians and get immersed in a surround-sound ambience.

And the audience did exactly that when conductor Tan gave the downbeat for Beethoven's familiar Fifth Symphony. With hardly any practice time and the intimidatingly close proximity of strangers, the orchestra did not perform at a level beyond rehearsal standards, but that was beside the point.

The experiment of being an interloper moving freely within the orchestra's ranks was an interesting one for the audience, if only to experience a player's point of view and witness how a work can sound so different under the circumstances.

There were, however, some safety tips: Keep a safe distance to avoid being stabbed by rapidly wielded bows and do not stand directly in front of the trombones.

Singaporean composer Hoh Chung Shih's Hi-lo Fide-lio received its Asian premiere this evening. The work is a deconstruction of the vocal quartet Mir Ist So Wunderbar from Beethoven's opera Fidelio. The orchestra played fragments in the form of a canon, while historical recordings by Furtwangler, Walter and Bohm were blared through three speakers.

The audience could also tune in via mobile phones after scanning QR codes provided in the programme sheet.

All these made for one cacophonous outing, with people wandering in and out of the ensemble, while others sat and fidgeted with digital gadgets as the music played. The takeaway was this: One got a different perspective depending on what one did.

The final work was Mikhail Tushmalov's orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, originally a piano suite with a quasi-interactive inspiration. Its opening piece was titled Promenade, which imagined a visitor walking in a gallery viewing art pieces - rather apt given this concert's context.

An added sensory element was the involvement of scent artists Christopher Yap and Johari Kazura, who mingled among the audience bearing canisters of various fragrances and odours, from freshly cut grass and fallen rain (pleasant) to smoke and sweat from a three-day-old unwashed shirt (not so pleasant).

By now, sceptics might sense that the various scents distracted listeners from the sometimes ragged playing, but that might just be the point. Our senses sometimes deceive us by the confusion of multiple inputs, which is why music is perhaps best experienced in complete and utter silence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'Classical music concert with smells of grass and sweat'. Print Edition | Subscribe