Singapore gems set to sparkle

Members of the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir at a soundcheck for the pre-tour concert with Singapore National Youth Orchestra, on Dec 7, 2016.
Members of the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir at a soundcheck for the pre-tour concert with Singapore National Youth Orchestra, on Dec 7, 2016.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ SINGAPORE SYMPHONY CHILDREN'S CHOIR

REVIEW / CONCERT

COLOURS OF S.E.A. - SNYO & SSCC PRE-TOUR CONCERT

Singapore National Youth Orchestra, Leonard Tan (conductor)

Singapore Symphony Children's Choir, Wong Lai Foon (choirmaster)

Victoria Concert Hall/Wednesday

The Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) and Singapore Symphony Children's Choir (SSCC) are in Kuala Lumpur, where they will perform at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas tomorrow, followed by a shared performance titled Vibrancy Of Youth with the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra on Sunday.

Both groups are jewels in Singapore's youth-music landscape and going by Wednesday's concert, the quality of their music-making and of the local compositions they present should win over many hearts in their first combined tour.

The name of the concert is a play on "water" and South-east Asia. The resulting tour programme has three distinct parts - orchestral, choral and combined orchestra and choir - which SNYO principal conductor Leonard Tan himself termed "eclectic".

The first half opened with Richard Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture, Maurice Ravel's Une Barque Sur L'Ocean (A Boat On The Ocean) and Vaughn Williams' Sea Songs, representing German, French and English accounts of nautical folklore or imagery set to music.

The Wagner and Ravel are testing works for the youth orchestra and clear improvement in its musicians' abilities and orchestral skills could be seen and heard - even compared with the orchestra's outing with Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in July.

Strings sounded fuller, winds were steadier, percussion played with much greater musical conviction and the precision of playing under Tan's direction was hugely improved.

The Sisters' Islands, a 15-minute work by Wang Chenwei, was a revelation and a delight. Inspired by the legend of a poor widow's two daughters, Wang melds traditional instruments such as the dizi (Chinese flute), rebana (South-east Asian tambourine) and Polynesian blown conch shell in an Indonesian folk idiom. The resulting symphonic poem evokes memories of dimly lit, flickering movies of the 1950s, which seemed to resonate well with the young musicians and audience.

Founding choirmaster Wong Lai Foon and the SSCC took the stage after the intermission with another four pieces, this time for the piano and children's choir. Many singers, especially the boy trebles, would have outgrown their roles over the past 10 years of the choir's existence, but the choir's maturity and depth of ability are clear.

Wong's pick of arrangements of The Trout by Schubert, Spring Waters by Rachmaninov and Kelly Tang's Where Go The Boats was inspired and clever, showing off the choir's flexibility, range, excellent intonation and beautiful phrasing.

Chen Zhangyi's Water, a commission for the SSCC set around K.T.M. Iqbal's Tamil poem of the same name, received its world premiere at this concert.

Apart from the odd multi-syllabic misfit, Elangovan's English translation of the poem was seamlessly adapted by Chen into a gem of a work. He created deliciously daring harmonies, with hints of the choral styles of John Rutter and Benjamin Britten, but also showed great originality and imagination.

The combined orchestra and choir closed the concert with two arrangements by Samuel Tan of works by xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook.

Pitting a children's choir against a full-sized symphony orchestra in Yibu Yibu Lai was a challenge - Tan's rich orchestration foiled the choir's best attempts to enunciate Liang's lyrics. On the other hand, his inspired arrangement of a medley of Liang's most popular xinyao hits, with their memorable melodies laced with multi-ethnic percussion, was a huge success.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore gems set to sparkle'. Print Edition | Subscribe