Spectacular finish for SSO Pops

Japanese jazz piano megastar Makoto Ozone made his return performance with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in a concert that began tentatively, but ended with a spectacular performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.
Japanese jazz piano megastar Makoto Ozone made his return performance with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in a concert that began tentatively, but ended with a spectacular performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.PHOTO: KISHIN SHINOYAMA

REVIEW / CONCERT

SSO POPS CONCERT: MAKOTO OZONE/ RHAPSODY IN BLUE

Singapore Symphony Orchestra - Joshua Tan (conductor), Makoto Ozone (piano)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Saturday

This evening, Japanese jazz piano megastar Makoto Ozone made his return performance with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in a concert that began tentatively, but ended with a spectacular performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.

Jeff Tyzik's orchestration of the Nutcracker Suite that opened the concert was not likely to be familiar to most in the audience.

In the late 1950s, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn created a highly jazzed-up version of Tchaikosky's ballet music and, in this suite, Tyzik orchestrated five of the Ellington/ Strayhorn movements.

Conductor Joshua Tan has been on a roll with his Japanese anime and other Pops concerts, but Tyzik's orchestration of the Ellington/Strayhorn movements proved a handful.

The arrangement demands nimbleness, which the large size of the orchestra was not ideally suited for.

Percussionist Mark Suter (drums) and bassist Wang Xu (plucked double bass), both noted jazz exponents, played gamely, but Tan's choice to keep them barely audible made it an uphill battle for them to provide the swing and rhythm needed for the work.

The Ravel Piano Concerto In G Major that followed is heavily influenced by jazz.

Ozone approached the concerto straight, with little improvisation on the original score, but a sense of freedom and flexibility that is innate with jazz musicians.

Tan and the SSO took a little time to settle to the pianist's tempo, but the result was a refreshing and a highly enjoyable performance.

The second half opened to dimmer, more theatrical lighting with another Tyzik orchestral arrangement, Symphonic Swing.

Here, Tyzik arranged a medley using melodies from the Big Band era, including Jersey Bounce, Tuxedo Junction, Sunrise Serenade and Satin Doll.

The piece once again features drums and plucked bass, but Suter and Wang were still underpowered against an orchestra that was fully into flow.

Solos abound in the arrangement and David Smith (trumpet) and Damien Patti (trombone) shone in their solos.

Tan worked hard to create impetus and swing. This time, his incessant waving of the baton seemed to have more effect.

Ozone returned to the stage for Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. This was a turning point for the evening, with Ozone, Tan and the SSO hitting their stride.

From his opening notes, it was clear that Ozone was treating Gershwin's score for the piano as a reference and not the absolute mandate for performance. Infusing his blend of improvisation from solo to solo, he added his take to the jazz roots of the work.

He delighted with two encores of his own compositions, My Witch's Blue and Home, which showed off his pop/jazz piano roots and rounded off the evening most suitably.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Spectacular finish for SSO Pops'. Print Edition | Subscribe