Concert review: Orchestra of the Music Makers takes flight with The Planets

One thing is for certain: the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) just loves doing big concerts. Its latest outing at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Wednesday, guest-conducted by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's associate conductor Joshua Kangming Tan, had not just an orchestral blockbuster, but a full-length concerto and choral work for good measure.

The concert began with Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, joined by 100 voices from the Vocal Associates Festival Chorus and Children's Chorus singing in Hebrew. The sheer exuberance of the percussion almost drowned out the singers in the jazzy and syncopated first psalm (Make A Joyful Noise), but it got better in the second psalm (The Lord Is My Shepherd) when boy soprano Samuel Yuen's silky voice rang out pure and true. The final psalm (Lord, Lord), with its contrite message, was a salving balm for the spirit.

The orchestra then played sensitive partner to SSO first violinist Chan Yoong Han in Jean Sibelius's Violin Concerto In D Minor. How the ensemble responded to the fiery and virtuosic solo part was a measure of how its young players have matured with each concert. The slow second movement gave the woodwinds moments to shine, and the quartet of French horns were a paradigm of perfect control and restraint.

Even in the rambunctious finale, the very steady yet exhilarating pace maintained by the orchestra allowed Chan's flight of fancy to soar unabated to its brilliant conclusion. His encore, a movement from Ysaye's Fifth Sonata, was an ethereal portrayal of a nascent morn.

Gustav Holst's The Planets, the popular seven-movement suite on celestial bodies and mythology, occupied the second half. It may be said that his orchestration influenced several generations of film composers, especially in the sci-fi genre. Given OMM's love and sympathy for celluloid music, this suited the players to a T.

The vehemence and violence of Mars, The Bringer Of War was trenchantly realised, and the debt to which the Star Wars franchise owes it becomes immediately apparent. Excellent solos from horn principal Alan Kartik, concertmaster Edward Tan and principal cellist James Ng distinguished Venus, The Bringer Of Peace with its tender entreaties.

Mercury, The Winged Messenger was blest with much lightness and fluidity, while Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity, the hit tune of the seven, was given a grandstanding quality that was wholly appropriate. Unusually cogent was the orchestra's traversal of Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age, which doddered so convincingly on creaky legs that its rejuvenation at the end became a true revelation.

The manic march of Uranus, The Magician soon dissipated, with the wordless women's voices diffusing ever so insidiously into Neptune, The Mystic that it brought a chill down the spine. Credit goes to chorus director Khor Ai Ming for so finely honing their invisible act, which flickered ever so gently until they drifted out of orbit.

Loud and prolonged applause led conductor Tan to poll the audience as to their choice of encore: Mars or Jupiter. Jupiter won handsomely and by its glorious end, almost three hours had elapsed as if within an instant. That is relativity for you.

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