Concert review: Singapore Symphony Orchestra thrills with movie magic

Amongst the many programmes presented by orchestras around the world, there is one which guarantees brisk ticket sales and a sizeable turnout: the Pops concert. When the Singapore Symphony Orchestra decided to replace their long running Familiar Favourites series with their Pops concert, it was taken with the aim of attracting to their concerts younger crowds daunted by classical music.

A capacity crowd filled the Esplanade Concert Hall on Friday night for the John Williams Extravaganza, featuring popular film music by the legendary Hollywood composer. From families with children in tow to hipsters dressed in bermudas, most of whom were probably attending an orchestra performance for the very first time, it was as diverse a crowd as one has ever seen at an SSO concert.

With associate conductor Jason Lai also doubling as the most affable and engaging emcee, the audience lapped up every minute of the night's programme.

Film music when performed on its own occasionally loses its lustre, as the listener is deprived of the visual stimulus of the motion picture, but as purely musical works the full-strength orchestra was more than a match for Williams' massive orchestration.

The brass section was at its stellar best, with a powerful showing in The Imperial March from Star Wars (1977) and the Flag Parade from The Phantom Menace (1999), while trumpeter John Paul Dante's mournful solo in the Theme from Born On The Fourth Of July (1989) showed the instrument's tender side.

Even the lighting crew had a part to play as a green and red spotlight depicted the battle between the Jedis and Sith Lords.

Williams' score for the Harry Potter series utilises the string section to mimic the visual effects of the movie, from frenzied pizzicato passages to whirlwind running notes making Witches, Wands, And Wizards, and Aunt Marge's Waltz in the mystical castle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).

Young saxophonist Samuel Phua joined the orchestra in Escapades from Catch Me If You Can (2002), teaming up with bassist Guennadi Mouzyka and Mark Suter on the vibraphones in a jazz trio section and transporting the audience back to a smoky jazz bar in 1960's Chicago.

It all came together with the final item on the programme, the Theme from Jurassic Park (1993), showing that there's no composer better at creating a hit tune with just a note or two. The orchestra was by now feeding off the positive buzz created by the audience, and it was heart-warming to see the musicians enjoying themselves to this extent.

Afterall, how often do they receive the kind of adulation showered upon them? In over 20 years of attending concerts, this reviewer has never witnessed the SSO rewarded with 10 curtain calls and whistles no matter how deserved. In return, they delighted the crowd once more with an encore of the Theme from E.T. (1982) before the entire hall erupted in groans as the musicians took their leave.

If such concerts prove that orchestral concerts are not as daunting as believed, then the SSO has succeeded in their aim, and they did it in style with their delivery every bit as imaginative and vivid as the versions by the London Symphony Orchestra.