Concert review: Young musicians take on orchestra challenge under Chan Tze Law's baton

The long-term survival of any artistic organisation depends on constant renewal and reinvention while staying true to its original vision. In the case of youth orchestras, recruiting new musicians and talent is the key to rejuvenation. What better way than to organise an orchestral camp and invite young players from all over Singapore, including the School of the Arts, to sign up and play in the ranks of a symphony orchestra?

The experience to be gained from such a venture can only reap dividends for the orchestral scene in the near future, as 70 or so players can attest to in their performances of symphonic repertoire under the baton of veteran conductor Chan Tze Law of the Orchestra of Music Makers. This concert at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Tuesday was ambitious as it gave little concession to their youth and inexperience, but the results were surprising to say the least.

The quiet opening to Otto Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives Of Windsor showed they had been well tutored. The even pianissimo was both subtle and supple; every player was all ears and sensitive to the dynamics required, before erupting into the comedic chatter that distinguished the jolly piece. The lightness and high spirits achieved in the playing truly captured the work's essence.

Then the players got to accompany a soloist in Richard Addinsell's single-movement Warsaw Concerto, written as film music for the war movie Dangerous Moonlight. It sounds like Rachmaninov, except that it is a pastiche of the late Romantic piano concerto. Young pianist Jonathan Shin provided the full-blooded barnstorming treatment it deserved, and the lush strings that sang through its course were convincing enough for one to imagine this was the real thing.

After the interval, Schumann's Fourth Symphony in its 1851 revised version gave the orchestra its sternest challenge. The loud shuddering opening was Beethovenian in intent, and the introduction was clear-headed in its delivery before leading into the energetic Allegro section. As with most young orchestras, it was more comfortable in the louder and faster bits, while shying away in the slower and quieter passages.

This was most apparent in the third movement where the Scherzo was taken at a bold, lively clip, while the Trio section sounded ragged and hesitant. Consistency and evenness are virtues which the young ensemble will no doubt learn with time, but there was no doubting its passion and commitment.

Conductor Chan's no-nonsense direction was cohesive and taut, yet allowed the music to breathe. The finale showed the orchestra back at its best, with the verve and reserve to close the work on an ebullient high. Chan spoke warmly about his charges, and earlier a young violist waxed lyrical about his enjoyment of the symphony.

A word to parents: if you like your children to learn about leadership, teamwork and acquire a marketable skill at the same time, get them to play an orchestral instrument. That is enough passion to last a lifetime.

stlife@sph.com.sg