Fitting soundtrack to the long weekend



Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

Film music has come a long way since its early days when a single piano provided dramatic effect to a silent movie.

Its increasing complexity has seen it become a respected genre of competition.  Many of the world's greatest orchestras are now frequently tasked with recording the soundtrack to Hollywood blockbusters.

The immense popularity of Japanese anime has catapulted Joe Hisaishi to the top of the field and he has been labelled the John Williams of the East. 

However, their music could not be more different.

Williams' writing seeks to depict the visual vividness on screen, while Hisaishi's purposeful writing goes straight to the audience's emotions.

Pianist Shane Thio was cast in the spotlight often at Thursday's concert, as the piano is central figure in Hisaishi's music. 

His laid-back introduction to Oriental Wind set the perfect backdrop for the orchestra's unsung heroes of the brass, woodwind and percussion sections to shine brightly on the night.

Stand Alone, from the drama series  Saka No Ue No Kumo set in 19th-century Japan during the Meiji period, was most colourfully captured by soprano Jeong Ae Ree. She displayed an effortless and silky tone wavered with perfectly judged vulnerability.

Ng Pei-Sian, the poster-boy principal cellist of the orchestra who was celebrating his birthday, tugged at the heartstrings in Departures.  The sheer intensity of his vibrato and impeccably placed high notes brought down the house.

There were some hesitant moments in Symphony Variation: Merry Go Round and Cave Of Mind from Howl's Moving Castle, with a violinist jumping the gun.

However, associate conductor Joshua Tan showed himself more than capable of bringing to life the fantasy elements in Hisaishi's writing.

Kiki's Delivery Service was a fun-filled journey with its pizzicato strings, while the soundtrack to Saka No Ue No Kumo reprised the vocal solo heard earlier in the concert.

The loudest cheers were reserved for My Neighbor Totoro, perhaps not entirely unexpected, given that the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki film has been credited for establishing Japanese animation on the world stage.

Water Traveller's vast orchestration showed the orchestra and conductor in their best light, taking the audience on a journey of adventure and discovery with Hisaishi's pure genius in melodic writing. 

And in celebration of Singapore's Golden Jubilee weekend, a patriotic moment was raised by Tan as the orchestra offered up Kelly Tang's arrangement of Dick Lee's Home, a favourite at National Day parades.

It was a fitting end for the performers on stage, the textbook microcosm of Singapore's multi-racial and multicultural society.  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Fitting soundtrack to the long weekend'. Print Edition | Subscribe