Trombone takes centre stage in dazzling display

REVIEW / CONCERT

OBLIVION

Allen Meek (trombone), Liu Jia (piano)

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall/Tuesday

Marc Rochester

They sit at the back of the orchestra apparently doing little. Occasionally, they pick up their instruments and blast a few notes, sometimes getting a wave of acknowledgement from the conductor for their pains. Otherwise, trombones inhabit the periphery of musical respectability.

This concert, then, provided a rare - if very brief - opportunity to hear a trombone highlighted at the front of the stage and in music a world away from its usual role of reinforcing moments of climactic power.

Allen Meek has been principal trombonist of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra since 1998 and his recital set out to portray, as the publicity material put it, "the more romantic side of the trombone".

With its slide shooting out without warning, like a frog's tongue in search of passing flies, the trombone has visual comedy, but behind that awkward and clumsy exterior, Meek would have us believe, beats an affectionate heart craving love.

There was musical affection from Beethoven (a tribute to Mozart), Weber (aptly entitled Romance) and Brahms.

While a piece called Thoughts Of Love by American composer Arthur Pryor seemed to belong more to the circus ring than the boudoir, it did push Meek's virtuosity to its extreme, with amazing runs and rapid scales which, had they not been so fun-filled, would have left most of the audience open- mouthed in admiration.

Genuine love came with Oblivion - not the state of being forgotten, but the tango-inspired music of Astor Piazzolla.

For this intriguing arrangement (by Tony Wise), Meek was joined by his violist fiancee Jieun Kim in as tender and affectionate a duet as one would imagine between two instruments so often seen as outcasts in the orchestral world.

Meek's ever responsive and sensitive accompanist Liu Jia maintained a discreet but wonderfully supportive presence throughout and, as he generously announced, she was as much the star of the show as he was.

Also joining him on stage were two of his Singapore Symphony Orchestra colleagues.

He was partnered by bass trombonist Wang Wei in a brilliant duet by Steven Verhelst.

Called Devil's Waltz, this was a piece in which both players leapt breathlessly around each other as if trying to escape the clutches of the devil.

Trumpeter Jon Dante teamed up with Meek and Liu for what was, in many ways, the musical highlight of the recital.

Joseph Turrin's Fandango found the three players outdoing one another in pyrotechnical displays capable of illuminating even the darkest recesses of an orchestra's back row.

It might not have been particularly romantic, but it was truly dazzling.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Trombone takes centre stage in dazzling display'. Print Edition | Subscribe