Concert review: New Year’s Eve Philharmonic show a spirited annual fixture

The Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year's Eve concert featured tunes such as George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s festive Capriccio Espagnol. PHOTO: ANDREW BI

A Philharmonic New Year’s Eve 2024 Gala Concert

The Philharmonic Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall
Dec 31, 10pm

Tradition. That was what The Philharmonic Orchestra had in mind for the 12th edition of its well-subscribed New Year’s Eve Concert, an annual fixture much in the spirit of the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day Concert.

The concert conducted by Lin Juan was attended by a very well-dressed audience intent on some serious partying.

Very appropriately, it opened with the sparkling Overture to The Merry Wives Of Windsor by Otto Nicolai, one of the founders of that august Viennese orchestra.

In its first bars, the lovely sonority crafted by low strings (cellos and basses) set the mood for the champagne to pop and flow in this comedic number.

Following that was the unusual choice of Edvard Grieg’s Norwegian Dance No. 4, which is less well-known than Dance No. 2. It, however, had the advantage of being a far more vibrant and energetic piece.

The evening’s highlight was George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, with young pianist Jonathan Shin doing the honours. Although many were pretty tickled by the solo clarinettist’s opening glissando and the muted trumpet’s wah-wah effects, it was Shin’s no-holds-barred reading that impressed most.

He took all kinds of risks by altering the piano part as he pleased, culminating in an extended improvisation just before the famous Blues segment.

Eschewing the flashy upward arpeggio sweep and downward octave cascade, he opted instead to slyly quote Auld Lang Syne, which was a nice touch.

It was back to Vienna in the concert’s second half, when Johann Strauss Junior’s Hungarian-flavoured Overture to Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron) held sway. The music’s rough-hewn rusticity was well-contrasted by the pristine stateliness of Maurice Ravel’s Pavane For The Dead Princess.

For once, the orchestra broke from tradition by not trotting out a memorial of notable names lost to the world in 2023. Instead, the audience was left to reflect on a turbulent year.

While some might remember singer Tina Turner, actor Matthew Perry or composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, this reviewer chose to remember those who had significantly contributed to Singapore’s music scene: guitarist Alex Abisheganaden, pianist Dennis Lee and violist Jiri Heger.

It was close to midnight when Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s festive Capriccio Espagnol ended the concert on a rousing high.

Perhaps the concluding work was not played fast enough, as there was a stream of concertgoers rushing out of the hall to catch the pyrotechnics by the bay even before the concert’s obligatory balloon drop.

Kiasu Singaporeans rule again, and one guesses it will not be too different for 2024.

That is tradition for you, Singapore style.

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