Fulfilled dreams



Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra

Gabriel Ng, violin

Adrian Tan, conductor

Sota Concert Hall/Sunday

The Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra will always hold a special place in the hearts of Singapore musicians. As envisioned by conductor and pedagogue Yan Ying Win, their commitment to providing opportunities to local talents saw many promising musicians make their concerto debuts with them.

 Their latest production, as well as several high-profile collaborations with the bigwigs of the local music scene, showed they have come a long way since their days of raw and laboured performances.

Violinist Gabriel Ng, 20, first appeared with the orchestra at the age of nine and his displays in Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons Of Bueno Aires on Sunday were of the highest order.  Accompanied by a tidy and alert string orchestra, his full- blooded tone was pristinely clear and exuded warmth that projected comfortably above the ensemble. 

 While the slides and snaps were always neatly executed, the level of refinement in his playing - as evident in the mournful lyrical moments - sometimes worked against him in the hustle and bustle of the work.  There is an underlying element of violence and chaos in Piazzolla's writing which requires the performer to explore the spitefulness of the instrument. With the orchestra exhibiting a strong but somewhat rigid pulse, the beauty of ugliness was lost.

 Dreams, the titular work of the concert, was commissioned by the orchestra for the SG50 celebrations.  Written by pianists Low Shao Ying and Low Shao Suan, it was a set of two short pieces with each sibling penning her own. It was a work that was easy on the ears, as intended by the composers, and showed their confident grasp of the various styles of popular music.

 In The Horizon, by Shao Ying, had the makings of an inspirational moment in a musical with its heartfelt melody confidently delivered by oboist Makiko Kawamata. The strings were in full support with rousing and sweeping gestures and some cheeky moments from the percussions brought out the smiles.

 Inspired by John Williams, Shao Suan's Just Do It! exhibited some trademark writing of the American composer, including a trotting rhythm on the strings over which the melodies soared in the brass section.  The only gripe about these two works was that they were far too short.

 Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 In G Major, Op. 88 was a perfect example of the Czech composer's unrivalled ability to write a torrent of ineffaceable melodies cast in clearly defined orchestration. Conductor Adrian Tan struck a perfect balance of grandeur and intensity, although more restraint from the sometimes heavy-handed brass and woodwinds would have created a more buoyant texture.

 The thrillingly direct execution of the strings made light of the expressive effects of the work, with the waltz in the third movement dancing with melancholy and the poised melodies of the finale convincingly clear.

 This was without a doubt one of the orchestra's finest performances, although they seem mired in a crisis of identity with regards to their artistic direction. One cannot help but wonder if their pursuit of a higher level of playing has shifted their focus towards matching the accomplishments and profile of other orchestras in Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Fulfilled dreams'. Subscribe