Something for everyone in concert of Singaporean music

Singapore Symphony Orchestra concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Aug 11, 2018.



Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Saturday

What is Singaporean music? That question was partially answered in a first National Day Concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, led by Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang.

In premiering new works and reliving popular tunes, there seemed to be something for everyone.

Cultural Medallion recipient Kelly Tang's two suites on popular local melodies began each half of the concert. The Symphonic Suite On A Set Of Local Tunes had Home, Chan Mali Chan, Bunga Sayang and Singapore Heartbeat as the main themes, with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Elmer Bernstein's Magnificent Seven as clever cameos. His Sketches Of Singapore did service to Stand Up For Singapore, Rasa Sayang, Where I Belong and Di Tanjong Katong in the flag-waving Americanised style of John Williams.

It was feel good all the way in the original works, beginning with Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin's Bidasari, a short work based on the pan-Malayan legend of Syair Bidasari.

The Malay and marine setting also dominated Wang Chen Wei's The Sisters' Islands, based on another legend. This work sounded even more Indo-Malay, with the use of the pelog scale, and had solos from a blown conch shell and ocarina as part of its storytelling. The Vienna-trained Wang's Wagnerian orchestration brought echoes of the Rhine to the Straits of Singapore.

The longest work was Chen Zhangyi's 17-minute-long Violin Concerto titled Vanda, a tribute to the national flower (Vanda Miss Joaquim) and our Garden City. The first two botanically inspired movements were slow and the fast finale, titled A Renaissance, included a virtuosic jazz-inflected cadenza by London-based soloist Kam Ning. Her encore relived the raucous sounds of Chinatown, a Paganinian movement from her father Kam Kee Yong's 1976 sonata Huai Ku.

Xinyao had a look in with Liang Wern Fook's This Is Singapore Medley, orchestrated by Samuel Tan. Its big bang arrangement found an apotheosis in his best-known song, Xi Shui Chang Liu.

The legacy of Sing Singapore and National Day Parade was revived in Phoon Yew Tien's arrangements of Zubir Said's Semoga Bahagia (May You Achieve Happiness, better known as The Children's Day Song) and S. Jesudassan's Tamil favourite Munnaeru Vaalibaa, joined by the 100-strong combined choirs of the Singapore Symphony group.

It would not be a National Day Concert without Dick Lee's ubiquitous Home, arranged by Tang, and the audience stood up for the national anthem, Majulah Singapura by Zubir Said.

One senses that this concert has merely scratched the surface of Singaporean music.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2018, with the headline Something for everyone in concert of Singaporean music. Subscribe