Cellists make wonderful music together



10 Cellists of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall


Listeners would be familiar with the 12 Cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker or London Cellos, which brings together cellists from the London orchestras.

Now say hello to CelliSSO, Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) answer to those wonderful groups.

Led by principal Ng Pei-Sian, its debut concert showcased only 20th-century works and was greeted by a full house at Victoria Concert Hall.

Not all works featured all 10 members of the cello section playing together.

The concert began with Trevor Wilson's Five Perambulations, played by a quartet formed by Ng, Yu Jing, Guo Hao and Peter Wilson, the composer's son.

Its movements centred on casual strolls in five different places, each imbued with the distinctive character of the locale. London relived the pre-war world of Eric Coates. New Orleans had a jazzy vibe, Venice delighted in a gondolier's barcarolle, while the flamenco beat lit up Andalucia.

Cellist Wilson luxuriated in the solos in his father's work, which closed with Slavonic flavours of Prague, including a short quote from Dvorak's Cello Concerto.

Perambulation turned into tintinnabulation in the Estonian Arvo Part's Fratres, where Yu, Guo and Wilson were joined by Wang Yan and SSO associate conductor Jason Lai (making a cameo), who provided the deep G bass note in this meditative work of mystical triads.

Bell-like sonorities, punctuated by percussive knocks on the cello's wood, opened with ethereal stillness, then widened into a plangent crescendo before receding to nothingness.

The first half closed with Australian Carl Vine's Inner World, with just Ng accompanied by a taped recording. This solo tour de force stretched every facet of his cello technique, with psychedelic taped effects that ranged from celestial glissandi to grinding punk rock beats.

Bathed in an otherworldly blue and green light, Ng's free-wheeling show garnered loud applause and cheers.

Sicilian Giovanni Sollima's Violoncelles, Vibrez! for two cellos was last heard when Ng partnered Yo-Yo Ma in last year's Silk Road Ensemble concert with the SSO.

In this evening's version accompanied by six cellos, the soloists - Wang Zihao and Wu Dai Dai - were also the ensemble's youngest.

Far from being overawed, the duo shone in the music's languid opening before racing into breakneck speeds for a photo finish.

The programme was completed with movements from two Bachianas Brasileiras by Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos, who was a cellist himself.

Bachiana No. 1 saw all 10 cellists appear for the first time, with Chan Wei Shing, Song Woon Teng and Zhao Yu Er joining the group for a gorgeous, cushioned sound in its first two movements.

Far more famous is Bachiana No. 5 with its haunting mostly wordless Aria sung by Korean soprano Jeong Ae Ree, who is married to cellist Chan.

Dressed in a low-cut jade-coloured gown, she oozed sensuality and later let loose in the quickfire Danca to close.

The 10 cellists signed off with an encore, Danny Elfman's The Simpsons Theme, with a promise of more exciting fare in concerts to come.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Cellists make wonderful music together'. Print Edition | Subscribe