Concert review: Joe Burgstaller & The Singapore Wind Symphony

Victoria Concert Hall

Last Sunday

Here is a piece of sound advice: If you want to catch a world-class brass soloist in action, go to a Singapore Wind Symphony concert. After great success with the New York Philharmonic's Principal Trombonist Joseph Alessi earlier this year, the orchestra has now engaged the wizardry of Joe Burgstaller, who was for eight years the trumpeter and arranger of the legendary Canadian Brass.

The concert in the newly opened Victoria Concert Hall resounded with four brilliant concertante works, including two World Premieres. Malaysia-born Su Lian Tan's Trumpet Concerto entitled Ming was heard for the first time in its two-movement form. The first movement Ming Dai (Ming Dynasty) had little or minimal Chinese influences, instead luxuriating in impressionistic hues inspired by antique brush paintings. This was contrasted with the new second movement Xian Dai (Modern) which took on freer means of expression, including adapting contemporary and popular dance idioms.

The trumpet's part was typically thorny, full of virtuosic devices and a panoply of thematic ideas which sometimes bewildered the listener. Burgstaller swallowed these challenges whole, making light of its complexities. The ensemble led by Taiwanese-American guest conductor Apo Hsu coped well without skipping a beat, bringing much cohesion to the difficult score.

More accessible was young Singaporean Lee Jinjun's Variations on Chan Mali Chan, the premiere conducted by Adrian Tan, the local answer to Arban's fantastic Carnival Of Venice Variations. The familiar Malay melody was presented in many different and surprising guises, each imaginative and obliging Burgstaller to jump through a dizzying series of technical hoops. Expect this work to be heard far more often in the near future.

Further variety was provided in Rafael Mendez's Virgin Of The Macarena, a Spanish bullfight standard where Burgstaller gave a masterclass in circular breathing, which enabled a passage to be repeated for an extended duration without catching a breath. After that feat of sheer athleticism, a Vivaldi trumpet concerto - formal and ceremonial - completed the generous trumpet offerings.

The ensemble also distinguished itself in purely orchestral numbers. Benjamin Yeo's Redhill - A Symphonic Folklore was a well-conceived piece of programme music which retold the ancient story of Bukit Merah and how a school of killer swordfish was repelled. His facility with lyricism, notably in the pivotal oboe solo, showed that he could be writing Broadway musicals pretty soon. Taiwanese composer-conductor Chung Yiu-Kwong's Festival Celebration, which set the traditional lion dance to music, showcased the ensemble's excellent percussion section.

Robert Russell Bennett's symphonic suite arrangement of music from Gershwin's Porgy And Bess was a delight with its hit tunes, and had ensemble trumpeter Adrian Flowers taking the spotlight and doing the honours in the evergreen Summertime. If you are a wind player who likes to perform, joining the Singapore Wind Symphony and sharing in its vast pool of talent would be a dream come true.

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