Orion Orchestra calls itself the "Orchestra of Rising Stars". It promotes inspirational student musicians, giving opportunities to the cream of the United Kingdom's young orchestral talent, and also young soloists, conductors and composers.
Formed only ten years ago, their performance at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Concert Hall yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the conservatory's Ones to Watch series. The Shaw Foundation has sponsored the series since its inception, and over the years the series has introduced numerous promising young soloists and ensembles from around the world to Singapore audiences.
The programme consisted of three favourite works from the classical and romantic periods, and a brand new one - the winning work from the 2015 Orion Composers Competition, Elizabeth Winters' The Serious Side of Madness.
Mozart's Overture to the Marriage of Figaro is a sure way to warm up an orchestra, and the young players were raring to go from the moment the baton dropped. Founder and principal conductor Toby Purser did not choose a breakneck tempo, as is increasingly the case with conductors looking to impress, but opted for a brisk tempo that brought very clean string playing and good ensemble.
Orchestral balance was very good, especially for an ensemble of young musicians with varied backgrounds.
Jennifer Pike shared top billing with the orchestra and performed Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. At 25 years of age, she would be just a few years older than the average orchestra member, but she shot to fame when she was just twelve, when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, playing the very same concerto.
For a relatively young soloist, Pike played with exemplary polish and elegance. Her violin tone was sweet, and articulation very good. The orchestra provided solid accompaniment under Purser's direction.
Pike's performance was rock steady but a little predictable - more freedom of tempo and emotion would have lifted it to the next level.
In Beethoven' Symphony No. 7 Purser, the Orion Orchestra once again played with the energy and freedom heard in the Mozart and Winters. This was a typically youthful but mature reading. The sublime slow movement, taken at Beethoven's tempo marking of allegretto (fairly briskly), was beautifully controlled and never sounded hurried.
Principal oboe Mana Shibata shone in her solos, and principal horn Adam Howcroft impressed with his demanding high horn parts.
Some of the dotted rhythms in the final two movements could have been tighter though, sometimes sounding over dotted.
The Orion Orchestra has a unique role of providing aspiring UK orchestral musicians the chance to experience professional work before embarking on their careers. For a ten-year-old orchestra whose players are young and spend a limited time in the group, the orchestra performs at a high standard with few weaknesses.