Concert review: Philharmonic Winds' Fun With Music! combines children's party and variety show

It is in the interest of arts groups in Singapore today to do regular outreach programmes in order to build an audience for tomorrow. Fun With Music! on Sunday at the Esplanade Concert Hall was such a concert by The Philharmonic Winds, one which combined the attractions of a children's party, television variety show, and the Hoffnung Festival of music. Although listed to be 70 minutes in length, this one overshot its mark by almost an hour.

It began with a classic: Malcolm Arnold's A Grand Grand Overture, its four celebrity soloists working three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher. Comedic timing was required of Angeline Wee, Lim Lip Hua and Yap Yoke Lim on the hoovers and Dennis Sim on the waxer, especially regarding when to press the on and off buttons, as directed by conductor Leonard Tan.

The ensuing racket was enough to send the ironic master of ceremonies William Ledbetter to pull out his hair, until the realisation that he was as bald as a cueball. On a more serious note, this concert served to introduce young audiences to the different instruments of a wind orchestra - namely the woodwinds, brass, percussion and one solitary double bass.

That was done eloquently in David Maslanka's Alex And The Phantom Band, which was narrated by Kamini Ramachandran, about a boy who entered an imaginary world of band instruments during a time warp at 13 o'clock. More relaxed and less stuffy than Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra, the ensemble conjured up a fairy-tale atmosphere with sensitive and well-characterised playing.

Other guests in this concert included 11-year-old Corey Koh, who sang Rolf Lovland's You Lift Me Up and a Chinese song in a pleasant and unbroken treble voice. More impactful was sand artist Lawrence Koh's contribution in Eric Whitacre's Cloudburst, whose creative visuals crafted by his hands on a projected plate of shifting sand was evocatively accompanied by the Ministry of Bellz's handbell choir and voices of the wind players themselves.

Piccolo soloist Andy Koh and tuba player Wong Yin Xuan contrasted the highest- and lowest-pitched instruments of the band in Arthur Pryor's popular march The Whistler And His Dog.

Three further Americans showcased were Leroy Anderson (the entire clarinet section in full glory for Clarinet Candy), Charles Ives (a deliberately cacophonous London Bridge Is Fallen Down led by a 10-year-old from the audience) and P.D.Q.Bach's (Simply Grand Minuet from Grand Serenade For An Awful Lot Of Winds). All these were calculated to bring down the house.

Eric Coates' The Three Bears narrated by Ledbetter about the Goldilocks escapade seemed almost too much of a good thing, and even when the concert ran way overtime, the audience demanded an encore. Ledbetter then picked up a trumpet and tooted away with the orchestra in the immortal DoReMi from Richard Rodgers' The Sound Of Music.

If The Philharmonic Winds' next concert is another sellout, its effort would have been well rewarded.

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