Home for Christmas with the SSO at Victoria Concert Hall

Singapore Symphony Orchestra rehearsing for a children's Christmas concert at the Victoria Concert Hall on Dec 10, 2015.
Singapore Symphony Orchestra rehearsing for a children's Christmas concert at the Victoria Concert Hall on Dec 10, 2015. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA/FACEBOOK

It is that time of the year again and there are few things more festive than the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) Christmas Concerts.

A return to the cosier confines of the Victoria Concert Hall provided that touch of nostalgia which the Esplanade could never hope to replicate. This was certainly helped by SSO associate conductor Jason Lai, who played engaging and chatty host and broke the ice almost immediately.

The concert began with a procession by the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir, its little members carrying electric candles while singing Veni Veni Emmanuel. It started on a unison before splitting into rich polyphony. The orchestra then obliged with the Overture to Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel And Gretel, its Angel's Prayer segment filled with the glorious warmth of C major.

Unlike Christmas concerts of old, the audience sing-along was not relegated to the end, but spread throughout the concert.



    Singapore Symphony Orchestra

    Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday

Getting usually passive listeners to stand up and belt out the carols such as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and The First Noel was a good idea and boredom was never an option.

The children also added It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and John Rutter's Christmas Lullaby, both sung beautifully, before closing with Leroy Anderson's sparkling Sleigh Ride.

The second half featured a narrated work with former SSO education officer Joseph Lee doing the honours for Philip Lane's The Night Before Christmas.

Although he was amplified, some of the words were barely audible over the orchestra's manoeuvres.

There were no such worries from the adults of the Singapore Bible College Chorale, which sang in the second half. They offered Rutter's arrangements of In Dulci Jubilo, I Saw Three Ships and the best original choral work of all, Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo's Serenity (O Magnum Mysterium).

This was conducted by its choirmaster Joel Navarro and featured a lovely solo from cellist Yu Jing. The a cappella voices rose to a sublime high, the echoes ringing in the ears even after the work had ended.

Through the course of the concert, there were also humorous projected video clips, including a Singapore version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas, featuring local dishes, which saw conductor Lai coming down with dyspepsia.

He was also on hand to conduct a couple of games, which involved the audience and some members winning prizes.

When one thinks of past Christmas concerts that programmed Handel's Messiah, Britten's A Ceremony Of Carols, Poulenc's Gloria or excerpts from Bach, Berlioz or Vaughan Williams, this concert was unusually light.

Even three movements from Tchaikovsky's ballet Nutcracker, including The Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, did little to expel that notion.

All that mattered was people enjoying themselves, with communal singing of Franz Gruber's Silent Night and the closing Joy To The World by Lowell Mason, a carol wrongly attributed to Handel.

As the audience strolled merrily out of the hall, only one nagging thought remained: Where were the balloons?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'Home for Christmas with the SSO at Victoria Concert Hall'. Subscribe