SSO loosens up for a night of rock

A tremendous orchestral showpiece in its own right, inspired by Bairos' direction, for a time, it seemed as if the SSO members were closet rockers. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA



Singapore Symphony Orchestra/ Nick Omiccioli and Paul Cesarczyk (electric guitars)/Jacomo Bairos (conductor)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

If the first of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's Red Balloon concert series did not quite hit the spot last month, the second on Thursday got a lot closer.

For a start, the orchestra's members dispensed with their ties and jackets and, while they still seemed stiff and rigid, at least there was a hint of informality.

Second, there was former tuba player with the SSO, Jacomo Bairos, who is rapidly earning a reputation as an inspirational and highly communicative conductor.

Among his former colleagues, he seemed not only perfectly at home, but also at times drew from them some truly committed playing.

Third, there was the music. The programme did not so much force the SSO to climb out of its rut, but sent it scurrying off around brightly lit uplands where there was no hiding place for anyone who did not quickly get into the groove.

Nick Omiccioli's was a brilliant piece of orchestral writing, scintillating in its use of heavy metal and rock gestures, and dazzling in the collective virtuosity it called on for the whole orchestra.

A tremendous orchestral showpiece in its own right, inspired by Bairos' direction, for a time, it seemed as if the SSO members were closet rockers.

Sadly, things went downhill after that. Guillaume Connesson's Night-Club was too firmly rooted in the classical orchestral world for the moments of jive and boogey to win the day, and the orchestra's performance was neat, tidy and completely soulless.

It was not their fault that Bryce Dessner's St Carolyn By The Sea never induced them to peer even briefly over the edge of their comfy rut.

Billed as a concerto for two electric guitars, neither Omiccioli nor Paul Cesarczyk had anything to do which was not totally innocuous - no crazy rock-inspired riffs here, merely gentle picking at notes.

The music inhabited a world so redolent of Arvo Part's bell-driven, drifting mysticism that it was difficult to comprehend what it was doing in a programme with a rock theme.

Three pieces by Frank Zappa were presented as well-mannered and neatly groomed - the classic G-Spot Tornado more like a bracing breeze than a tornado, while Peaches En Regalia had about it more than a whiff of Peaches And Cream.

With two superb arrangements of numbers from Radiohead and Daft Punk by a former SSO trumpeteer, Sam Hyken, the orchestra finally got back into "rock mode". Bairos worked his socks off in these, but it was well worth it.

With some stunning playing from the rhythm section, the SSO positively leapt out of its rut and had a real ball.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2019, with the headline SSO loosens up for a night of rock. Subscribe