Source: Orchestra of the Music Makers – Official Website
The programme line-up for this classical performance was of particular interest. The pieces certainly fit squarely into the Singapore Arts Festival 2012 theme, Our Lost Poems. But the amalgamation of these three pieces in one evening is most amusing. Londoners made plain their dislike for Gustav Holst’s Beni-Mora during its first airing on 1st May 1912 (Taylor), and exactly thirteen months later, the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in Paris instigated one of the most famous classical music riots in history. Meanwhile, this evening would see the world debut of Dr. Ho Chee Kong’s Passage – Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra. Could it be that the programme was orchestrated to create a scandal, as the former pieces had – this time in the humble Esplanade Concert Hall?
The evening opens with Oriental Suite-Beni Mora, a less-known orchestral piece by Holst, inspired by the sounds of the streets of Algerian. Having released an internationally-acclaimed album of Gustav Mahler’s first and second symphonies in 2010, it is no wonder that the OMM managed to give the world-class performance venue a beating, during moments of sudden and even abrupt climaxes and exploit its iconic atmospheric acoustics with the Algerian lyric passages, led by the flute, devoutly holding on to the E note in the third movement; yet the motif does not tire the audience given Holst’s mastery of harmonic texture.
Dr. Ho’s Passage features Li-Wei Qin, who is hailed as “one of the most important Chinese cellists of his generation”, having appeared in venues around the world alongside conductors of the highest eminence. Li-Wei’s stage presence is a stark reminder of the pianist Lang Lang; visually foraging the hall, as if in search of inspiration to give life to the written notes, as so successfully he has done. The piece begins with a question posed by the solo cello that repeats itself in variations, in a painful search answers to the meaning of life. The orchestra has sufficiently matched the energy of the distressed cello, though there were portions when the cello seemed to be undermined by a zealous orchestra. Nevertheless, Li-Wei’s fiery cadenza was breath-taking, as he masterfully extracted the full depth and height of the sounds of his instrument. One was fortunate enough to be in the presence of a Yo-Yo Ma in the making; that too at a reasonable price.
Then, the hall turned pitch-black. An unannounced solo piece by Li-Wei was played, aptly to highlight Li-Wei’s star capabilities, and aptly too to summon the (in)famous beginning passage of The Rite by the bassoon, being forced to play in its highest range, mimicking crude Slav village song and noise. This “misuse” of the bassoon famously infuriated composer Camille Saint-Saens at the premiere. This night, however, there can only be commendation for this solo performance in front of a culturally-evolved audience. The Augurs of Spring, however, was disrupted by blatantly incorrect untimely entrances of the Eb Clarinet – a favourite instrument in Stravinsky orchestral pieces – to the point that the part was buried for full three measures. An unforgivable mistake in the presence of a paying audience.
Source: National Endowment for the Arts (USA)
The orchestra may have started not quite on the right note, nevertheless, the orchestra exhibited consistency and togetherness in ensemble playing, considering that the piece has “never been topped for sophisticated handling of primitive rhythms” (Bernstein) and has the most complex harmonies ever written. The mastery of these key characteristics was fully discernible through The Naming and Honoring of the Chosen One.
The OMM received a very long applause (but short of a standing ovation) so very well deserved, but not for their music in entirety. Credit should be attributed to the immense ambition that this volunteer organisation possesses and dares to carry out. They dared to program sophisticated pieces, they dared to accompany a world-class soloist. And all these accomplishments just two years after its conception. Let’s also not forget that this society has been coined a ‘charity’ orchestra by the press (Ling). This is truly an all-rounded orchestra; contributing significantly to the local arts scene with its foray into high-order classical music, grooming youth in their craft, nurturing responsible young citizens. The OMM is on an exciting road ahead, and even the professional Singapore Symphony Orchestra may one day be made to run for its money.
Bernstein, L. (1976). The Unanswered Question – Six Talks at Harvard. Harvard University Press, p 357
Ling Xin, S.: ‘Award for ‘charity’ orchestra’, My Paper, 26 August 2009.
Taylor, K. (n.d.). The Music of Gustav Holst – Beni Mora. Gustav Holst (1874–1934). Retrieved June 4, 2012, from http://www.gustavholst.info/compositions/listing.php?work=16.