MARCO POLO: THE CATHAY YEARS / The Philharmonic Winds / Review



MARCO POLO: THE CATHAY YEARS
The Philharmonic Winds / Esplanade Concert Hall / Sunday (26 June 2011)


This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 June 2011 with the title "Oriental touch for Spanish trilogy".

The title of this concert refers to the second part of an on-going wind orchestra trilogy by Spanish composer Luis Serrano Alarcon (below). Commissioned by The Philharmonic Winds, the 20-minute work received its World Premiere conducted by America-based Singaporean conductor Leonard Tan. Written in the form of a four-movement symphony, it was more like a huge concerto grosso graced by a sextet of Chinese instruments from the Ding Yi Music Company as soloists.

The Oriental feel in the music was immediately palpable, skilfully enacted by a master colourist and orchestrator. This was achieved without quoting actual Chinese melodies, but by the deft use of the pentatonic scale and modes, much like the atmospheric scenes created in Turandot by Puccini. The exoticism, ceremonial rites and visions of the Far East came through so winningly that one almost forgot that Marco Polo and the composer were in fact Mediterranean in origin.

Make belief is as much part of the equation, as the sheer quality of the delivery, confident and always responsive, belied the fact that most of the young players were non-professional. Such was the thread running through the whole concert, which will be repeated in the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) conference in Taiwan next month.





Equally trenchant was the razor-sharp accompaniment provided by a chamber sized ensemble for Japanese trombonist Ko-ichiro Yamamoto in John Mackey’s Harvest. The three-movement concerto brought out an arsenal of trombone tricks in a quasi-jazzy idiom that shifted ever so naturally from quiet whisper to irrepressible Dionysian revelry.

Three other works in the showcase were performed recently by the ensemble, but it was good to make their re-acquaintance, in particular Singaporean Wong Kah Chun’s Krakatoa, a tone poem of seismic proportions that moved from gamelan sounds to an outright riot of volcanic energy. Here is a striking young talent who will go far. Percy Grainger’s Marching Song of Democracy opened the concert on a burnished high.

The Philharmonic Winds also proved its mettle in music of a more austere nature, and that does not come more spikily than Adam Gorb’s Farewell, which pitted two ensembles of opposing instrumental colours before closing in a clarinet and oboe duel-duet. Led with authority by renowned wind band maestro Timothy Reynish (left), who premiered the work in 2008, it was ample proof that wind performance had come of age in Singapore.