“Bravo Indeed”

8 March, 2017

The Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) is one group that does not operate in half-measures. Its concerts, like a Mahlerian symphony, aim to encompass the world. Its latest one, a collaboration with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra (Wayo), was a sequel to their last concert together in 2009 titled When Worlds Collide.

It was more a case of “when bodies collide” when more than 180 instrumentalists ascended the stage at Esplanade Concert Hall for two popular symphonies. The first was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Gustav Mahler’s orchestration, which featured the OMM-School of the Arts Camp Orchestra with the Australians, conducted by Peter Moore.

It was refreshing to hear an old- fashioned big sound in a Beethoven symphony when the new normal is a lithe sonority favoured by many orchestras today. The entries were mostly precise, amazing for so many young musicians huddled together.

The violas and cellos in the opening of the slow movement were svelte and mellow, so homogeneous that one imagined them to be seasoned professionals. Even if the third movement’s goose-stepping was not always in sync, the sweep in the propulsive finale hugely impressed.

Not wanting to neglect the concertante element, Quebecois violinist Alexandre Da Costa took centre stage in Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs, accompanied by Wayo. His was another old-fashioned wallow with a vibrato that stretched the Nullabor Plain and virtuosic tricks to match. His encore, accompanied by a string quartet, was a stanza from the Canadian national anthem, O Canada.

The main event was the second- half pairing of the orchestras in Mahler’s First Symphony, also known as The Titan, conducted by Chan Tze Law. The opening had shaky moments for woodwinds and offstage trumpets despite the rapt pianissimo of the strings, but the dawn was evocatively captured. The strolling main theme, quoting one of Mahler’s Wayfarer Songs, stole the scene. Even better was the rollicking country dance of the second movement, where contrasts between the earthy and spiritual were well delineated. The next movement’s droll funeral march with the Frere Jacque theme was lit up with lusty Klezmer- like playing that brought out the spirit of Mahler’s sound world.

The finale’s “cry of the wounded heart” was delivered with a vehemence that was stunning. If one thought this mega-orchestra was all about dash and flash, the quiet bits showed the young musicians were also capable of nuance and sensitivity.

As if to also demonstrate their total independence, Chan then stepped off the podium and the players performed the encore, Franz Waxman’s Ride Of The Cossacks from the movie Taras Bulba, on their own. Bravo indeed.

By Chang Tou Liang – The Strait Times, 17th December 2016