Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (12 July 2012

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 July 2012 with the title "President's concert ends on breathtaking note".

For any young classical musician in Singapore, there can be no greater honour than being invited by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to perform at the annual President’s Young Performers Concert, the concert season’s traditional opener. Previous performers like violinists Chan Yoong Han and Lee Huei Min, pianists Shane Thio and Lim Yan, conductors Darrell Ang and Tan Kang Ming have gone on to become our musical scene’s leading lights.

This year’s invitees were three young gentlemen who have it in them to go very far. Two 13-year-old pianists Jonathan Chua Yu Jing and Gavin Jared Bala, both students of Raffles Institution and piano pedagogue Benjamin Loh, shared the load of notes in Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals. Through its 14 short movements, their coordination was spot on, displaying well-honed techniques as they blended well with the orchestra.

There was even some room for comic individuality, as they progressively upped the tempo with each repeat of the scales in the movement parodying The Pianists, as impatient pianists are wont to do. In The Swan, their graceful lapping of the waters paved the way for cellist Ng Pei Sian to shine, for which he received the loudest cheers.

The third artist, violinist Yang Shuxiang, a graduate student at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, gave arguably the finest solo performance in the history of the President’s Concert series. His bright orange shirtsleeves stood out in the sea of black coats and gowns, as the pure and penetrating tone yielded from his 1753 Guadagnini violin carved out a swathe of sheer beauty through Wagnerian textures in Chausson’s Poeme.  

Seldom has there been a performance of such intensity even from established concert veterans, one that grabbed the listener by the lapels from the outset and never let go. With each sway of the body, his narrative of the music’s ridiculously melodramatic story became ever more vivid, and seemed ever more real. Yang is destined to become one of Singapore’s giants of the violin.

The concert directed by SSO’s Young Associate Conductor Darrell Ang opened with Vaughan Williams’s Overture to The Wasps, which buzzed with great urgency from the strings before revealing a heart built upon the ever hummable English folksong. The English thread also closed President Tony Tan’s first concert as SSO patron, with Elgar’s Enigma Variations

The mystery theme and first variation were taken at a very deliberate pace, one which allowed the music’s Brahmsian orchestration to gradually unravel. Many details were revealed, often missed in swifter accounts, but all this worked building up arch-like to the glorious climax of the 9th Variation, better known as Nimrod. The finale was no less arresting, its pomp and circumstance culminating with the entry of the pipe organ. In a word, breathtaking.