AUTUMNAL ONCORE / ONsemble / Review

Flower Dome @ Gardens By The Bay
Sunday (3 November 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 November 2012 with the title "Delightful meeting of the old and new".

There is a new orchestra in town, and it is called ONsemble. Led by 22-year-old New Zealander Ray Chan, it is formed exclusively by students of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, hailing from afar as Uzbekistan to Australia. Its repertoire comprises music that is “old” and “new”, accounting for the first two letters of its name.

ONsemble’s debut concert could not have been more public, filling the climate-controlled Flower Dome at Gardens By The Bay with the sound of music. Rain and dark clouds could not deter the proceedings, witnessed by a seated audience and thousands more passing by.

Appropriately, the concert began with Alla Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music. Its celebratory atmosphere, with a backdrop of Marina Bay and The Singapore Flyer, roused the spirits and piqued the senses. The sonics within the Dome, with hardly any reverberative qualities, was rather diffuse, so some amplification was called for.

However sitting close by, one could truly appreciate the soloists in the concerti grossi that were performed. Cellists James Ng and Cho-Hang Oh did the honours for Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor, and they were joined by a third cellist James Churchill for a lovely unaccompanied trio that was its Largo slow movement.

Violinists Monique Lapins and Liu Yi Retallick starred in Corelli’s Christmas Concerto Grosso, characterised by tightly knit ensemble work, and shared the lively solo part in Vivaldi’s Autumn from The Four Seasons. The mostly baroque and early classical segment was completed by a rare airing of Carl Philippe Emmanuel Bach’s Sinfonia in B minor, its storms and stresses mirroring the inclement weather, and the first movement of Haydn’s Oxford Symphony.

This accounted for the “old” and traditional in ONsemble. The “new” was the World Premiere of young New Zealander composer David Taylor’s Prime, which provided the evening’s high point. Far from the world of serialism which passes for much contemporary music, this was a highly accessible tone poem in the kinetically charged minimalist style of John Adams. The scoring for strings, winds, brass, percussion and keyboards gave it a radiant and ear-catching quality, pleasant yet piquant.

Young Kiwi composer David Taylor acknowledges the well-deserved applause.
Closer to home, its intricately-woven and highly virtuosic figurations reminded one of the gamelan-inspired scores of Canadian Colin McPhee and East-leaning aesthetics of Australian Peter Sculthorpe, both masters captivated by the Orient. In short, it was a very palatable treat worth many further listens.

With the sun setting early, and evening lights clicking on, the orchestra played the latter half of its 90-minute programme in semi-darkness. It mattered little, as the ONsemble performed with an inner illumination borne of passion and professionalism. May this long remain undimmed.