(cover photo: NUS Wind Symphony on Stage / credit: Jingkai)
In conjunction with the 110th anniversary of National University of Singapore (NUS) and the celebration of Singapore’s 50 years, NUS Wind Symphony presented a repertoire of popular Singapore compositions and arrangements in their installment of InTempo on 22 March at the University Cultural Centre (UCC).
The InTempo concert was held as part of the NUS Arts Festival, an annual program that showcases exciting events from performing arts groups in music, dance, theatre and film.
The opening work, ‘Music for a Festival’ by Philip Sparke was fit for this occasion, as the piece opened with an extended fanfare that leads to a syncopated jazzy main theme, played in turn by various sections of the band. The Wind Symphony under the baton of resident conductor A/P Ho Hwee Long played through a quiet section before exploding percussively into a headlong gallop and then returning to the opening fanfare in an exciting close.
“Munneru Valibaa” by Singapore composer Zaidi Sabtu-Ramli marked the first of the four works featured in the program. Rearranged with a fresh twist with influences from Middle Eastern sounds, this Indian community song came to life with the rapid rhythms of 15/16 and frenzied percussion.
In what was supposed to be the highlight of the concert, the NUS Wind Symphony and the NUS choir collaborated to perform an original composition by Dr Zechariah Goh Toh Chai, titled “Sang Nila”. Conducted by the composer himself, the work was a musical tribute to the early ruler, who gave Singapore its name. The work pieced together elements of Indonesian influences while exploring the beauty of Gamelan music, creating a unique blend of sounds for the audience.
As renowned composer Adam Gorb puts it, “This was a haunting and magical work for chorus and band, featuring chanting and beguiling bell sounds… the final choral passage with vowel sounds paying homage to Stockhausen’s Stimmung was most memorable.”
“I feel extremely honoured to be given this opportunity to conduct Sang Nila with the very talented and energetic young musicians of NUS wind symphony. I really enjoyed working with them and felt that I have so much to learn from them as well. I am also grateful to professor Ho and Mr Francis Tan for programming sang Nila as one of the pieces for this year Arts festival. I am looking forward to hearing fellow Singaporean’s works being perform by local bands and hopefully hear them perform beyond the shores of this island as well,” said Dr Goh, on the evening’s performance.
Opening the second half was Samuel R. Hazo’s ‘Exultate’, a pulsating work that introduces nine melody themes over a relatively brief duration.
This was shortly followed by ‘Three Portraits for Band’ by Dr Kelly Tang, a composition originally commissioned in 2008 by the Ministry of Defence (Singapore), and premiered by the Singapore Armed Forces Central Band in partnership with “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band to commemorate 50 Years of Military Music Services.
The first portrait begins with a bold “roar” on the Tam-Tam, reflecting Singapore reputation as “The Lion City, heralding the arrival of the main theme, played by the French horns. The second portrait is a chorale based on the well-loved local song, Singapura, with the melody first presented in a warm and gentle manner before unfolding unexpectedly into a whimsical and lively Jig tune and then closing with a series of harmonies in a staggered montage. The third portrait is a lively march tune that gradually builds in rhythmic momentum before the coda brings back the horn fanfare and then unleashing a flurry of kaleidoscopic activity. The final “roar of a lion” on Tam-tam brings the piece to a majestic close.
“I enjoyed NUS Symphony’s fast-paced performance with Prof Ho Hwee Long,” said Dr Kelly Tang post concert, who was also in attendance to hear his work.
The Wind Symphony then paid tribute to the late Leong Yoon Pin, performing his ‘Dayong Sampan Overture’, which reflected the story of brave immigrants from China coming to Singapore in search of a better life. Arranged by Ernest Thio and Dr Zechariah Goh, the piece developed the familiar traditional Malay folk theme throughout, evoking a nostalgic sense of joy and happiness.
In closing, assistant conductor Francis Tan conducted ‘Liberty Guiding The People’, based on a painting by famous French painter Eugene Delacroix titled ‘Liberty Leading the People’. Composed by Masanori Taruya, the work portrayed the 19th century July Revolution of France, depicting scenes from the uprising of people, to the actual revolution and finally the freedom seeking future.
As shouts for ‘encore’ rang in the hall, the NUS wind symphony played ‘Home’, a light rendition of Kit Chan’s popular National song arranged by Mohammad Rasull, wrapping up a paranomic evening of music.
A contributing editor at TBP.