By Joshua Low
This article was published on The Band Post on 29 March 2015.
On the evening of Saturday, 28 March, 323 adult and student musicians gathered at the Goodman Arts Centre to play the National Anthem together.
Rallied through social media platforms and word of mouth within two days, The Philharmonic Winds and its youth arm, Philharmonic Youth Winds, invited wind band musicians and school band members to come together and pay tribute to Singapore’s founding father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
The tribute was to recognise and honour Mr Lee’s contribution to Singapore. But to wind band musicians, other than the great leader that he was, one who cared so much for Singapore, Mr Lee will also be forever remembered as the man who started the band movement in Singapore’s schools.
Adrian Cheong, President of The Philharmonic Winds, said: “As Singapore’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has been there for all Singaporeans all his life. He also made it possible for generations of wind band musicians to have had the wonderful opportunity to learn music and play an instrument. This rendition of our National Anthem is our way of saying “Thank you, Mr Lee, for being there for all Singaporeans and for giving us the gift of music”.
“Singapore’s band heritage is long and meaningful. Other than being in the band during his school years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was also a drum major. I was touched by the fact that it was our youth members who were the first to say that they wanted to do something to commemorate the memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It clearly shows that his contributions have been felt by younger Singaporeans as well,” added Cheong.
Marcus Wong, President of Philharmonic Youth Winds, helped put this concert together to pay tribute to our founding Prime Minister.
“Knowing who is the father of the band scene made everyone want to come to do this properly. To me, Mr Lee is a figure of resilience, and to me I am always reminded of that. Especially to musicians, it is so difficult to master new instruments, and it is in that same resilient spirit that I feel Mr Lee ran this country.”
The large wind band comprised 39 flutes, 67 clarinets, 6 oboes, 8 bassoons, 48 saxophones, 23 French horns, 40 trumpets, 32 trombones, 20 euphoniums, 20 tubas, 4 double basses and 8 percussionists.
Eight drum majors also volunteered to be at the front of the band to reflect the local band scene’s military band roots and to pay Mr Lee the respect he deserves.
Although a large majority of the musicians were students from various secondary schools, junior colleges and tertiary institutions, there were also a few from primary schools. But for one day, they were all playing together as Singaporeans, showing their love and respect for Mr Lee.
The conductor of the performance, Adrian Chiang, was at a momentary loss of words when asked about his thoughts about the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
“He meant so much to Singapore. All of us are so fortunate to stay in this wonderful country. We have such an active and vibrant arts scene, and this can all be attributed to Mr Lee’s contributions to our nation.”
The Philharmonic Winds and Philharmonic Youth Winds would like to thank everyone who volunteered their time to be involved in this tribute, including all musicians, videographers and photographers. They would also like to thank Goodman Arts Centre for facilitating this tribute.
More photos from the event can be found in the Facebook album here!
Philharmonic Youth Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (23 December 2014)
Reviewed by Dr Chang Tou Liang
This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 December 2014 with the title "Youth Winds show mettle".
Just two short days after The Philharmonic Winds gave its concert of light songs from the musicals, its junior counterpart Philharmonic Youth Winds performed a programme of serious classics. This was not a case of friendly rivalry, but rather a show of ambition, that the young ones could very well stand on its own.
The longer first half led by guest conductor Chan Tze Law opened with Donald Hunsberger’s transcription of J.S.Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor. Its arresting beginning was spot on cue and intonation, and there was to be no timidity in the winds’ and brass’ blazing entries. Despite the reverberant acoustics and long-held pedal points, the playing was clear and articulate, best typified in the complex fugue taken at a blistering pace.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s principal tuba player Hidehiro Fujita was soloist in the fiendishly trickyBass Tuba Concerto of Vaughan Williams. How the lowest pitched and bulkiest of all blown instruments was made to sound this agile and nimble was testament to Fujita’s virtuosity. In the central Romance, he made the instrument sing and in the folkdance inspired finale, acrobatics were again on show in the cadenza before an emphatic but quick flourish to end.
His encores included a comedy-filled set of variations on The Blue Bells Of Scotland, which traversed the complete range of the tuba and a solo improvisation on the Christmas song which beginsI Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus.
The Vocal Associates Festival Chorus joined in for Masato Sato’s arrangement of Ravel’s Daphnis And Chloe Ballet Suite No.2. Anyone who doubts that a wind band could engage its quiet, rustling evocation of dawn, filled with bird songs, will be pleasantly surprised here. The flute solos were excellent, and the playing of the ensemble sensitive to various nuances and shades building up to the orgiastic Danse Generale.
One would have hoped for an even larger choir to fill up the entire gallery section. Good as the voices were, they were no match in volume generated by the instrumentalists. This was also apparent in theTriumphal March from Verdi’s Aida, which was boosted by children’s voices. Here the trumpet section held sway in the victorious procession of General Radames.
The second half was conducted by Music Director Adrian Chiang, climaxing in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture arranged by Yoshihiro Kimura. The chorus trained by Khor Ai Ming had more than a fighting chance in its a cappella opening God Preserve Thy People sung in Russian. They did so with requisite gusto and in the folksong At The Gate, as the battle of Borodino escalated.
Tautly knit together, this was an impressive performance that raised the roof when the FrenchLa Marseillaise and Russian anthem God Save The Tsar clashed amid the din of cannon shots and tolling bells. Ending the concert on a festive note was an audience sing-along in Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, with hymns like Joy To The World, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and O Come All Ye Faithful filling the air. Two nights before Christmas, this made for a most appropriate and cheerful send-off.
RETURN WITH HONOR
The Philharmonic Winds and Philharmonic Youth Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (30 June 2013)
Reviewed by Dr Chang Tou Liang
This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 July 2013 with the title "Wind ensemble's breezy victory".
If your musical child does not play the piano, string instrument or sing, count yourself lucky if he or she joins a wind band. Judging by the number of recent concerts by wind ensembles here, there seems to be a renaissance of wind music underway. Seldom has this reviewer seen so many bright and happy young people at a concert in the Esplanade, one given by the excellent Philharmonic Winds and its junior wing, the Philharmonic Youth Winds.
The youngsters brought the evening to a rousing start, conducted by former Singapore Symphony orchestral manager Adrian Chiang. Gustav Holst’sFirst Suite for military band may be several leagues from his starryPlanets, but it is entertaining nonetheless. The openingPassacaglia’s short variations gave the players a good warm up, before flexing further lung power for the fasterIntermezzo and the pomp and pageantry of the folk-influenced March.
In Keiichi Kurokawa’s virtuosic arrangement of Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, the forces became stretched. Clarinets struggled to keep up in the swirling Maidens’ Dance, but there was genuine heft and resonance for the loud and celebratory bits. Special mention must go to the solo oboe and cor anglais, sounding ever poignant in the melody that will be remembered as Strangers In Paradise from Kismet.
Eminent British wind maestro Timothy Reynish took over the baton for Guy Woolfenden’sGallimaufry, a Shakespearean tableaux in six continuous movements on the friendship of Falstaff and young King Henry IV. His ownership of the engaging suite is absolute; Reynish had commissioned and premiered the work 30 years ago, and the players were up to the task.
The senior Winds, a smaller but mature ensemble, owned the second half. Spaniard Luis Serrano Alarcon’s La Lira de Pozuelo, a pasodoble or quick two-step dance usually associated with bullfights, had both the spirit and polish. More serious was Martinez Gallego’s El Agua Prodigiosa(The Miraculous Water), programme music on the adventures of Johan and Peewit, two legendary do-gooders from the Middle Ages. There were dissonances aplenty, but the ensemble coped well in what sounded like swashbuckling action film music.
The most ambitious score was Ambush (Return With Honour) by Chen Qian, who is the composer-in-residence of the military band of the People’s Liberation Army. A modern setting of the ancient famous Qin dynasty battle classic Ambush From Ten Sides, Chen avoided tired Chinese clichés but employed the traditional dizi andguanzi to good effect.
Chanting, both in tune and in unison, from band members provided a spiritual element in the quiet and evocative lead-up before the final onslaught and General Xiang Yu’s demise by his own hand. “Death before defeat” was his legacy of martyrdom, but for the players who braved the storms and gave their all covered themselves mostly with glory. Conquering the work was a victory in itself.
Philharmonic Youth Winds
Victoria Concert Hall
Wednesday (23 December 2009)
Reviewed by Dr Chang Tou Liang
This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 December 2009.
The Philharmonic Youth Winds is the junior arm of The Philharmonic Winds, peopled by talented wind and brass players under the age of 25. Inspired by their more experienced colleagues, this group is also capable of making a big noise. Led by resident conductor Adrian Chiang, who is the Singapore Symphony’s acting Orchestral Manager, its concert curiously began light and closed heavy.
Tchaikovsky’s popular Marche Slav in an all-wind transcription served as rousing opener, the perfect foil for Johan de Meij’s Extreme Make-Over. The latter is a surreal metamorphosis of Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, beginning with a saxophone quartet playing the melancholic melody straight and then subjected to a panoply of 20th century devices.
Almost too clever by half, it was an entertaining jaunt that included players blowing into fluid-filled bottles, Minimalist rhythmic chugging, moments out of The Rite of Spring, gamelan effects, the good old-fashioned oompah band routine before closing like a demented version of the 1812 Overture.
Chiang (left) kept a tight lid on the affair, ensuring that this laugh-a-minute spiel actually worked. In between was Mendelssohn’s affable Concert Piece No.2 (Op.114), which showcased duo clarinetists Desmond Chow and Liang Jiayi in fine form accompanied by a pared down ensemble.
James Barnes’ Third Symphony “The Tragic” was the final work, a substantial piece that channeled personal tragedy into a totally valid musical statement. Over timpani rhythms, a tuba solo reached out from the depths of despair, its heaving groan weighing on the anguished mind. The deft use of solo cor anglais and flute also ensured that the mood had the heft of a Shostakovich symphony.
The scherzo was built upon belligerent ostinatos, and despite its myriad variations, deliberately remained on a single plane throughout. Then the heavenly harp and tuned percussion ushered in the transformation from depression to hope, and with it a Lloyd Webberesque big tune and joyous finale. If truth be told, the first two movements of the symphony were of greater interest than its latter half.
However with concerts like these, downers are a no-no. So the youths followed its happy ending with two Christmas favourites by way of Leroy Anderson, and balloons rained on the screaming throng. Merry Christmas and goodwill to all.