Ushering in 2019 with spirited music, champagne and fireworks



The Philharmonic Orchestra – Lim Yau, Lin Juan (conductors), William Ledbetter (host)

Victoria Concert Hall/Monday

The mention of a New Year’s concert usually conjures up an image of pomp – beautifully dressed ballroom dancers and an endless flow of waltzes by the Strauss family played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Here, in Singapore, concertgoers join The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) in ushering in the new year.

Now in its eighth run, the concert was held at the Victoria Concert Hall for the first time this year, bringing a more festive atmosphere and a better chance to enjoy the grand fireworks display at Marina Bay.

Veteran host of classical concerts William Ledbetter once again kicked off proceedings, cajoling the audience and ensuring that spirits were high throughout the evening.

Conductor Lim Yau opened the concert with a crisp, spirited performance of Smetana’s Overture To The Bartered Bride.

He has been at the helm of TPO, a project which he initiated, since 1998 and the ease with which he worked with the musicians was clear to see. The way the strings handled their delicate runs decorating the overture showed how far amateur string-playing has developed over the years.

Lim passed the baton over to his son Lin Juan for the showcase work of the evening – the Firebird Suite (1919 version) by Igor Stravinsky. As it turned out, this was more than a “special guest” appearance, as Ledbetter had described.

Lin, an established concert cellist and assistant conductor of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, directed all the other works for the evening and seemed well on his way to take on a greater role at TPO.

Precision and thoughtfulness are hallmarks of Lin’s musicianship, and both were evident in his conducting at this concert.

The Firebird Suite is a handful for any community orchestra, but Lin and the TPO were well up to the challenge.

Lin’s sensible tempos and clear direction helped, and there was distinct shading and characterisation of each of the five movements. The Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei was delivered with manic drive, followed by a wonderful bassoon solo from Emerald Chee in the gentle Berceuse (Lullaby).

The treat of champagne for all adult concertgoers during the extended intermission certainly lifted spirits, and the second half was a time of celebration and reflection, beginning with Offenbach’s Overture To Orpheus In The Underworld and the obligatory waltz, in the form of Lehar’s Gold And Silver Waltz.

There was fine playing throughout, especially the solos by David Zechariah Kwek (clarinet) and Edward Tan (concertmaster).

Lin was always in tight control, although for these pieces, more give-and-take would have lifted the dance rhythms and persuaded some of the audience members to take to the floor, as they have in previous years.

Pavane by Faure was a quiet, contemplative high point for the evening, not just for the lush orchestral sound that Lin pulled together and Shirley Tong’s exquisite flute solo, but also for the opportunity to recognise the list of great individuals who made an impact on the world and had died last year.

With great timing, Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1 brought the concert to a close 12 minutes before midnight, in time for the concertgoers to stream out to the lawn in front of the Victoria Concert Hall to usher in 2019 and view the spectacular fireworks.

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