THE REICH IN 60 MINUTES
Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Brad Lubman (conductor)
Victoria Concert Hall
Saturday (January 12)
The first in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) new Red Balloon concert series – which features “music and genres that defy convention” – did not go quite as planned. Instead of Reich’s promised 60 minutes, we had 40 minutes of his music and about 40 more of Bela Bartok’s music.
Add to that the late start of the gig and two long stage commentaries given to quell the clutter of the big stage reorganizations, and we had a gig that lasted as long as an evening gig.
Part of the plan that has survived was to take the SSO beyond its familiar territory of the late 19th and early 20th century repertoire. Steve Reich’s music is perhaps the most accessible by a contemporary composer and has already attracted enthusiastic audiences to Singapore following recent visits to renowned Reich ensembles. The American composer himself came here some time ago and performed in front of a crowded and worshiping audience of the Esplanade.
The two Reich works performed in this concert – Pulse and City Life – are strikingly listening and, as conductor Brad Lubman eloquently revealed, are wonderful musical pieces. Pulse, apparently having its Singapore premiere, continued relentlessly over a pounding bass guitar but lacked any variety in tone or color, while the famous City Lights, skillfully blending sampled street sounds from New York with orchestral effects, managed to sound remarkably ordinary despite Lubman’s voice. obvious involvement in music.
But what stood out most about these performances was a sense of concentration so intense on the part of the players that you almost expected to see smoke rising from their ears.
There was a lot of musical smoke floating around, but it was part of the weird, almost scary soundscape of Bela Bartok’s Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta. The reason for its incongruous inclusion seems to be that it was written in 1936, the same year that Reich was born. But it was a good choice as it gave the SSO the opportunity to play something more firmly within their comfort zone.
From the parched and eerie viola theme that opens the work to the raucous razzmatazz of the finale, the orchestra was clearly in its element. The percussion section delivered its parts with the flair, dynamism and brilliance we expect from it, while Shane Thio was a solid presence on the piano. Whether or not Aya Sakou was also a follower must remain a mystery – from my perspective on the balcony, her celesta was totally inaudible.
Only one person seemed uncomfortable with all this musical pleasure: Maestro Lubman. Its rigid and highly concentrated rhythm gave the work a certain militaristic character, but surpassed all the many moments of musical magic with barely a sidelong glance.