Saturday, April 18, 2015

Overwhelming Beauty

One of the several remarkable features of last night's concert featuring Flood of Beauty, one of Sir John Tavener's later pieces, was that the orchestra and choir bringing it to life were full of students studying at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory at the National University. I'm no expert, of course, but they sounded entirely assured and professional to me, and seemed at home with music of epic dimensions. The giveaway that they were youngsters came in the applause at the end when they cheered their conductors and Chorus Director rather like an audience in school cheers at the end of a concert. It felt juvenile, the last word you might apply to the actual work they'd been playing.

I'm a sort of fan of Tavener, but not an uncritical one. Though, I hasten to add, that I'm aware that some of my criticisms reflect deficiencies in me, probably most of all associated with my ability to concentrate. The concert was billed as being one and a half hours in length, but on my timing it exceeded this by a good twenty minutes, and I reckon I gave my full concentration to about half of its length. There seemed to be fair amounts of repetition in each cycle of the work, which I expected given the composer's concern with music of a meditative nature, and generally I was okay with this since there was always plenty going on to be engaged with. However, I had odd moments of thinking something on the lines of, Oh, not again. And the fact that much of what was being repeated was very loud and extremely heavy in its textures at times seemed to be a touch overly relentless.

I was glad when it was over, but also glad I'd listened and hung in there.

Most of all I'll remember the gorgeous mingling of decaying gong sounds wrapping themselves round a fruitily, yearningly, suggestive cello. It seems that the cellist, Pei-San Ng, is the Principal Cellist with the SSO, and that's no surprise. He was brilliant in a part that looked to have some incredibly difficult sections.

But that was by no means the sole memorable feature of the evening musically, one that's given almost too much to remember. And something I've learnt: beauty survives one's immediate circumstances and limitations regardless of how foolishly earthbound they may be.

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