*The Pointless Writer*
has a life you're completely uninterested in. But it's okay because I can write. No abbreviations. No shoddy grammar (though I'm not immune to mistakes). Just quality writing on sometimes completely pointless topics.
UnPoints of Note
1. I write when fancy takes. Sometimes, fancy takes many months of leave.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performed William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast on Friday, 15 April 2011, accompanied by a combined choir made up of the Singapore Symphony Chorus, the Singapore Bible College Chorale, Hallelujah Chorus and The Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The solo in Belshazzar’s Feast was performed by baritone Stephen Powell. Conducted by Lim Yau, the programme included Darius Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde (The Creation of the World), Op. 81, and Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. In tribute to Leong Yoon Pin, Singapore’s pioneer composer and the “Father of Singaporean Composers and Music”, who passed away on 13 April 2011, the orchestra and choir also performed Movement 4 of Brahms’ Requiem.
La Creation du Monde took inspiration from early jazz and was, in fact, a product of Milhaud’s being commissioned to write a ballet based on native African beliefs. The music explores the creation of the world through the use of 18 solo instruments, one of which is the saxophone. I rarely hear the saxophone since it isn’t a part of the standard orchestra, so I was pleasantly surprised by the instrument’s rich, smooth sound, nothing at all like the nasal saxophone voice often heard on TV. Perhaps the saxophone sounded so much more beautiful because of the Esplanade Concert Hall’s superb architecture, which helps the sound resonate in a way digital recordings cannot duplicate.
Of the four songs, I most enjoyed Stravinsky’s Symphony of the Psalms. Based on extracts of Psalms 39, 40 and 150, the work is unusual because it is dominated by wind instruments (flutes, oboes, bassoons, etc.) instead of by the string section (violins, violas, etc.) as orchestral music usually is. The result is a light musical work with a prayerful atmosphere. Of course, the fact that it is sung in Latin—a language I am completely in love with, despite its increasing irrelevance (Vatican City is the only place in the world where Latin remains in everyday use, on road signs)—only helps to win it extra points from me. I just have a thing for religious Latin music.
Brahms’ Requiem was… okay. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of Brahms. Kinda like how I first hated Handel’s Messiah. (I enjoy it quite a bit now.) I suppose some music is acquired taste. I’ve listened to a few Requiems (a requiem is, most simply put, a funeral song. A really looong funeral song) now, and I have to say: Mozart’s remains the only one I really like. Next.
Belshazzar’s Feast was AMAZING. If not for the unsettling feeling the music gave me, I would have enjoyed this work the most, just for its sheer intricacy. The dissonant harmony sent shivers up my spine, while I listened to the delicious variations and repetitions of a main theme by different instruments. I paid close attention to the pronunciation of the English words by the choir and soloist, and was suitably impressed by their clarity—something I myself desperately need to work on. Two segments in particular caught my attention. There is a verse in the song which has the Babylonian king praising his pagan gods. Here is it:
I bring this verse up because the role of the percussion here stood out to me. I’m quite familiar with the timpani and their warm rolling drum sound. I know a few other percussion instruments as well: for instance, I loved it when the SSO used wooden clappers to rhythmically clap out horse hooves trotting for a Christmas song a few years back. In this work, bells (or perhaps a xylophone) are used to provide the backbone of the rhythm when the choir sings The God of Silver while wooden clappers are used to accentuate the words The God of Wood. Various other percussion instruments are used to match the other ‘elements’ as well, but I can’t name them all.
Apart from this particular verse, I’d like to bring up the ending of Belshazzar’s Feast. Initially, I thought it was bordering on boring and way too dragged out. I’ve mentioned that I like dissonant harmonies. Well, something else I love is music in a minor key. The whole work had contained either or both thus far, and when the ending suddenly switched to a major key for Israel’s celebration of Babylon’s downfall, I was sorely disappointed. Moreover, each time I anticipated the climax of the music—a high note and ending chord—the choir simply died off. However, I have to admire the genius of the composer. He eventually built up to and achieved the climax, albeit much later than I’m used to. In fact, the peak of the music was so fantastic that when it ended, I had the strongest urge to give a standing ovation! Something which I’ve never felt inclined to give before. So yeah, it’s safe to say I loved the whole concert! :)