Something I recently discovered is that the Esplanade Theatre has a wide range of performances and events that are either free or extremely cheap, especially with a student discount. For instance, I attended a concert of Shostakovich, Bartók and Tchaikovsky by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for a grand total of S$10.50 which is roughly £6. I think this is particularly wonderful because it means that anyone can take time out of a hectic life to stop and listen. It means that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy world class performers on a semi-regular basis without worrying about the cost.
The concert I went to was conducted by Andrew Litton who has gained an amazingly long list of achievements throughout his musical career. At the end of the show I was none the wiser as to how conductors conduct. However, from watching Litton I am of the opinion that conducting batons should be renamed conducting wands due to the magic they wind in effortlessly bringing together so many instruments. Of course, it is not just the baton doing all the work, Litton infused all his passion into the performance. He conducted not just with his arms, but with his whole body; crescendos were emphasised with jumps and a grand spread of the arms, while the softer bars were whispered of by delicate hands and a lighter tread.
On the topic of moving with the music, it was interesting to compare the differences between the musicians. For instance, while at one end of the spectrum some of the violinists moved their entire body with the music, torso leaning and foot tapping, others remained motionless save for the drawing of bow over strings. Another observation was the different yet similar rest poses of each musician. I imagine there is a rough guideline on how to sit and hold one’s instrument when not playing but each performer infuses a little of themselves into the pose; here a calm assuredness, there a laid-back ease, the smile that passes between two of the double basses signals a strong friendship. Despite these differences, when the time comes bows move in perfect unison and flutes sing out together.
I was particularly impressed by the pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in his performance of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.1. He radiated and played with such an energy and liveliness that I was unsurprised to read about his successes, including three Gramophone Awards. Once again, I was struck by just how amazing it is for the Esplanade to sell such reasonably priced tickets.
I loved the moments when the cymbalist and triangle player began to gear up for their parts and couldn’t help but wait for the crash of cymbals or chime of the triangle. It sounds mildly ridiculous, but because their instruments are used so rarely, there is something incredibly fulfilling about watching them get to play. Finally, it was perhaps a little unfair on my part, but I found great amusement in watching the trumpeters gradually turn bright, fire engine red in Tchaikovsky’s trumpet calls.
I enjoyed the concert greatly and look forward to attending other events at the Esplanade in the future.