OMM - SG50 Gift To The Entire Nation

Esplanade Concert Hall
Central, Singapore
11 July 2015

Merlion Wayfarer was recently at the Singapore’s Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) performance of Gustav Mahler’s 8th Symphony. Held over two nights on 10-11 July 2015 at the Esplanade Concert Hall, Mahler wrote this immensely moving and spectacular symphony as a "gift to the entire nation" for his beloved Germany, which is fitting for OMM in its tribute to SG50.

The Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major is one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire. Because it requires huge instrumental and vocal forces it is frequently called the "Symphony of a Thousand". The work was composed in a single inspired burst, at Maiernigg in southern Austria in the summer of 1906.

The Strings & Percussion sections - Comprising 140 accomplished musicians, OMM was established in 2008 to provide an outlet for talented orchestral players, many of whom have developed careers outside of music...
The structure of the work is unconventional; instead of the normal framework of several movements, the piece is in two parts. Part I is based on the Latin text of a 9th-century Christian hymn for Pentecost, and Part II is a setting of the words from the closing scene of Goethe's Faust. The two parts are unified by a common idea, that of redemption through the power of love, a unity conveyed through shared musical themes.

The first of the symphony’s two Movements has the orchestra and chorus blasting through a medieval Latin text, called "Veni, creator spiritus" ("Come Creator Spirit"), an invocation of the Holy Spirit, to endow its wisdom to Mankind. With the pomp of the brass section, the tempo was upbeat and occasionally rising in pace and volume without ever reaching a climax. In fact the First Movement ended with a sudden stop, that leaves the listener clamouring for more.

The impressive choral lineup from Collegium Symphonic Chorus (Perth, Australia), Queensland Festival Chorus (Queensland, Australia), The Winthrop Singers (Perth, Australia), Vocal Associates Festival Chorus (Singapore), and Vocal Associates Children's Chorus (Singapore)...

And their Choir Masters...

This sense of anticipation allowed the audience to be drawn deeper into the Second Movement, which is taken from the final scene from Goethe’s "Faust". The choice of these two texts was not arbitrary; Goethe, a poet whom Mahler revered, believed that Veni creator embodied aspects of his own philosophy. The unity between the two parts of the symphony is established, musically, by the extent to which they share thematic material.

For much of the performance, the singing was dominated by Hyon Lee (soprano), Ariya Sawadivong (soprano), Deborah Humble (mezzo soprano), and Songmi Yang (mezzo soprano). Yet with five female singers featured in the performance listing, one wondered when the fifth would appear.

The answer to that lingering question was revealed in the final development episode of the Second Movement when Doctor Marianus called on the penitents to "Gaze aloft". Janani Sridhar appeared on the piped organ platform and sang her haunting solo.

As the climax approaches, many themes were reprised: the love theme, Gretchen's song, the Accende from Part I. Finally, as the chorus concluded with "Eternal Womanhood draws us on high", the off-stage brass re-entered with a final salute on the Veni creator motif, to end the symphony with a triumphant flourish.

A standing ovation to the finale...

In a fitting tribute to SG50, the Orchestra played the "City Council Song".

OMM’s music director Professor Chan Tze Law, a leading Singaporean conductor and Associate Director of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, shares the history behind the "City Council Song...

Singapore, then a British colony, had been conferred city status by a royal charter from King George VI in 1951. In 1958, the City Council of Singapore approached Zubir Said to compose a song for the city to be played in the Victoria Theatre after its renovation. Zubir's song was first performed by the Singapore Chamber Ensemble during the grand finale of a concert staged in the Victoria Theatre on 06 September 1958 to celebrate its official reopening. The song was later titled "Majulah Singapura" (Onward, Singapore!).

Hearing the original version sung by Janani Sridhar, one can feel the emotion that she portrayed, on her homecoming from the United States for this performance.

When the current version of Majulah Singapura was played, a new arrangement to make the anthem easier for Singaporeans to sing as many could not reach the high notes in the original version, the audience was invited to stand for our national anthem. Watching the whole hall rise to the occasion and hearing the national anthem sung by all accompanied by the OMM orchestra, one cannot help but feel a sense of solidarity with everyone in the audience, and a strong sense of belonging to our island nation.

We are proud to be Singaporeans.

Thank you, OMM.