Sinfonietta has sparks flying
The youth orchestra and friends put on a dazzling New Year show
The Siam Sinfonietta's first New Year's concert, conducted jointly by Somtow Sucharitkul and Trisdee na Patalung at the Thailand Cultural Centre on December 27, ended climactically with massive musical fireworks delivered with precision, humour and even grace.
First, the euphoric audience was dazzled by the famous Johann Strauss "Radetzky March", projected loudly and clearly, yet also treated to subtle playing under Somtow's baton. Then, with the crowd insisting on an encore, Somtow led the orchestra in the "Pizzicato Polka".
This was one of the best performances of Strauss imaginable. The strings of this astonishing youth orchestra know how to play together and they plucked their strings sweetly, the sound focused and brilliant, yet with a sense of the pleasure of living as well.
Audience members had been involved throughout the evening like at no other classical concert. Somtow and Trisdee talked to them, got them to sing, to clap to the waltz beat (but not, Somtow requested, in the quiet passages) and even cajoled them to join in "Gangnam Style" dancing at one point.
The programme was designed to draw a crowd, with pop singer Thanachai "Pod" Ujjin a particular draw, but even though the evening was about celebration with a light touch, it also introduced people to important music they might not otherwise have heard and it clearly touched many hearts.
This was particularly the case with "The Deserted City", an excerpt from "Suriyothai", the ballet-opera Somtow is currently composing. The music paints a picture of the city before dawn with a violin solo and orchestra. The music is full of character, conjuring images of solitude, and it carries a depth of pathos that conveys the loneliness of the empty scene.
Seventeen-year-old Tanayut "Topp" Jansirivorkul played the solo with a beautiful tone, his virtuosity illuminating the meaning in the work with delicate coloration rather than attempting any false show, and indicating a maturity well beyond his years. This was masterful playing on a deep human as well as musical scale. The close synergy of soloist and orchestra under Somtow was a marvel - it was as if the physical instruments creating the sounds ceased to exist and only music was present - and Somtow's music is great music.
The evening had opened with Somtow leading the audience in movingly singing the royal anthem, played sensitively by the orchestra. The march from Trisdee's "Siam Symphony" followed, conducted by him, with percussion thunderous, and brass tight for this mini-masterpiece, but there were some faults in the strings.
This was true, also, during Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" conducted by Somtow. The playing was full of warmth and with orchestral colours beautifully individuated, but was not without its technical lapses. And, unfortunately, the performance of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" under Somtow was marred by further imperfections that suggested the work was under-rehearsed. The woodwinds had many phrases of sheer loveliness - but also passages of uncertainty.
The strings were at times uneven and even scrappy. I winced occasionally. It wasn't clear whether other listeners found any fault, however, drawn as they were to "Gangnam" dancing to the "Nutcracker's" Russian Dance in a display of thanks to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority for their enlightened generosity in sponsoring the event, with Andrew Biggs hamming things up on stage!
And things tightened up for the Arabian Dance, with poignantly pointed low winds rapturously projecting the doleful, cool colours that come uniquely from Tchaikovsky. The Dance of the Reed Flutes
was nicely done as well - the Sinfonietta's flutes were charming as well as brilliant here, strings now all together, sensual and balanced.
Pod came to the stage to sing one of his most famous songs, "Sing Ti Mai Koei Bok" ("Things I Never Told You"), orchestrated as well as conducted by Trisdee. Pod's voice was heartfelt as well as tuneful, and Trisdee's orchestration showed the orchestra at its finest, perfectly controlled strings drawing attention to changing textures, flutes blending in evocatively. Co-concertmaster Chalat Limpisiri contributed an inspired violin solo.
Trisdee continued to hold the baton for excerpts in English from Somtow's "Reya the Musical". Pod sang the first number, "Angel", with excellent diction and much passion. The words "my heart sings" were delivered with an intense and transcendent sense of quiet ecstasy. The strings were utterly coordinated and smooth, the winds penetrating.
Kornsan Sutthikoses performed "Excess Baggage" with bold, in-your-face wit just right for the music, and Maneepatasorn Myra Molloy ended the set with a cocky and clear singing of "Why Can't I Dream?" And then endless energy was released for the Radetzky and the ensuing stream of ebullient encores that took the evening to a triumphant conclusion.
The Siam Sinfonietta, remarkable winners of this year's Summa cum Laude Festival competition in Vienna, are truly a force to be reckoned with. Thais who outdo European musicians in playing European music and also perform modern Thai works of art, they are willing to learn anything, and there is an innocent freshness to their attack.
But the organic equilibrium they attain demonstrates not only that these young people have immense intelligence and feeling for music, they also enjoy working together and have discovered how to display both individual brilliance and come together as one instrument. Somtow and Trisdee know how to draw the best from them, and have created an ensemble that shows Thailand at its artistic finest.