We woke up and checked out of our luxurious Fragrance Hotel. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:30 tonight, so we left our bags and headed into the city.
We caught the MRT to Raffles Place and followed Allen’s directions to the Victoria Concert Hall, where we would watch the Singapore Symphony’s Friday dress rehearsal. We were running about 15 minutes late, but Allen was waiting for us outside. He told us that he’s not scheduled to perform until 10:30 and wanted to know if we wanted some brekkie. Jon and I looked at each other and said, “No way! We want the WHOLE rehearsal!”
Command Performance by the Singapore Symphony (www.sso.org.sg)
Allen led us into the concert hall where the symphony was just beginning to set up. The conductor hadn’t appeared yet, so everyone was tuning their instruments and warming up. We waved at Nella in the front row who was warming up her cello.
This weekend’s upcoming performance featured an Italian pianist who, said Allen, “Is probably really famous but I have no idea what his name is.” So funny! And so typical. Allen leads this amazing life in Singapore, doing exactly what he loves and getting paid handsomely for it. He lives in a great apartment, has fun friends, travels to exotic places, and performs with world-renowned artists. But he just shrugs it off as if it were another day at the office. Of course, for him it is another day at the office. For Jon and I, however, it was an AMAZING opportunity to take in quality culture. (The pianist, we found out later, is Artur Pizzaro. We’ve never heard of him but that’s certainly not saying much.)
The conductor arrived around 9:45 and said ‘Good morning’ to everyone onstage and all the musicians immediately took their positions. A minute later, he began and we sat back and let the music roll over us. There were only five people in the audience, including the three of us. Allen told us that the conductor’s name is Christoph Poppen, and he’s a visiting conductor from Germany. I didn’t know this, but the symphony has a different conductor every week. So Allen says that part of the rehearsals are to learn the signals and facial expressions of the conductor. He also told us that the role of the conductor is important in two ways: (1) As a director. In rehearsals he must ensure that the group is listening to each other and playing correctly. (2) As a diplomat. When ironing out the kinks, he also has to smooth over ruffled features and avoid stepping on inflated egos.
The Singapore Symphony – Artur Pizzaro on Piano
This second point was apparent later in the rehearsal. But first he had the symphony go over two pieces they would be performing this weekend. I didn’t know the pieces, but later found out that they were Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), Op 26 and Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 1 in G minor, Op 25. The main parts, of course, were from Pizzaro’s piano. But the symphony itself sounded lovely. Allen grimaced a few times when he caught a blunder (in between yawns). But Jon and I are completely unworldly when it comes to classical music so it sounded marvelous to us. More than anything, it’s unbelievable that all these people can come together and make sounds like this.
When the two pieces were finished, the symphony stamped their feet to show appreciation to Poppen (naturally – they can’t applaud because they’re holding their instruments). Then Allen said, “Here comes the boring part.” Silly boy. We were enchanted.
Poppen had them re-do certain parts of the compositions, carefully (very carefully) critiqued the performances, answered questions, and fluffed egos where necessary. Poppen was very cheerful and supportive and the musicians seemed pleased with him. Allen said that most conductors are just as diplomatic as Poppen, but there are a few with ugly tempers. I have to wonder how a conductor gets anything accomplished if he yells at them. At any rate, they replayed certain pieces – some of them two or three times – until Poppen was ready to move on. In this case, it was difficult because the musicians were separated by the piano. So the cellists on the right stage couldn’t hear the violinists on the left stage and some of the pieces suffered for it. Makes sense. Regardless, our untrained ears really didn’t hear the difference each time they played the part. But Poppen was happy with it and he’s the one who knows what he’s doing, right?
At 10:30, they took a break. Allen left us to go warm up on his trombone, and the stage hands removed the piano from the stage. A half hour later, the second part of the rehearsal began. Jon and I moved a little to the right so we could see Allen play. Allen told us that the piece they were to play was Schubert’s “The Great”, or Symphony No 9 in C Major. Whatever. All we cared was that he had a solo part and that we had the digital camera’s new movie feature ready to go!
The piece was beautiful, and we were captivated by the fact that we were now the only people in the concert hall. The Singapore Symphony was playing just for us. And how lucky we were to know someone like Allen who could give us this opportunity. In a matter of minutes, Jon and I decided to invest in season tickets to the New York Philharmonic when we get back to New York. My parents did something like that in DC years ago, and I remember that I didn’t understand why they went. It seemed so boring to me. Now I get it. Why wouldn’t you want to sit and listen to this beautiful music for an evening? I can’t think of any better way to spend a morning.
The Singapore Symphony – Allen (Principal Trombonist) in the Horn Section
The Schubert piece was quite long, and we took three different digital movies. Two of them have Allen’s solo parts. Unfortunately, the movies are 4 Megs each and so we can’t put them on disk to upload them. You’ll have to wait until we get back to the states to hear it.
When the Schubert piece ended, the symphony again stamped their feet in appreciation of Poppen. He had a few things that he wanted them to touch up and so the rehearsal continued. I commented to Jon that I thought it was so interesting each time they played a section. It sounded so perfect and ensemble that it was as if Poppen was just pressing “PLAY” on a CD rather than commanding a 100-person symphony.
And I feel compelled to gloat here. None of Allen’s solos needed to be re-played. They were already perfect.
I’m allowed to do that. He’s family.
Lunch at Brewerkz
After lunch, Nella came to say hello and told us that Michelle was meeting her at 12:00 to go to lunch and we should all go together. So the five of us headed out to lunch. Allen took us to a brewery he’d told Jon about. It was called Brewerkz (http://www.brewerkz.com) and was situated in a lovely part of town on Clarke Quay. We sat at a table on the edge of the canal and enjoyed the lovely weather.
Jon, Allen, Michelle, and Nella at Brewerkz
After lunch, we walked back to the MRT together and said our good-byes. Nella and Allen had some lessons to teach and Michelle wanted to hit the beach. Jon and I had time to kill before our red-eye flight and wanted to do it in air conditioning. So we caught the MRT to the far west of the island to go to the Science Center.
It sounded cool in the description in Lonely Planet. This is a center that – through gadgets and thingamajigs – presents scientific theories in a fun format. We knew it would be mostly for little kids but we wanted to see something different and, what the heck, play a little bit. But it was REALLY geared toward little kids. It was fun at first, but got pretty old after an hour or so. The center had areas for mathematics, aeronautics, information technology, and physics, among other things. We enjoyed pressing buttons and playing games beating each other at 3-Dimensional Tic-Tac-Toe. But at 4:30 we were more than ready to leave.
Jon Solving a Complex Mathematical Problem at the Science Center.
Nobel Prize, here we come!
We hopped back on the MRT and went back to the Fragrance Hotel, where I changed into my “flying clothes” and we caught our shuttle to the airport. The flight boarded at 8:00 and we were off at 8:30. My only complaint is that – of all the excellent movies they listed in the Entertainment Guide – Air New Zealand chose to show “The Fast and the Furious”. This is essentially “Point Break” for the year 2000, but with cars instead of surfboards and a bunch of no-name actors. Blech.