AMITIAE - Friday 26 July 2013
Somtow's Wall of Sound: Mahler 8 - Thailand Cultural Center, 24 July 2013
By Graham K. Rogers
In the United States he was well-known for science fiction writing, but in Thailand, his focus has been mainly musical. His compositions include symphonies, opera, and ballet. He has also developed the earlier Siam Sinfonietta into a major orchestra: The Siam Philharmonic. The performances of this mainly young group of musicians, are not to be missed. The recent rendition of Mahler's Symphony Number 8 - The Symphony of a Thousand - was a tour de force.
This reaching out to the audience makes the atmosphere less starchy than at other such events. Nonetheless, the performers dress up for the occasion, and this is one of the rare occasions I wear a suit and tie to recognise their efforts.
The four movements of what is really a choral work, rather than a true symphony, were split into two parts, with a 3-minute break for the soloists to grab some water. Thematically, the two sections were set apart with the first using a 9th Century Hymn and the second part of the closing scene of Goethe's Faust.
As I was less familiar with this Mahler work, I downloaded an old recording from iTunes of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokoswsky. As good as that was, and I had listened to it several times, it had not really prepared me for Somtow's great wall of sound.
The previous performance that I had attended at the Thailand Cultural Center - The Silent Prince - had mercifully been free of such crass interruptions. We were not so lucky this time: for some taking photographs during an event, despite requests not to, is a compulsion. As they may not know how to turn on Airplane Mode, I heard the tell-tale sounds of LINE and What's App a couple of times. This shows a selfish disrespect to the performers and to the audience.
The VIP seats (I paid for mine) were a bit cramped and I was dreading the arrival of the person or group in the reserved seats just in front of me. They were on time and well-behaved. I do not know who the main man was but he was on stage at the end presenting the flowers.
It is encouraging to see the number of Thais in that list and Kittinant Chinsaram's voice was notable. All of the other soloists were superb, especially Grace Echauri and Nadlada Thamtanakom.
That these groups worked as one was a magnificent achievement. Credit must go of course to Somtow but also to the Chorus Master, Athalie de Koning, and to Associate Chorus Master Rick Muselaers. It cannot be easy to manage so many souls.
The sense (to me) after the break was a heavier mood and, with the words from Faust, a darker sense - sinister at times - percolated through. Then towards the end as the chorus gave full voice, the soloists clearly heard over the mass of voices, the music swelling to its climax, there was a brilliant few seconds with the eighth soilist in the rows above and behind the audience.
And still there was more. The last six minutes of the performance is available on video via Somtow's Facebook pages.
In the meantime, I will be booking my tickets as soon as I can for Wagner's Siegfried which is to be put on later in the year; and I noticed that it is expected that Britten's War Requiem is to be produced sometime next year.
I look forward to an early release of a recording of the full performance of the Mahler 8 Symphony we experienced this week. The orchestra, the soloists, chorus members and above all Somtow are to be thanked for a unique experience.
Photograph of bouquet presentations
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.
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