It was 7.14 pm, and the lobby of the Esplanade was already brimming with excited concertgoers. Outside, the night air seemed surprisingly cool as the chattering crowd gathered at the entrance of the concert hall was gradually strung into a single queue, which my friends and I quickly joined. The atmosphere was electrifying and excitement pervaded the still air, in what seemed to be zealous anticipation for a truly magical night ahead of us.
Inside, the multifarious amphitheatre stretched around us, the seemingly endless mahogany tiers nearly filling to the top of the high, arched ceiling. We were early. Even from the top deck and situated at (arguably) one of the worst spots, the concert hall embraced us with all the comfort of a warm, soft teddy bear. I ensconced snugly into the velvet chair. “Attention. The concert will begin in 5 minutes. All guests are to be seated by 7.30.” We waited patiently as the amphitheatre beckoned the audience into their seats. At 7.30 pm sharp, the lights dimmed and a dazzling spotlight illuminated the stage.
Excited murmurs evolved into sparkling applause as the band assembled; each step a sharp, firm click that resonated throughout the concert hall, the rustling of the scores, hushed; everyone was waiting with bated breath. Seated in the front row were the clarinets, the oboes, the flutes and the piccolo. More clarinets followed in the second row, together with the bassoons, the saxophones, and a single double bass which stood at attention. With the third row came the introduction of the french horns and the euphoniums, while the trumpets, trombones and tubas dominated the fourth. A whole arc of gold and silver brass instruments were proudly displayed, gleaming in all their glory. Last but not least, stood the percussion. Timpani! Drums! Xylophone! Chimes! Glockenspiel! And more. The crowd went silent in anticipation. This was the first year the band had managed to open the premium seats for the theatre, and expectations were high. All eyes were directed at the band as the conductor, Adrian Chiang, took centre stage and gave a graceful bow, marking the start of the concert.
With a flick of the baton, the band mustered to play the first piece, Goddess of Fire, an uplifting composition with the all the grandeur and ferocity of a naked flame. Intensity radiated off the stage with every movement as the conductor swung the baton in dramatic gestures. A swoosh, and the orchestra fell silent, except for the clarion cry of the clarinet which pierced the salubrious air. The double bass creaked hauntingly and a constant thrumming sound punctuated the hall as the audience clapped in accordance to the rhythmic flow of the music.
A few more sharp flicks of the baton, and we were all whisked back to the olden jazzy age of the 1960s with the popular 60’s hit, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, a classical romantic performed with the clarity and crisp of Frankie Valli himself, which was, to put it in words, simply ‘too good to be true’. To further contribute to the romantic atmosphere, stage lights painted the stage in a passionate red hue for the entirety of the piece as the audience swayed along to the classy jazz extravaganza.
And suddenly, we were all sliding down the Mississippi on pallet boats as the conductor commanded the orchestra with a decisive wave of his hand, signalling the start of the next piece, Sliding Down The Mississippi. Waving his arms in wild abandon, the Mississippi came alive as the entire musical entourage wafted down the sea of brilliant blue. As our rickety raft danced about the edge of the waterfall, the trombone tooted out a series of rumbling notes, and the entire jazzy jamboree followed in harmonious pursuit. It was truly a ride to remember.
A flurry of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ were emitted from the audience as we were swept into to the fantasy world of the popular anime, Kimi no Na wa (Your Name). Heads were bopping to the beat and I watched from afar as two trombone players nodded at each other in silent approval before their parts. A youthful breeze had blew in from Japan that night, and suddenly, everyone in the audience were all students again, enjoying the lithe and carefree school days that seemed to stretch on endlessly before them.
Next, a bewitching Spanish piece, El Camino Real, led us down a musical trail of the colorful Spanish culture. The passionate Spanish flamenco, commonly dubbed “The Royal Road”, took off with the fiery style of authentic Spanish music and ended literally with a bang, which concluded the end of the first half of the performance.
And this was merely the beginning…
The second half of the performance swiftly followed. My eyes were glued on the band throughout the concert. The conductor was a magician with the baton as his wand and the music flowed out effortlessly as the spells were cast. I was spellbound as I immersed myself in the depths of Gulliver’s travels to Lilliput, Magellan’s voyage to the unknown continent, and the cries of the Last Centaur.
With a firm lunge of the baton, the armies of Lilliput trotted on stage. We were transferred into the valley of Lilliput; and Gulliver himself rocked the stage with the mighty pounding of a dozen tubas. The climbing undertones pushed each successive cadence to a new climax.
With a sweeping hand, suddenly we were on Magellan’s voyage to an unknown continent in search for the Spice Islands. Cool, hazy villages drifted on sleepy clouds. Tempestuous storms rocked the ship and with a celebratory effort, the conductor splayed his arms, and the music came to a halt. When the dramatic suspense cleared, a peaceful and majestic melody resounded through the hall; the mood flickered into calm and peaceful, just like that.
Then came the reunion of the Centaur and his family after wartime. The gallant centaur galloped across rocky ridges and treacherous tracks. The fear and isolation of the centaur as he navigated his way through the unforgiving woods, painted a touching and heartwarming scene as the last drop of sunlight spilled into the peaceful oblivion of the night.
For the final piece, the Symphonic Band performed the iconic theme song from Disney Pixar’s award winning film, The Incredibles. Brought back by popular demand, this piece was well-timed for the upcoming Incredibles sequel slated to air later this month. The nostalgia invoked from the piece evoked a lively response from the audience as they cheered in response to the heroic and cinematic iteration of the famous piece. I pictured Mr Incredible’s convertible trundling in the background, adorned with extravagant glamour and pizzazz. Baddies beware!
It had been a thrilling ride back in time and the pieces had splendidly captured a perfect blend of history and fantasy. We were whisked away from our hectic lives and transported to a serene, new world, ready to be explored. Music provides us with a much welcomed freedom that releases us from the vice-like grip the demands of reality held on us – be it for just a temporal moment in time. Music is truly food for the soul.
Too soon, the night of spectacular performances drew to an end. Friends and family streamed out of the theatre with flowers and congratulatory gifts, eager to meet the showmasters of the night, the band members. As though a magical shooting star, Limelight 2018 came and left, leaving us with an unforgettable experience and an everlasting yearn to return to that magical moment among friends, listening to the mystical pieces played. Till then, we can only reach out for that (lime)light across the bay, and watch, as the many generations of Symphonic Band members continue to recede us year by year.
Ernest Yong, 18S43
Xavier Loh, 18S43
Chen Xiang Le, 18S43