Milestones in the history of a long-running artistic organisation such as the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation are hugely significant, not only as a means to reflect upon and take stock of developments and achievements, but also to envisage what might be possible in the future.
The high musical standards on display at the 30th anniversary concert held at the Thailand Cultural Centre on March 10 were very well received by a capacity audience which was treated to an impassioned performance by an orchestra which currently finds itself in good artistic shape.
As a tribute to visionary beginnings, the first half of the romantically themed programme was identical to that of the very first BSO concerts on Nov 26 and 27, 1982. Beethoven's Egmont Overture is a continual and indeed ultimate symbol of uncompromisingly positive human spirit in the face of adversity, and a highly charged interpretation got the proceedings off to a flying start.
All sections of the BSO had clearly been instructed by the conductor, Belgian maestro Michel Tilkin, to wear their hearts on their sleeves for this emotional occasion, as was manifest by woodwind solos which from the start were delivered with uninhibited expression, whilst the strings made liberal use of vibrato for the entire concert.
Woodwind tuning was precise in the quiet chords which lead into the final Allegro con brio, the whole orchestra then exuding enthusiasm in one of Beethoven's most explosive eruptions.
For Siripong Tiptan, the BSO's home-grown and highly respected concertmaster, to take to the stage and give a pleasingly assured rendition of Max Bruch's famous violin concerto couldn't have been more fitting. The soloist for the same concerto at the inaugural concerts evidently gave Tiptan some of his own earliest lessons, lending a precious thread of continuity to the proceedings.
Playing thoughtfully and exquisitely on a Guadagnini violin made in 1756 (the year of Mozart's birth) with a French C.N. Bazin bow dating from the early 1900s, his tone was rich, smooth and luscious. All technical hurdles were negotiated with confidence and bravura _ for example, the fiendishly difficult double-stopped thirds and tenths which punctuate the last movement, which he dispatched with fluent articulation, clarity and aplomb.
Following in the footsteps of megastar Sarah Chang, who played the same concerto with the BSO in 2010, this was brave programming indeed, but Tiptan more than rose to the challenge, supported by a sensitive and flexible Tilkin and orchestra, receiving a well deserved ovation from a thrilled audience.
This reviewer recalls also a highly regarded London Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster playing this concerto very commendably with his own orchestra some time ago, and this Tiptan/BSO reading really did compare most favourably. For this institution to have reached the point where that can be stated safely speaks volumes about the level of maturity the BSO is now attaining (despite the average age of its members being relatively young) not least because that increasing strength of musicianship is reflected in varying degrees throughout the rest of the ensemble, starting most noticeably with the principals of various sections.
Woodwind, brass, and percussion sections are now fronted by extremely assured and experienced teams which know how to function well together.
Renditions of such frequently performed classics as the Bruch are increasingly hard to distinguish from each other in a music world with ever more capable violinists, the inherited interpretative traditions of rubato and portimenti so entrenched as they are, but what will fix this particular performance in the memory for a longer than average period of time is its poignancy vis-a-vis the celebratory context.
It will be recalled fondly as a defining, triumphant album snapshot in this orchestra's continuing journey.
Rachmaninoff's century-old Symphony No. 2 was a very well calculated choice for the climax of this celebration. A one-hour staple of the repertoire and a challenge for any orchestra and conductor _ no matter how many times it has been performed _ this was the second time it has been played by the BSO. The first was way back in 1996 at the Chulalongkorn auditorium.
Whilst that was itself a successful, well attended performance, it is clear nevertheless just how much the orchestra has progressed as a unit since then. Just over one quarter of the members from that era are still playing in today's ensemble of 80-plus musicians, but there is also a lot of talented new blood, with an increased depth in the string section pleasingly noticeable in the first violins who frequently displayed a searing sheen, second violins and violas who often matched them for strength of tone and articulation, and cellos/basses who now provide a far more robust support to the whole structure.
With myriad tempos which often ebb and flow on a bar-by-bar basis and wildly fluctuating dynamics, the first movement requires much control and care. Tilkin was judicious in his balancing of moods, allowing the Everest-like peaks enough speed to allow for exhilaration whilst being careful to keep a firm hand on the tiller. Such passage work always has the dangerous potential to become a runaway train.
The Allegro molto scherzo second movement and Allegro vivace finale are much more uniformly metronomic as they unfold, but the challenge here is the sheer number of notes to negotiate (although they do work musically, some would opine that there are patently too many). However, the infamous fugato episode in the scherzo and furious chromatic passages in the finale were secure enough and grant all departments technical credit, with a roar of approval greeting the final emphatic triplet flourish _ a sped-up nod to the corresponding conclusion of Tchaikovsky's own, not entirely dissimilar, Symphony In E Minor!
Principal clarinettist Yos Vaneesorn gets special mention for his fine playing of perhaps the most gorgeous and famous solo in the romantic literature, at the start of the sentimental Adagio, as does Somchai Tongboon for his phrasing on the cor anglais as he made the notoriously exposed link into the first-movement exposition flow effortlessly.
With many key figures from the beginnings of the BSO present at the very genial post-show reception, one long-serving administrative stalwart observed gladly how everyone was behaving like a big extended family, obviously joyful just to be there and share the special experience on this particular day. Unified by the common cause and lifeblood of music itself, spirits are now high indeed as the BSO enters decade number four, with its collective aesthetic stock probably stronger now than ever. Bravo, BSO, and all the very best for your future endeavours!
About the author
Writer: James Keller