RBSO honours Princess Sirivannavari to kick off 2022 season

Bangkok City Ballet ends the performance. Photos courtesy of RBSO

The Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) recently presented a highly inspired evening of music in honour of the birthday celebrations of the orchestra's patron HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya.

The concert, which was held at the Thailand Cultural Centre, started with a special arrangement of Happy Birthday by RBSO resident conductor and Silpathorn artist Vanich Potavanich. It was beautifully rearranged in a delicate and elegant style, which gave a fresh start to an exciting concert.

The programme then continued with Debussy's famous piece Prélude À L'Après-Midi D'Un Faune, a symphonic poem based on Stéphane Mallarmé's work L'Après-Midi D'Un Faune. This work was in fact one of Debussy's early international successes. The orchestra, under the baton of musical director Michel Tilkin, mesmerised the audience by drawing out subtle details that Debussy intended. The music led us into mysterious dreams, exploring the conscious and the unconscious. The famous flute opening performed by RBSO principal Teerat Ketmee gave us a true sense of gentle arabesque, evoking a sensuous atmosphere. The music sounded almost improvised due to the nature of the repetition of various musical cells. The orchestra successfully captured the subtlety of the work, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful performance.

The famous German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott then took the stage for an extremely compelling performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto For The Left Hand. This work is one of the most challenging pieces in piano repertoire, since the left hand needs to do twice the work to sound like two hands. As Ravel himself said: "In a work of this kind, it is essential to give the impression of a texture no thinner than that of a part written for both hands."

Ott's performance was vigorous and powerful. She tackled this masterpiece with precision and consummate rhythmic control. The orchestra, under maestro Michel Tilkin, made sure that the dark double bass opening had exceptional clarity so that the audience could hear exactly what was going on in such low registers without disturbing the thrilling and gloomy soundscape. The introduction was finely prepared and built up neatly for Ott's entry. Everything was well defined. The execution of the cadenza displayed Ott's exceptionally phenomenal pianism. The overall performance was skilfully executed with exceptional clarity and excellent dynamic balance. Her encore was the hypnotic work by Erik Satie, Gnossienne No.1. For the audience, having the opportunity to enjoy such a phenomenal live performance was indeed a great start to the year.

German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott.

Debussy's La Mer followed the intermission, in a mesmerising performance that showed how Tilkin truly understands how to realise the correct orchestral colours and balance. Tilkin tackled all dynamics, articulations and expressive markings with precision. By being so meticulous in the minute details, he allowed the music to sound formless and shine with great expressive freedom. The woodwind solos were sublime as if they were free to shape their own phrases. Despite the technical difficulties with various changes of timbre, the orchestra successfully delivered a performance that evoked a sense of rare beauty.

The last piece on the programme was one of Ravel's most famous works, Bolero. A piece with Spanish influence, the composer sets the basic rhythm of Bolero in variation form, with the melody and harmony unchanged. This repetitive nature is a challenge to perform. However the RBSO successfully delivered a sensitive and captivating performance. Tilkin paid tribute to this famous piece through his skilful mastery, honouring all the written details indicated by the composer including dynamics, articulations and expressive markings. Through the solos, there was a sense of expressive freedom, almost as if they were improvising the music. The piece ended with the fulfilling cumulative power that is expected of this piece.

For the surprising encore, the RBSO presented its first ever collaboration with the Bangkok City Ballet (BCB) in Prokofiev's well-loved Romeo And Juliet Suite No.2. Prokofiev's idioms, lyrical inspiration and personal style were effectively portrayed on stage by both the ballet dancers and the orchestra. This was the first of a series of planned collaborations with the BCB as the RBSO aims to showcase local artistic talents in its programmes. The evening ended on a magical note that heightened the sense of musical corporate sensitivity, making it a memorable night indeed.

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