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Endemic and Rebirth

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

By Dato' Danny Goon

Sunday, 1st March 2020 was a much awaited day in the life of the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO). It marked the launch of the new 2020/21 Season with Foo Mei Yi and Bartosz Woroch performing Ravel's Piano concerto in G Major and Ysaye's Violin Sonata in E Major, Op. 27, No 6, respectively. The PPO would then render Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Op. 35 under the baton of Prof Chan Tze Law.

Scheherazade, created by Russian Composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in the summer of 1888 celebrates the tale of the young bride of an fictional Sultan. The Sultan had decided to take a new wife every day and have her executed the next morning after one of his wives had cheated on him. It all stopped with the Sultana Scheherazade, who saved her own life by engaging the Sultan with a succession of tales over 1,001 nights. Overcome by curiosity, the Sultan postponed the execution of his wife from day to day, and the tale ended with him renouncing his sanguinary resolution altogether.

Little did we then realise that our maiden concert for 2020/21 would mark the cessation of all mainstream activities for PPO, and the world at large, for more than 701 nights, as the Pandemic raged! Our lovingly curated 2020/21 season calendar was torn asunder. And we waited.

The sun finally shone as April 2022 marked the beginning of Endemicity. PPO's long hibernation was over...... and it was time for Rebirth. Resident Conductor, Ng Choong Yen had not been idle. Instruments were tightened and tuned and musicians facilitated forthwith. It was time for the 2022/23 Season.

Choong Yen himself led the Penang Philharmonic Winds, established in 2018, as they launched the new Season with "Memories of Music" at the Wesley Methodist School Hall on Sunday, 12 June 2022. Fittingly, Winds, comprising mainly school children with a sprinkling of working professionals, made themselves at home in what was clearly a multi-purpose hall with basketball hoops at each end and air-con compressors blasting from the wings of the stage. The acoustics may not have been brilliant, but the 12 piece repertoire was delivered with considerable aplomb, with trombonist Ong Aun Guan as soloist. The patrons were in sync with Winds and lapped up the foot-thumping numbers at the end, featuring the best of Henry Mancini and familiar sounds from the Hits of the 60's. The evening included an outreach programme with children from the Wesley Methodist School teaming up with Winds in a dramatic rendition of "You Raise Me Up".

PPO welcomed Conductor Tan Tor Song and Violinist Elias Moncado home from their European bases with "Mozartiana" on Sunday, 24 June 2022. Maestro Tor Song had played the violin under the baton of Elias's dad here in Penang before embarking on a classical music career in Germany while still in his teens. Fate had decreed that 21 year old Elias Moncado, with German-Spanish-Malaysian parentage and thrilling audiences in Europe while winning numerous musical competitions, would return to perform under Tor Song's baton. Mrs Moncado beamed proudly in the audience as Elias performed the violin solo to PPO's Tchaikovsky's Orchestra Suite No. 4 "Mozartiana", before mesmerizing the audience with his solo rendition of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61. It was clear that Penang had witnessed a prodigy at work. When will he next grace our stage?

The Penang Philharmonic Chamber Choir (PPCC) and the Penang Philharmonic Chorus (PPC) rounded up PPO's season-opening trio of concerts on Sunday, 7 August 2022 with a delightful presentation under their respective conductors, Tan Jin Yin and Mak Chi Hoe. Both the PPCC and PPC last sang their hearts out in late 2019. Their voices were in full bloom, only to be held back as the individual face-masking demanded by health authorities to combat the virus, meant singing was allowed only in the bathroom! And no sharing to save water either. The Endemic means everyone can now sing. So it was, as the audience listened intently to the opening numbers by the Choristers, only to heartily join in with the elegant yet familiar "Bohemian Rhapsody" by PPCC and the combined presentation of "Somewhere Out There" as both Choirs rounded up their performances. Yes, sing we can, and sing we must.

We now await the next instalment in the calendar. Watch out for 15 October, 2022

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