18th February 2001

Front Page
Editorial/Opinion| Business|
Sports| Mirror Magazine

The Sunday Times on the Web


Symphony's 'sea change'

The Concert given by the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL), the first in the New Millennium, on January 27 at the Ladies College hall, under the baton of the gifted visiting English conductor, Dr. James Ross, featured a programme of orchestral works by Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius and Elgar.

The concert was noteworthy not only because it was the first time since its founding by the Wagn Brothers in the early 1930s that the orchestra was conducted by a foreign conductor, but also because of certain outstanding attributes displayed by the orchestra during its performance, which set it apart from many of its previous performances.

The audience was, I feel certain, delightfully surprised at the quality and standard of the performance they were treated to in the course of the evening. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the orchestra appeared to have undergone a metamorphosis, indeed a magical "sea change", into something rich and glowing, musically speaking, for such was the tonal richness, and vibrancy it produced. The members of the orchestra displayed a visible commitment and intensity in their playing which was refreshing. They appeared to have broken free of the shackles, real or perceived, which had hitherto constrained them as they responded enthusiastically to the persuasively insistent and energetic direction of their dynamic conductor.

The obvious question which arises is who or what caused this paradigm improvement in their performance? Having sat through many performances of the "SOSL" over several years, I believe this improvement, in the final analysis, was directly the result of the interaction of certain refinements and disciplines instilled to their collective music making, within a short space of time by their perceptive and sensitive conductor.

The programme chosen was interesting in content, and structured to present the orchestra with the opportunity and scope to display its musicianship, versatility and interpretive flair over a range of emotions and tonal colours. The programme was carefully structured in that it gave the orchestra that crucial moment of space and time to focus its mind and work its way into a relaxed, rhythmic and cohesive mode and perform as an integral unit. The Mozart Overture, which started off the programme, taken at a bright and even paced tempo, gave them just that opportunity. The fact that the members of the Orchestra themselves, realized how well they were playing both individually and as a unit, was seen when they all broke into smiles at the conclusion of the Mozart Overture. This was certainly the first time we had seen this happen - a stageful of smiling happy faces - and it set the tone for a remarkable evening's entertainment.

Another feature of the evening's performance was the orchestra's newly acquired sense of timing. Everyone started and ended together, whether it was a "movement" or the final note of a work. This was indeed refreshing and removed an irritation which tended to cast a shadow over many a previous performance, and down grade these performances in many a critical eye.

Along with this and in many ways integral to it was the recently acquired cohesion of the orchestra which was present throughout the evening's performance and lent precision and authority to its playing. It may perhaps not always be appreciated that sustaining audience interest and enjoyment throughout an orchestral concert is much more demanding on both orchestra and conductor than when the programme is interspersed with a "solo" segment.

That the "SOSL" succeeded brilliantly in holding the audience attention and treating it to a satisfying and enjoyable evening of music, was obvious from the sustained standing ovation it received at the conclusion, and the vociferous demand for an "encore" to which it duly obliged. It is I believe the first time that the SOSL received such a reception.

The qualities of cohesion, intensity and commitment shown by the orchestra led to the impressive creation of a "full sound". This was especially noticeable and shown off to great advantage in the second half of the programme which included Sibelius's inspiring "Findlandia" with its sonorous haunting opening bars and Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance Marches, 1 and 2," with their strident measured melody line rising to a glorious crescendo. The full sound produced belied the known limitations of the orchestra in terms of size and balance. It set the seal and confirmed, if any such confirmation was needed, that the SOSL had at last done itself proud and had drawn on the latent talent it had all along been known to possess.

It was as if its dynamic conductor had grasped the very soul of the orchestra, infused it with confidence, sensitivity and belief in itself, brought it out into the open, fired it with his own youthful exuberance and set it alight for all to see. It was indeed a revelation-one which augurs well for the future.

In conclusion I believe the future success and development of the SOSL is very much bound up with its coming under the influence and guidance of a capable conductor. This is not to downgrade the dedication and commitment shown by our own conductors. It is more to insist that they be exposed to foreign training and experience. This concert showed most clearly the talent available in abundance in the orchestra. It merely needs to be guided, moulded and fired.

The orchestra has up to now been solely dependent on public donations, patronage and other intermittent financial hand outs, ticket sales and sponsorship to maintain itself and keep to its calendar of four concerts a year. The budget is hardly sufficient to meet this expenditure and therefore condemns it to a hand to mouth existence.

Nihal Weeratunga
Index Page
Front Page
Mirrror Magazine

More Plus

Return to Plus Contents


Plus Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Plus| Business| Sports| Mirror Magazine

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to 

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd. Hosted By LAcNet