OVER 700 people showed up for a free concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) yesterday, marking the Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) 30th anniversary.
The 45-minute lunchtime concert, part of the SPH Gift of Music series, was the first free public concert by the national orchestra at the newly refurbished Victoria Concert Hall.
It proved a hit with the audience, thanks to the SSO's charismatic associate conductor Jason Lai. From cheekily getting the audience to sing "Happy Birthday", to telling them to "feel free to dance in the aisles", he had a showman conducting style that won over both novices and those who know their music well.
The programme kicked off with Carillon de Westminster, an organ piece by French composer Louis Vierne, played by organist Margaret Chen. It was a rare treat to hear the hall's restored, majestic Grand Klais pipe organ, which has a total of 2,012 pipesand dominates the concert hall stage.
Other highlights included movie themes from West Side Story and Star Wars, and local compositions such as Sketches Of Singapore by Kelly Tang and crowd favourite Home by Dick Lee for the encore.
In addition to the afternoon musical treat, there was a cake-cutting ceremony led by SPH chairman Lee Boon Yang, chief executive officer Alan Chan and SPH directors. Audience members were each given a slice of the birthday cake.
Retired teacher Tracey Lim, who is in her 70s, attended the concert with her friends. She said she had been waiting for the right opportunity to visit the refurbished concert hall. She called the show "a wonderful experience". She said: "We heard high-quality music. It was a beautiful afternoon."
Australian tourist couple Ken and Julia King read about the concert in the newspapers and were at the concert hall from 11am to secure a seat.
Said Mr King, 62: "It was absolutely beautiful. A top-class concert in a really nice building. We are glad we did not miss this. It is something we will remember for a very long time."
Musician Sheila Brennan, who is based here, applauded Lai's energy. "His personality and the way he involved everyone was very impressive."
While those who attended called it "an afternoon to remember", some people had to be turned away because the demand was overwhelming. Seating was on a first-come, first-served basis and some people were there as early as 9am even though doors opened at noon.
For those who missed out yesterday, there is another chance to catch the SSO at the next SPH Gift of Music concert. It is on this coming Sunday at 6pm at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage. Admission is free.