Spirited Away – The Music of Joe Hisaishi (concert review)

This humble little country I call home has always strove to excel in whatever it laid its hands on. Infrastructure, tourist attractions, medical and bio-technology, and the arts. Creativity is an especially touchy subject here, but there’s no denying that tiny steps are made to correct this. 
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra to me is an example of such a progress. When I first saw them 20 years ago, my impression was as good as my Chinese assignments. Important, but regrettably insignificant. I slept through half the performance that time. But then again, I was only 10. 
Someone must have realized that they needed to stay relevant and reach out to an audience that had no taste for classical music. So gradually, they began introducing new shows and fresh concepts, including the SSO Pops concert series where there was no place for the likes of Beethoven and Mozart. 
Then, earlier in January I learned that they were going to perform a concert featuring the compositions of Joe Hisaishi. Also known as Japan’s answer to John Williams or Hans Zimmer, anyone familiar with Studio Ghibli should know him as well; he’s been Miyazaki Hayao’s composer-partner since Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa. Their choice to perform at the newest Star Theatre, which opened in November 2012, was also a surprise for me, considering that the Esplanade would have been a more familiar territory. Or perhaps they needed a venue to cater to the 3,800 people who showed up. 
Photo credits: SSO via Facebook
I had a small glimmer of hope that Hisaishi himself would make an unexpected guest appearance, but the performance conducted by newcomer Joshua Tan – an accomplished conductor in his own right – gave an equally stirring rendition of well-known classics from My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away to relative unknowns like Oriental Wind and Summer, thanks to a bigger, stronger, and more international mix of musicians. Pianist Shane Thio brought out the colour and sprite of the various pieces, while principal cellist Ng Pei-Sian dug deep to bring out the sorrows of Departures. The SSO also took the opportunity to educate the different sections of an orchestra, led by drama teacher-actor William Ledbetter, who also narrated an abbreviated version of the Totoro story as the orchestra played along. 
Photo credits: SSO via Facebook
Photo credits: SSO via Facebook

And of course, this being a concert about the works related to anime, there was no shortage of cosplayers either. 
Photo credits: SSO via Facebook
Most people I overheard said the sound quality of the performance could have been much better had it not been for the acoustics at the Star. But perhaps, being the SSO’s first time outside the Esplanade in a very long time, it would take a while to adjust to the new settings. But I personally enjoyed the two hours I spent there. 
Performances like these are still few and far between. The last concert I attended that was remotely similar was PLAY! which featured music from various well-known video games. But whether you’re young or younger, there will always be music from these genres that appeal to the masses. And while it allows the current concert-goers to refresh themselves with the new, their support prepares the next generation explore different styles and arrangements of musical expression. And that’s quite exciting. 

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