Saturday, May 19, 2012

Swingin' with the MPO

One Sunday afternoon, I had a choice between two activities: watching an orchestra performance and attending a Bollywood dancing session. Although the latter seemed more appealing, I went with the former after considering the schedule.

I had heard good things about Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO). It's a lovely wood-panelled hall in between the twin towers, with what is almost like a constellation of lights on the ceiling, changing color with the songs. Such a shame photography is prohibited, but here's how it looks like.

The cheapest seats had run out but I was fortunate to get the last seat in the middle stalls half an hour before the start of the performance. The hall isn't large, so you can sit anywhere and still enjoy the excellent acoustics and a pretty good view of the musicians.

The dress code is smart casual: strictly no jeans, shorts, slippers and sneakers. The crowd is a good mix, with plenty of expats. I was glad to see a few young people in the audience. It was a pretty full matinee, with vacancies only in the most expensive seats.

Although known for their classical repertoire, MPO has a varied concert program. I love listening to live orchestras, but I'm no classical connoisseur. The timing seemed perfect, as they were playing swing tunes that weekend. I'm not really sure why, but at first glance you wouldn't guess that they're an Asian orchestra. There are more mat salleh (white people) in the orchestra than ethnic Malaysians.

The American guests were conductor Richard Kaufman, vocalist Lisa Vroman and drummer Bernie Dresel. The rapport between them is fantastic, as they are good friends. Kaufman is a natural storyteller, gracious towards his hosts. It doesn't take long to warm up to him.

Vroman played Christine in Phantom of the Opera in more than 3,000 performance across the U.S. and was the first to play Fantine and Cosette in Les Miserables. At first, I was skeptical that she could pull it off because she is not a jazz singer, but the audience was certainly acquainted with her range and her skill as a performer as the show went on. One little girl remarked during intermission that Vroman was "better than the last one".

Dresel, whose credits include Mission: Impossible and The Simpsons, and was drummer for 15 years with the Brian Setzer Orchestra got his chance to prove his amazing talent as a drummer in the final number, Sing Sing Sing.

If you're in KL, keep an eye on their programme.

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