Happy Days – Favourite TV Themes

Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Salonga (conductor)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Wednesday (Nov 7)

It seems odd to fill a two-hour formal concert by a symphony orchestra with TV theme tunes. Culled from American and British shows screened, not originally in Singapore, over the past 50 years, these ranged from the sixties hit show Hawaii-Five-O, to the cult cartoon of more recent times, The Simpsons.

But what might have seemed like a nostalgic indulgence for the few expatriate over-60s in the audience who had spent their adolescence in front of the telly, was actually powerfully engaging for an audience largely made up of young Singaporean families and empty seats.

TV themes are of necessity very short, and to bulk them up, all were presented in arrangements which often added so much baggage that it was not always easy to know what the original theme was. Dallas sounded more like an out-take from West Side Story, while it took almost 10 minutes of atmospheric rambling before Trekkies got their fix of the iconic Star Trek theme.

Three things transformed this concert into two hours of sheer fun. The first was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, clearly having a real ball in repertory it does not usually encounter (with some awesome percussion playing for Sex and the City). The second was a quintet of local vocalists who added informality to the proceedings. And thirdly, and most importantly, Gerard Salonga who, making his conducting debut with the SSO, had clearly won the hearts of the orchestra and established such an easy rapport with the audience, that he seemed more like an old friend than an unfamiliar guest.

Salonga had devised the programme so well that it all ran like a well-oiled machine, but double-act Jack and Rai were on hand to smooth down the few lumpy joins with some easy banter. They also joined in the singing of the theme song from Friends, along with three other vocalists – Hazrul Nizam, Benjamin Chow and Alemay Fernandez – who had individually added their voices to other theme tunes.

Excellent as the male vocalists were, all were eclipsed physically, aurally and visually (she positively dazzled in a generously-sequined white gown) by Fernandez whose personal command of the stage and of the audience showed us what real star quality is all about.

The production staff had done their bit to transform the concert hall into a TV studio, bathing the stage in a veritable rainbow of coloured lights, so it seemed unfortunate that the conductor and orchestra were all dressed in their formal white tie and tails (which Salonga cheekily suggested was their “smart causal”). All became clear in the second half with one of the TV themes they played. They were not dressed as formal musicians at all, but extras on the set of Britain’s much-loved period drama, Downton Abbey.

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