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Jun 18, 2019

Review: Overture Spirituelle by Robert Casteels

Contributed by Eric Watson

The opening work of this concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) on 22 Mar 19 was the Overture Spirituelle by Robert Casteels. This work was commissioned by SSO and, in the composer’s own words, structured to follow the codes of musical classicism in terms of structure, instrumentation, bar phrases, bi-thematism and in the expression of emotions. Moreover, its specific intent, its raison d’être, is as an overture to a concert of symphonic music, in this case the remainder of the concert filled by Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A and Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana.

In this intent and certainly for this concert programme, Overture Spirituelle succeeded magnificently. The structure was exhibiting a clear balanced shape. The strings were arching high at the opening, seeming to strive towards the heavens, but later returning to close in a peaceful and rather reverent silence. Perhaps this is the inspiration for the second part of it’s title, Spirituelle.

Casteels used the note D just above middle C as a pivot, the music above this note being reflected by the music under this note. However, this was no dry academic striving for unity. His music had sparkle, invention, wit and movement, propelling the listener along in a delight of shape and sonic discovery almost kaleidoscopic in its progress.

While there are indeed many established overtures written for concert performance, Overture Spirituelle, though harking back to an earlier age and direct in expression, clearly belongs to the 21st century and is a worthwhile addition to the concert repertoire. There is no doubt that that night, Overture Spirituelle was a very good start to what was an enormously enjoyable concert.

Overture Spirituelle by Robert Casteels had its world premiere, conducted by Andrew Litton with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra on 22 Mar 19 (F).

Cover photo: Robert Casteels thanking the audience, while conductor Andrew Litton congratulates him after premiering his Ouverture spiriturelle with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

Photo credit: Hoh Chung Shih

Also read: Robert Casteels’ advice to young composers on Western orchestra premieres.