Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985, perhaps best well-known for the Oscar-winning Spirited Away (2001).  For this special concert, Cantabile offered us a joyful two hours of nostalgic delights, from: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984); Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986); My Neighbour Totoro (1988); Whisper of the Heart (1995); Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989); Princess Mononoke (1997); Spirited Away (2001); Howl’s Moving Castle (2004); Ponyo (2008); From Up On Poppy Hill (2011); and The Wind Rises (2013).

Conductor Philip Chu, who founded Cantabile in 2016, calls Miyazaki’s world “simple yet beautiful”, but a daring suite from the noticeably darker Princess Mononoke stood out as a real showpiece for the Cantabile Symphony Orchestra.  Pianist Alexander Wong did a magnificent job of bringing out some of the most iconic moments from the scores, and the horns section sounded particularly strong.

The 150-strong Cantabile Symphony Chorus seemed extremely well-rehearsed on the Japanese, and every syllable sounded crystal clear; miraculously, the gigantic ensemble sounded as one voice.  Unfortunately, the singers quite literally overpowered the orchestra, in volume and in sheer numbers, and sung in a steamroller-like mezzo forte throughout, with a distinct lack of phrasing: this seemed a strange decision, and did not capture the lightness of the music or the Japanese language.

Special mention must go to assistant conductors Toby Wong and Chan Chun Ho, both in their early twenties, selected by Philip Chu to gain extra “podium time” at this formative stage of their careers, and who both did a cracking job for a couple of pieces each.  There was no visual element (e.g. no clips from the movies), but this helped us to fully focus on the music: “simple yet beautiful”.

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