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A very happy birthday

   
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (from left): Francis, Abdullah and Yeoh admire the brightly-lit cake.

The Malay Mail, 27 December 2005

5,000 Malaysians celebrate YTL's 50th Anniversary in Sentul Park

ARTS
By Ahmad Azrai

YTL issued 5,000 free tickets to the general public for all the concerts planned. What followed was one of the most spectacular firewords shows the country had ever seen, which evoked loud cheers from all present.

IF there’s one thing you can say about YTL Corporation Bhd, it’s that they sure know how to throw a party – and what a grand celebration it was!

The local conglomerate celebrated its 50th Anniversary – called ‘Celebrating 50 Years of Running the Good Race’ – on Saturday, Dec 17, in Sentul Park, Kuala Lumpur. The night’s performance, hosted by Yasmin Yusuff, was by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) under the baton of Mike Moran, and the star of the night was Britain’s top tenor, Russell Watson.

In attendance were YTL executive chairman Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay, his wife Puan Sri Tan Kai Yong, his son, managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh as well as the rest of his family.

The guests of honour were DYMM the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail, DYMM the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Fauziah Tengku Abdul Rashid, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Governor of Malacca Tun Datuk Seri Utama Mohd. Khalil Yaakob and his wife Toh Puan Zurina Kassim, in addition to various diplomats and other dignitaries.

It had begun as a week of celebrations. YTL had issued 5,000 free tickets to the public via ballot for all the concerts that they had planned. The tickets were oversubscribed by more than double the capacity – 10,000 applied for the tickets.

The lucky people were taken from KL Sentral to the Sentul KTM Komuter Station, where buses ferried them to the park for dinner before the show.


   
CHARISMATIC: Watson gave a heartfelt performance that won the crowd.

Francis gave a speech that outlined how his father had built YTL up from a simple family-run construction company into one of Malaysia’s most successful and largest conglomerates, with subsidiaries all over the world in a diverse range of industries. He expressed his gratitude towards God for the fortune and blessings heaped upon the company, and said that YTL was proud to be able to give back to the Malaysian community.

His speech was followed by a speech from the Prime Minister, who congratulated YTL on its success and expressed his best wishes for the continued success of the firm. Abdullah then accompanied Francis and Yeoh senior to the side, where Yeoh cut the anniversary cake to loud cheers.

The show began with an a capella performance of It’s A Grand Night for Singing from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical State Fair. Jacqueline Barron, Louise Marshall, Simon Grant and Edward Hands came on one by one, and sang in magnificent and bewitching harmony. It was a stunningly fantastic way to open the show, and boded well for the rest of the evening.

Watson soon stepped out to loud cheers, and launched into Caruso by Lucio Dalla. The song, a tribute to the famous singer Enrico Caruso, set the stage for judging how Watson would do. His pronunciation of the Italian lyrics was passable, but it was his sincerity that shone through. There were slight sound problems, but that was soon taken care of.

What followed was a beautiful number from his last album, Amore e Musica. Magia Sara (or ‘It Will Be Magic’) had a simple and enchanting tune as well as a tasteful arrangement. On top of that, it could be seen that this was a track that Watson liked, since his rendition was easy-going and sublime.

I Believe was the first of several spiritual-themed songs that would fill the night. It was a graceful piece that was soothing, for which Watson gave a good performance. It was followed by an arrangement of the Beatles song Michelle for orchestra done by Moran, that proved to be both tasteful and amusingly satisfactory.

Panis Angelicus (part of the Mass by French composer Cesar Franck) and Ave Maria (by Franz Schubert) proved to be slightly problematic for Watson. These are rather famous and popular Classical pieces that require a solid technique. Watson’s voice was a bit too thin for these works, a fact that was brought home by the back-up singers who sounded more comfortable and solid than he did.


   
FANTASTIC FOUR: The back-up singers sang in gorgeous harmony.

Still, it must be said that Watson does not have any formal musical training – his story is literally that of an ordinary guy who got exceptionally lucky whilst singing for his friends. And for someone without any formal musical training, Watson does have a good voice; more importantly, he knows what to do with it. At any rate, the audience loved him, and gave him due applause.

You Are So Beautiful, the song originally by Joe Cocker, was rather poignant. Watson’s tenor was quite soothing – quite unlike the original singer’s rough vocals – and the song was charmingly done. It was followed by Draw Me Close, which proved to be a good end to a wonderful – albeit ‘quiet’ – first half, before a quarter- hour intermission ensued.

The second half proved to be even more exciting than the first. Watson came out to sing the ever popular Volare by Domenico Modugno. To the surprise and absolute delight of the crowd, Watson stepped off the stage and went down amongst them. He only went half-way through the crowd, but it worked – the audience went wild, and sang along with him.

Funiculi Funicula, the famous song written by Italian journalist Peppino Turco with music by composer Luigi Denza, continued the showcase. Watson obviously was saving up his powers and skills for this half, and the exciting song was sung with gusto and vigour. The fantastic four backed him up with a lush chorus; a winner of a song, indeed.

Nella Fantasia saw things slow down a little, as did the title track of his last album, Amore e Musica (‘Love and Music’). They proved to be interesting tunes, though not as memorable as Musica Sara. Still, ‘popera’ songs such as these are fast becoming big, and Watson gave a confident and assured performance.

Once more, there was an instrumental number, this time Moran’s arrangement of the Cole Porter song Night and Day. It certainly lived up to its name, starting out with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before morphing into a late night samba. A catchy piece that received a favourable response from the audience.

The Music of the Night is the famous tune from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera, and Watson did a fair job of dispatching the piece. Of course, comparisons with the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, are inevitable, and Crawford’s majestic version is still the benchmark for this song.

Nonetheless, Watson managed to make the song his own, and he delivered it as if he was actually on the West End stage – an avenue he might pursue in future, perhaps?


   
ENJOYING THEMSELVES: The audience had a wonderful time.

Precious Lord was another spiritual song which saw the quartet go a capella again. This piece was a knock-out that showcased just how astonishing these singers were, which raised loud and long applause. These singers were classy, accomplished and outstanding.

Finally, Watson offered the song which he admitted, ‘I can never escape from’ – Nessun Dorma, which started his career in music. The aria from Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera Turandot is certainly a trial for any singer, but Watson managed to conserve his energy to give a heartfelt rendition. Familiarity helped him produce a solid rendition, and he tackled the high note flawlessly. Frankly, it was not bad for a self-described ‘pub singer’.

Of course, the audience wouldn’t let the People’s Tenor go off so easily. Watson complied with You Raise Me Up for an encore, to loud cheers. The Josh Groban song went down well, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Unfortunately, a slight drizzle began just at that moment, but YTL had the foresight to include plastic raincoats for everyone. Watson cheekily took the opportunity to sing Singing in the Rain, accompanied by Moran on piano. It was a clever move that endeared him even more to the crowd.

More cheers prompted Watson to dedicate his final encore to Francis. Entitled Above All, it was a modern spiritual song that was stirring and inspirational – a fitting tribute to Francis, who certainly deserves the praise. A stirring end to a wonderful performance, which literally ended with a bang. What followed was one of the most spectacular fireworks shows the country had ever seen – a solid 10 minutes of sparks, spinning flames and bursts that culminated in the words ‘50 YEARS OF YTL’ being lit up close to the stage.

All said and done, the 5,000 guests were taken back to the Komuter station and sent to KL Sentral before they departed for home happy.

It was certainly an unforgettable historic event. A very happy birthday to YTL!

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© Copyright 2004 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.


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