November 27, 2015

Musings of an Artiste – a review


Musings of an Artiste
Esplanade Recital Studio
12 November 2015, 1930hrs

With such a title as ‘Musings of an Artiste’ and a poster with a dark background showing the artiste deep in thought (musing, presumably), one almost expects the repertoire to be big, heavy works of the 19th-century, where artist(e)s were admired, put on a pedestal, and revered as idols. The stage, too, was set to reflect a 19th-century style salon, with flowers underneath the piano and in large vases behind.

Instead, what a surprise it was when the repertoire turned out to be three sonatas from the Classical period, bordering on the cusp of Romanticism and in the key of E-flat major.

Haydn’s Sonata Hob. XVI:49 which opened the evening was a delightfully witty and light, peppered with contrasting moments of drama. The drama was brought out further in the Les Adieux sonata, written by Beethoven in expression of farewell to a dear friend the archduke Rudolph. Before playing, Lim gave an account of how he was given this work to learn when he first went to UK, as his teachers thought he could identify with the separation from his family and home. Revisiting this sonata, he gave a highly poetic and wonderfully detailed account of it, never letting the drama get the better of the structure and without over-the-top expression.

The 4-movement Sonata D.568 by Schubert which followed was a tribute to Ms Lim Tshui Ling, his former teacher. In it, Lim immersed the audience into the fluid, ever-changing harmonies of Schubert’s sound world, deftly navigating the delicate key changes. The opening Allegro had a dancing lilt to it, and the hushed pianissimos in the andante molto offered a warmth that was almost ethereal.

Although the absence of programme notes was evident at the start of the concert, Lim skilfully wove programme notes into his preambles before and in between pieces, making the evening more intimate and showing a side of the artiste that one doesn’t often see with other performers.

The dramatic and passionate side of Lim finally broke through in his encore of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op 23 no. 5; and since the key of E-flat major was the thread linking up the entire programme, ‘it would be a little perverse not to end the evening in E-flat major’, Lim quipped, and polished off Rachmaninoff’s Prelude op 23 no. 6 in understated virtuosity.


This recital was presented by Kris Foundation.

October 27, 2015

An interview with composer-conductor Eric Watson


Landscapes pic

Eric Watson can order his Kopi C Kosong in fluent Singlish, writes music for Chinese, Indian and Malay ethnic instruments, and has lived here long enough to fit into the Singaporean landscape. Plink, Plonk, Plunk catches up with him ahead of the Spectrum concert he presents at the Esplanade Recital Studio where he programmed, composed, wrote programme notes, and conducts the YST Conservatory New Music Ensemble.

EW interview picture

1/You chose the programme, wrote the programme notes, wrote a piece and will be conducting this concert. Could you tell us what you had in mind when putting the programme together? 

There were actually two ideas I had in mind: one was that alternate points of view, when we encounter them, can actually be sometimes quite startling – I’m not talking about someone else’s point of view, but your own point of view – it’s like when you see a tree from a different angle, sometimes it seems like it’s a completely different tree but it’s not, it’s the same tree. It’s a totally different angle, perhaps the light is different, or even the sound is different – there are birds on one side and not on the other – so that sort of alternative point of view has always fascinated me. Also, the same stories that could have different endings, I find that quite fascinating. It was partly with the tree analogy in mind that I called [the concert] Landscapes.

The other thing I had in mind was that I wanted to feature some music that came from the group of composers that were active after the Cultural Revolution: Zhou Long, Chen Yi, Bright Sheng.. That’s why those two pieces came to be there. Again, partly because they’d been in isolation during the Cultural Revolution, for me that was an interesting perspective to see what might actually come out of that.

2/ let’s talk about your piece Inner Landscapes : it deals with changes in perspective. Could you tell us a bit more about how you wrote it and what you had in mind when writing it? 

Well Inner Landscapes is the inner landscapes of the mind, in this particular case. I’ve spoken to many people about how they think, what they think, and it’s interesting just because of how different those processes can be. Some people do actually think linearly, but I think majority of people think in a sometimes disjointed, rather haphazard manner on the surface – it’s not necessarily unconnected because I think there are subconscious forces at work – and that process has also always fascinated me, it’s like the ‘stream of consciousness’ idea that you encounter during James Joyce’s Ulysses, for instance. The whole last part of the book is basically a stream of consciousness of ideas floating through the surface, disappearing, and then coming back in another form, perhaps something else, certainly transmuted.

The analogy I can give with Inner Landscapes is that in the opening fanfare, a typical, ritualistic fanfare in a sense, becomes by the end of the piece, a rhythmic pulse in the background of what else is happening. And ten minutes later that’s the link between the ending and the beginning.

But when I set out to write it, I didn’t know that it was going to happen. Over the period of the piece, the fanfare began to transform itself, and at one point, the composition started to have a life of its own. This happens to me most of the times in writing, and I look forward to that point because then, I get nice surprises, sometimes not so nice surprises… A lot of the time it picks up a life of its own and for me, it’s become a kind of living thing in itself… then it’s kind of like Franz Liszt’s thematic transformations where something becomes something else?

 Well yeah, that’s right. And sometimes it’s very difficult to see where the end result actually came from; but I’ve done this enough times and studied enough composers’ works to realise that this is very much a part of the creative process.

 3/Speaking of perceptions, have you changed your perceptions on life and music as you grew up?

Yes I hope I’ve changed my perceptions as I’ve grown up a bit!

Actually yes. When I was a student, for instance, I was listening to a lot of what was called avant-garde music. It still is avant-garde music now, but it tends to refer to that particular period of time then. I was listening to composers and talking to them, like Stockhausen, and going to concerts, and there was an awful lot of new music I was actually hearing.

But gradually over a period of time, my ideas of what I was listening to, and what I was enjoying as a listener began to change. After some years I looked back (I actually stopped composing for a while, because it brought me to a halt, I couldn’t sort of feel where I was), and actually then, some years later, I thought to myself one day that the process that goes on exists in several different ways – perceptions again!

You often have the professional observers – critics, the historians and musicologists – making predictions saying, ‘this should be this way, and that should be that way’, I look back and I think, not much of that has actually happened in the way that it was expected to be. And of course I began to understand that there were forces – subterranean forces, if you like (sounds a bit sinister, doesn’t it) – that work that, composers, creative artists, just simply have their own creativity that compels a direction different from what could be expected. But I’ve learnt to be comfortable about it in the end, rather than sit up and think, ‘oh, I shouldn’t be doing it this way, because this is not the right type of music that 21st century composers should be listening to’, and I’ve heard this attitude before several times. But now I’ve gotten quite comfortable with it and my music shows it, probably to a very large extent.

In the end, I wanted to communicate – I didn’t want to just have a small band of followers whom my music spoke to and nobody else – so that was an important part of my creative process.

 4/And how have your perceptions changed also since moving to Singapore from UK?

When I came to Singapore, what I discovered was – it sounds strange, but – an iceberg. What I mean by that was that I’d started exploring a little bit of gamelan music when I was in the UK and a little bit of music coming of other cultures. Not a lot, but enough to get intrigued.

When I came to Singapore, that was when I discovered the rest of the iceberg, because you know that the tip of the iceberg is usually one-fifth of what you actually see, whereas the rest is huge and there and quite dangerous, and you don’t see it. That’s what happened with Singapore. It’s all there, and I’ve discovered it and it’s dangerous because it’s made me really think outside the perimeters we’re used to.

Now I’ve encountered gamelan in a very whole-hearted fashion, but also Indian music, and Chinese music, various kinds, and I don’t necessarily mean only the orchestral music which goes back only to the last 100 years, but I’m talking also about Nanyin music which goes back such a long time. The tradition of small ensembles as well – chamber music-making – particularly in Chinese music but also Indian music and other areas too. So that’s what Singapore has done, it’s opened all that up to me. But whether in the end I’m successful or not, in those directions, I guess time will tell.

5/ You have won some awards so time has told something – you’ve been quite successful in mixing the instruments of Indian, Chinese and Malay music.. but I wonder about jazz. You used to play jazz piano..

 Yes, it’s true. For a long time I earned my living working in musical theatres as conductors and director. And of course I’d encounter all kinds of musicals, literally from the Sound of Music to Jesus Christ Superstar, those are two extremes. And of course there’s a great variety of styles of music within all of that.

So that inevitably has become a part of what I am, because I actually quite a lot of things – I really do like theatre music, you know, it’s still for me, an excitement: I go to a musical and hear the orchestra start up and I get all excited, it’s like a little boy in a sweet shop!

 6/ what inspires you besides theatre music and the new fangled instruments that you’ve learnt about? 

So many things, really. Natural phenomenon, in the sense of landscape for instance, like the sky… I’ve just written a piece called Constellations inspired by, literally, constellations.. so all that kind of natural phenomena inspires me. But sometimes, just walking along a road it can be the edge of a corner of a building, and I think, my word, that is really quite nice, or sometimes quite ugly too! I forgot which city it was – I’m not going to malign anybody here but I’ll say it wasn’t Singapore – I was in some city and I saw some kind of institute of architects’ building, and it struck me as the ugliest building I’ve ever seen in my life! It was literally a square box! and I thought, ‘what are they doing, these architects?!’

So lots of things inspire me. Literature does, certainly. But whatever it is that inspires me, at some point, has got to engender some kind of emotion within me. quite often it’s simply wonder at first, but emotion is a communicator, not just to communicate to others but quite often, to communicate to ourselves.

Music, if it doesn’t communicate, for me then really lives in an ivory tower. And I don’t like it.

Many things inspire me but normally whatever it is, art, photography, literature, nature  or just ‘doodling’ stirs something in me emotionally, not necessarily in a pleasant or ‘romantic’ manner after all disgust is also a strong emotion, but whatever it is it gets me thinking and feeling.

7/ if you had to describe your music in less than 10 words, what would it be? 

Eclectic is probably the best way. I do actually sometimes change styles and feel in pieces that I’m going about.. but it’s not inconsistent.

Also my music tends to be, in new music terms, reasonably approachable to people on the whole. Not always, because sometimes I do get times where I start thinking to myself, ‘I can’t express this in any way except in a way that it’s difficult to listen to; because that’s what it is about. but for the most part, I do try to write things that people could understand at some level. And I don’t think that’s writing down, that’s not what I want to do at all. It’s the same when I’m using ethnic instruments as well – I don’t try to write Chinese music or gamelan music using the instruments.. I use that sound world as a resource and try to write my music. I don’t want to imitate other things because other people do it far better anyway.

Sorry that was far longer than 10 words wasn’t it?

8/Finally, one last question – Why should people come to this concert?

Well because it’s an enjoyable experience. They might find the contrast themselves quite interesting and amazing, and perhaps will just get some insight on an area which is perhaps not quite as well known as it should be.

And actually this is music of our day, you know, there‘s an awful lot of music that doesn’t belong to our century – we play it a lot and it’s very magnificent and all – but this is music that comes from the world that we are living in, at this time. So I think it’s an important for that reason.

Landscapes by Eric Watson and the YST Conservatory New Music Ensemble happens this Sunday, 1 Nov 2015 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Come and witness the breath-taking, ever-shifting landscapes in music! Buy your tickets here now!

Landscapes is part of Spectrum, an Esplanade Presents programme.

October 2, 2015

War and Peace: Singapore International Festival of Music


The inaugural Singapore International Festival of Music, brainchild of conductor Darrell Ang and violinist Loh Jun Hong, opened last Saturday with a concert themed after the festival theme ‘War and Peace’. Comprising mostly luminaries in the classical scene, musicians, composers, and patrons of the arts, the half-filled Chamber had good acoustics for a chamber concert (pardon the pun). As history was made in that room before (the Chamber used to be the place where parliament sessions took place), history was being made the very evening with the festival.
Lee Chor Lin, CEO of the Arts House, spoke in the opening address of her recent trip to Berlin and about how the city remembers history by naming roads and building monuments; she then likened it to how SIFOM sets out to remember our history with a music festival – because music gives hope in despair and a way out of desperation. Festival co-director Darrell Ang then made an appearance, speaking about the need for Singapore to have her own international music festival that would put Singapore on the world map of musical cities; after all Singapore has a huge talent pool of capable musicians who have been trained both locally and overseas.

The opening work featured festival co-director Loh Jun Hong as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5. The three works on the programme were tied together by the theme of historical wars, and the Mozart was featured because of the ‘Turkish’ section in the third movement where Mozart parodied the invasion of the loud, bawdy Turks. Loh was stellar as always, collected and confident, with his quicksilver sound. The gentleness of the adagio gave way to the amiable rondo third movement. Loh plunged into the swaggering, stomping Turkish section with aplomb, his instinctive mastery of the bow was evident from the way he switched between the sections.

Perhaps it was because the musicians were standing while the two speeches were being made, or because the orchestra was recently-assembled that they were slightly askew in accompanying Loh. The horns, in particular, did not blend well with the rest of the ensemble. A classical work is a litmus test of any chamber orchestra, and one can tell the chemistry of an ensemble by observing the way they interact with each other and the conductor. As much as all of the musicians were handpicked to form the ensemble, they were more intent on following the conductor than interacting and listening to each other.

However, conductor Marlon Chen held the ensemble together well, and they gave sparkling performances of Britten’s Sinfonietta and Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. The ensemble opted for the 1932 version of the Sinfonietta – smaller, one instrument per part set-up – which worked well to their advantage. Britten’s picturesque scoring was brought to life in its minute detail; the instruments dovetailing subtly into one another. Especially memorable were the duet for two violins in the Variations, and the impressive restraint in the build-up to the Tarantella that did not overrun into uncontrollable frenzy.

Even in the Stravinsky, the ensemble gave a detailed account of the neo-classical work, always ensuring that there was clarity, but not to the point of being pedantic or prescriptive. Chen knew the score inside out, and the musicians responded right on cue. What he didn’t know that well, however, was the history and context of the music. As much as the committee tried to make the concert informal by having Chen introduce the pieces, his short introductions sounded rehearsed and almost forced.

Nevertheless, it was a good start to what looks like an exciting festival ahead. Happening tonight is the music of Vienna written in years of intervening peace but with impending war looming in the background. Featuring popular works like Haydn’s Emperor Quartet, Beethoven’s Twelve Variations for Cello & Piano in G major on Handel’s
“See, the Conqu’ring Hero comes,” and Schubert’s Trout Quintet, be sure not to miss this one! 7.30pm, Chamber @ The Arts House.

September 21, 2015

Singapore International Festival of Music – Singapore’s first classical music festival


sheep is proud to be the festival blogger for the Singapore International Festival of Music!

sifom sheep

the inaugural Singapore International Festival of Music is what Singapore has lacked for some time: an entire festival of classical music by homegrown musicians, to celebrate how far the classical music scene has come, and also celebrate Singapore talent. as Singapore celebrates her Jubilee, what better time to launch an all-Singaporean music festival by local musicians?

chamber music is the focus of this year’s edition; the theme War and Peace examines the world’s great wars and the great music that was the result of them. it also looks at the moments of peace that led to fine music, building the foundation  for music to develop.

chamber music is meant to be performed in an intimate setting, which the Arts House venues create with audience and performers sharing the same space, a close proximity not unlike that of story-telling by a fireplace. the barrier between performer and audience is also broken as performers will share more about the music before each performance, and audience members are encouraged to speak to the performers about the works and the concert.

six programmes of chamber music, along with two homecoming recitals will showcase Singapore’s best talents, all making music for a common purpose.

War and Peace opens the festival, with a programme of Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5 played by Loh Jun Hong, which includes a section of Turkish music, Mozart’s reference to the historic ‘Battle of Vienna’ when the Ottoman Turks besieged the city. also on the programme is Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat “Dumbarton Oaks”, the last work he wrote in Europe before leaving for the USA to escape impending war. Britten’s Sinfonietta Op. 1 was written around the same time, where Hitler’s nomination as Chancellor of Germany set the stage that would jeopardise world peace.

conducted by Marlon Chen, and played by excellent musicians who are soloists in their own right, join SIFOM as they bring you through moments where history made music at 7.30pm on Saturday, 26 September 2015.

for a full listing of their programmes and the background to their festival, look up their pretty cool website here. Get your tickets here 🙂

August 6, 2015

Tell Me The Truth About Love – an evening of song by Lee Pei Xin and Wong Yun Qi

Tell Me The Truth About Love – an evening of song by Lee Pei Xin and Wong Yun Qi

It’s been nearly a year since their successful recital ‘Could this be death?’ last year (read review here), and this time, soprano Cheryl Lee Peixin and pianist Wong Yun Qi have something up their sleeves again, promising to be just as amazing as their recital before. Better still, it’s absolutely free of charge, and features an accessible concert-programme, specially aimed at first-time concert goers, yet not dumbed-down such that seasoned music-lovers will also find their programme a treat.


Just what really is love – is it that heady rush of anticipation, with butterflies in the stomach and stars in our eyes? Would the world be complete in its presence, and strangely empty when it takes off and leaves? Is it hiding in the shadows of the forest woodlands, at the Eiffel Tower, or in a room as red as wine? Can it be found with the ice cream man, the women in the windows, and the next-door neighbour?

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “There are many kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.” Join the duo as they unravel this mystery which has intrigued so many.

This concert features songs about love as told by Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Gustav Mahler, Benjamin Britten and William Bolcom; inspired by Rückert, Dehmel, Auden, Weinstein and many others.

This concert happens on Thursday, the 20th of August 2015, from 1930-2130hrs, at the Lee Foundation Theatre, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Campus 3 (151 Bencoolen Street, Singapore 189656).

Register here for your seats, and don’t forget to bring a friend or two!

Photo Peixin_Yun Qi

Cheryl Lee Peixin studied under Martin Klietmann, Joseph Breinl and Robert Heimann in Graz, Austria. She has performed as a soloist with Ornamentum Wien, chamber ensemble of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and given several premieres of works by local composer, Americ Goh. She sang in the world premiere of Dmitri Kourliandski´s opera Asteroid 62 at the contemporary music festival Musikprotokoll des Steirischen Herbstes.

Wong Yun Qi completed her Masters Program in Hannover, Germany under the tutelage of Jan Philip Schulze, Martin Brauß and Zvi Meniker. She is currently based in Hannover as a lied accompanist and collaborative pianist. Highlights of this season include performing at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.

July 14, 2015

Upcoming concerts – 3 x 3, Lim Yan


It is sometimes good to be spoilt for choice, but in the case of this thursday evening, with two concerts put up by excellent local musicians, I’m wishing that they didn’t happen at the same time so I wouldn’t have to miss either.

3 x 3: Three Musicians. Three Masterworks. Three Liaisons.
3 x 3 sees flautist Roberto Alvarez, cellist Leslie Tan and pianist Teo Li-Chin in a chamber concert, presenting three masterworks: the monumental sonatas by Franck and Prokofiev, along with a seldom-heard trio by Kuhlau.

Kuhlau’s Trio Op. 119 was the very last work he wrote. He was said to be the Beethoven of flute composition. This light and charming work encompasses the true identity of Viennese Classicism. The emotions and madness of war manifest themselves in the complex harmonies, forceful rhythms, and thick textures of Sergei Prokofiev’s second sonata for flute and piano; and Franck’s famous sonata for cello and piano takes the listener on a spiritual journey, exposing the listener to the beauty of harmony, richness of emotion, and a glorious celebration of joy.

Join SOTA faculty members as they excite and inspire with these masterworks on the 16th of July 2015, Thursday, 7:30pm at the SOTA Concert Hall.

Tickets are available online at $25 each ( concessions for students are available at $10) and are also available for purchase at the door.

Also happening on the same evening is a piano recital by one of Singapore’s brightest pianists, Lim Yan, as part of the VCH@SG50 series.

Lim Yan VCH SG50

Lim Yan is no stranger to Plink, Plonk, Plunk or the music scene here. Having played the entire Beethoven concerto cycle over three concerts in two weeks in 2012 and the Brahms violin sonatas in concert sometime last year, the Young Artist Award winner brings two familiar works from Beethoven: the Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 27 No. 1 and the ‘Eroica’ Variations, whose theme was also featured in the finale of Beethoven’s Third Symphony; a work ‘Rollercoaster Ride’ by Singaporean composer Liong Kit Yeng; and the ever popular yet enigmatic Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, a piece dedicated to Robert Schumann which is notable for its revolutionary musical form.

Tickets available from Sistic at $18.

If classical music is not your thing, fret not, and head over to the Esplanade where Jazz in July continues to happen. Join Maya Nova at the concourse and the Havana Social Club playing at the Outdoor theatre 🙂

June 29, 2015

…and deliver us from… – an interview with new music enthusiast Nicholas Loh

…and deliver us from… – an interview with new music enthusiast Nicholas Loh

Nicholas Loh is one of the most unassuming and talented pianists today, and he attributes that to looking more ‘like the guy who comes to fix aircons or replace empty gas canisters instead’. He has been the featured young virtuoso in the Singapore International Piano Festival in 2009, and has since built up a reputation for being adventurous with his repertoire, picking contemporary and difficult pieces by composers such as Kapustin and Rzewski.
nicholas loh
He is also an advocate of music by Singaporean composers, and has given numerous performances and premieres of contemporary music in Singapore, USA and UK by various Singaporean and overseas composers. Plink, Plonk, Plunk catches up with the pianist, baritone, and new music enthusiast ahead of his solo recital at the Esplanade, which has the enigmatic title of ‘…and deliver us from…’.

Hello Nicholas, we’re honoured to feature you on Plink, Plonk, Plunk. Let’s first talk about the title. You’ve chosen the very cryptic-sounding ‘…and deliver us from…’. Mind explaining a little more: who is ‘us’, and what and why do the ‘us’ mentioned need delivering from?

Well the whole point of a cryptic-sounding title is to get the audience members thinking for themselves and creating meaning from the experience. I’d hate to prescribe ideas for people to follow, given especially the Singaporean penchant for following instructions to a T and not daring to think beyond the mold. The title makes an obvious reference to a line in the Lord’s Prayer taken from the new testament of the Christian Bible, but the associated allusions are but one interpretation – there are a few other tangents we could run along.
‘Us’ clearly refers to a collective group, be it the audience members present at the concert, the organisers and people who work behind-the-scenes, or the general public at large. The what-and-why of deliverance is even broader in scope and provides much room for personal and objective interpretation (omg how terribly pretentious and post-modern this all sounds!) but the gist of deliverance is to escape a situation that is less-than-desirable and hard to get out of, to be emancipated or liberated. One can think of a number of situations where this might happen – breaking free from the tyranny of the majority, liberation from political pressure or freedom from religious dogma are just some of the more obvious ones one is likely to come across in modern society.

What do you aim to do in programming this recital?

Emancipation from standard repertoire and presenting a recital of unusual pieces is also a form of deliverance. Too often I see programming that is very traditional, very ‘popular’ even. It’s not that I hate the standards – I absolutely adore Bach and Ravel, Beethoven is so meaningful and deep, Albeniz always makes me feel like I’m on a holiday, and who DARES to not love Brahms – but so often at recitals you get an assortment of standards (possibly the only pieces that person is capable of playing at the very moment) placed haphazardly together with an insipid-sounding recital name serving as a tenuous link justifying the performer’s choices. That really isn’t good enough if we want our audiences to become more discerning. I hope to expose and educate our audiences about possibilities beyond what they think is a piano recital, and challenge their sensibilities about music, make them ask questions and learn more about themselves. For that reason, I am rather pleased that the recital at 5pm means time for a post-concert discussion over dinner and drinks!

The works you’ve picked are very possibly all premieres, there is so far no record of Vasks’ Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Rzewski’s De Profundis being played here in Singapore, and Bertram Wee’s a little book of lies was commissioned by you. Do you find it enjoyable to discover and present new pieces to your audience?

Absolutely. More accurately, I find it enjoyable to find pieces and programme them in a way that audiences may never have considered before, and it doesn’t have to be contemporary music per se. I’m hoping to do programmes which feature music that is old but rarely heard (think the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book or Spanish baroque music) and pairing them with more recent compositions. Certain composers like Nikolai Kapustin write very exhilarating music, but it’s not that easy to find pairings with other existing pieces and the challenge is to find repertoire that has synergy. Also, how amazing would it be to end recitals with Bach rather than start with Bach?

Do you try to find and listen to recordings of a piece you would like to play before attempting to play it? How would you approach it if there are no recordings?

Well I knew of the existence of De Profundis through a recording by the composer himself, so that was an easy decision – I wanted to play it. I do not own any recordings of the Vasks (although there are some out there) and I certainly haven’t heard it before. Of course there is no recording of Bertram’s piece either (is this recital going to be the first?). So what do I do? Well a number of things really. First learn the notes (duh) along with all the fiddly bits like dynamics/ articulation/ phrasing etc. It sounds more tedious that what most others might do, which is to learn the notes before adding in the dynamics el al. However, what you then get is a sense of gesture and line which is what you need to convey to the audience. Playing through the music more elucidates the structure and narrative of the work, upon which you decide the appropriate flow your music will take.

Yes this all takes time, but you do need time to let the music germinate within you, to let it mingle with your thoughts and imagination. Some people, one of them being my most recent teacher Stephen Drury, say I learn things fast. I don’t actually think so, because I find I need to give time for a piece to settle within me. Hats off to those artists who can cobble together a convincing performance of something ridiculously hard within a week. That person is not me.

(And yes you do need to read your score along with all the instructions in it. Sounds basic, but many musicians do not read their scores carefully. This is especially prevalent when dealing with standard repertoire – musicians base their playing on a pre-existing recording of some famous, most likely dead at the time of writing this, artist and never break out of that mode of performance. Analysing your score and having a good theoretical foundation will deliver you from the tyranny of recordings!)

You read contemporary music from the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) in Boston. How does having the knowledge and background help in the interpretation of the works, since these works are all extremely new and constantly evolving?

Maybe I’m being judgmental here, but I don’t think you can be a decent artist if you do not have a strong historical and theoretical foundation, simply because you will not have the means to make informed musical decisions in your playing, and making informed musical decisions happens all the time. I graduated from NEC as a piano major (read: generic) but spent nearly all my time doing contemporary music, and I have to thank the one Stephen Drury for being that tremendously inspiring nutcase artist who manages to be so utterly relaxed and open-minded, yet so intense and challenging at the same time. However, as far as providing my foundation in historical and theoretical understanding goes, I have to credit the University of Birmingham for my undergraduate studies, as well as my time doing ‘A’ level MEP in RJC (thanks Constance Mary and Sirene!), without which I wouldn’t be able to handle the challenges that new music throws at me. Other than that, having an open mind to try things and being discerning about what works (or not) helps as well.

Finally, what do you wish the audience to take home from this recital?

Their programmes and ticket stubs would be a good start! But really, I hope they walk away thinking hard about things they had experienced during the recital. If I have managed to educate and expose them to the world of new music, that’s great. If I have managed to get them to think about social issues beyond the concert hall, that’s great too. If I have managed to set them upon the path of deliverance (from whatever), that might be the best thing happening that evening.

Pianist and new music enthusiast Nicholas Loh returns to the Spectrum series with a recital that explores the complex themes of spirituality, tragedy, irrationality and epiphany. Peteris Vasks’ Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, its title given ironically in reference to Mozart’s famous serenade of the same name, has been described as a requiem for the hope of man of all time and an elegy to Schubert’s Erlking; while Frederic Rzewski’s De Profundis is a theatrical piece which requires the pianist to simultaneously play the piano and narrate from a letter that Oscar Wilde wrote while in jail. a little book of lies (world premiere) is Singaporean Bertram Wee’s reflections on the irrational belief-driven violence and prejudice happening in the world, and is dedicated to Nicholas Loh.

Experience a trip deep into the recesses of the human psyche while balancing on the fringe of what might be called a piano recital. Nicholas Loh has appeared as soloist, chamber musician, accompanist and baritone. A versatile musician, he has given numerous performances and premieres of contemporary music in Singapore, UK and USA by various Singaporeans and overseas composers.

Happening this Sunday at 5pm, on the 5th of July 2015 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Don’t miss this chance to catch the Singaporean premieres of Vasks’ and Rzewski’s works, and the world premiere of Singaporean composer Bertram Wee’s work (and also see a big grizzly guy bang on a piano, sing falsetto and make animal noises =P)!

Tickets available from Sistic, with student discounts and discounts for a pair.

May 29, 2015

Quinnuance Review

Quinnuance Review

photo credits: Daniel Neo, The Straits Times

Quinnuance is grateful to everyone who came to our concert on the 27th of May, lighting designer Reuben Ong, all musicians, and the crew of Esplanade for making this concert a successful one. Read the review by Dr Chang Tou Liang here.

May 18, 2015

Upcoming chamber music concerts


Next week sees an exciting week of chamber music happening at the Esplanade Recital Studio, with a selection of rarely/never-heard quintets by Nordic composers, fusion jazz/anime/film music, and contemporary music. Plink, Plonk, Plunk picks: don’t miss out on these three concerts!


24 May 2015 – Take 5 Piano Quintet: Northern Lights

take 5 publicity

Explore the mystical lands of Scandinavia in chamber works written for piano quintet by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and Norwegian composer Christian Sinding. At once grand, intimate and emotional, these pieces evoke the majestically bleak landscapes of the region.
Sinding’s Piano Quintet in E Minor premiered in 1889 and created a sensation by breaking many of the rules of traditional composition. His composition influenced Sibelius to compose Piano Quintet in G Minor the following year, a piece that anticipates his famous orchestral works.
Tickets go at $25, and can be bought at Sistic.


25 May 2015 – Tze Toh: Land with No Sun, PR0MEMOR1A 

Jazz pianist and composer Tze Toh presents a mainly-piano concert that pushes boundaries of piano music, bringing together not only various genres from jazz, film score, fusion, classical, Anime soundtracks to the orchestral and textural, but also combines “live” piano performance with sound design.


He has dreamt up a storyline of a futuristic city of 2050 where, because of pollution, humans live in sky-cities because the earth is no longer suitable for living in. Artificial mechanical lifeforms known as Archivists observe and collect data on human beings daily – the memories and dreams. They were built into our new system/society to logically maintain order and progress – a fail-safe to prevent future global conflicts like the last war that devastated the planet, and drove Man from the Earth’s surface to seek a new Utopia in the skies.  In this concert, a sequel to his Land With No Sun concert featured earlier, Tze continues to explore themes/issues that affect our world today such loss of natural environments, impact of technology on human evolution and society etc. through his performance.
Joining him are violinists Christina Zhou and Gabriel Lee.
Tickets are available at Peatix at $25, student concessions at $18 available.
27 May 2015 – Quinnuance: Refracting Rituals
When one tries to combine both terms, to refract a ritual, and pass it through a thought process so that it comes out different on the other side, what happens?
Join Quinnuance as they ponder upon life and music in Refracting Rituals to present an evening of varying perspectives.
Quinnuance has been featured in The Straits Times! It erroneously labels Clarence and me as composers, and i’m afraid the only compositions i write for them are made up of words, not music…
ST 14 May Quinnuance Preview

So join the real composers of Quinnuance – Alicia, Bernard, Lu Heng and Terrence, along with our conductor Clarence, and musician friends for an evening of music-making: who knows what you’ll discover?

Tickets at $25 from Sistic or the Esplanade box office!

April 17, 2015

Masterclass notes from Harpsichordist, Pianist and Organist Masato Suzuki

Masterclass notes from Harpsichordist, Pianist and Organist Masato Suzuki

photo credits: Marco Borggreve

Harpsichordist, pianist and organist Masato Suzuki is in Singapore to play an organ recital at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Sunday, 19th April, as part of the Tapestry of Sacred Music festival, now in its 7th year running. The Esplanade organised a private masterclass for the students at SOTA this afternoon, and what a privilege it was to be able to attend.

Suzuki started off the masterclass by playing the beginning of J. S. Bach’s Italian Concerto (bb. 1-27), first on the harpsichord, then on the grand piano, interpreting both versions very differently. On the harpsichord, he demonstrated an over legato technique (which he later explained) of connecting the notes two by two using the third and fourth fingers. On the grand piano, however, he played around with the articulation, using staccato, dynamics and other devices. He also showed how much more cumbersome and difficult it was to use the over-legato technique on the piano.

He involved the students in an improvisation exercise where he took the most famous of ground basses from Pachelbel but modulated to F major, and got the SOTA students to improvise over the repeated bass. Each student had a turn to play an improvisation, something the students were clearly not used to doing at all!

Moving on, Suzuki covered a very brief history of the harpsichord and its music, explaining that the 16th-century harpsichords were smaller in size than the one he was playing on in SOTA, but had a bigger sound. Moving briefly onto organs, he mentioned that the organs were used as often as and interchangeably with harpsichords. The early organ, called blockwerk, was capable of playing the same note in various different octaves all sounding at the same time.

He then demonstrated passages on the harpsichord from the earliest 14th-century manuscript of keyboard music, known as the Robertsbridge Codex, explaining that in those earliest times there was no time signature and the meter of the music kept varying between three, four and two main beats. Playing just the opening on the grand piano, he doubled the octaves and added more percussive articulation, something he said he always wanted to try but was “very difficult to do” because the music was so fast!

All through the masterclass, Suzuki was a great advocate of improvising baroque music, especially when playing it on the piano. “When you play old works like Scarlatti or Rameau on the piano, be very free with the music, because what you are doing is a variation of the original,” he stresses. He advocates improvisation because the music written was written before the invention of the piano anyway, so anything the pianist did on the piano would be a variation of what was originally conceived. Besides, the piano has infinite possibilities of articulation and dynamic variations to explore.

Leaving us with one final example, he played his own transcription of the famous Bach chorale “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” BWV 140, getting a student to play the inside voice. Likening baroque music to jazz, he explained the concept of notes inégales (french for unequal notes), playing bits of the chorale once more, with the emphasis on unequal notes. Ending off his session, he continually encouraged students to try improvising in their playing, “even on stage and in competitions” for a change!

How often does one get to hear the glorious, magnificent Klais pipe organ in the Esplanade Concert Hall? Join renowned Japanese conductor and organist Masato Suzuki as he takes audiences on a journey across the centuries in an exploration of familiar favourites and hidden gems of the organ repertoire. One of the highlights of the programme will include a selection of organ works based on Buddhist chants that were composed for the first pipe organ in Japan that was housed in a Buddhist temple.

Happening on Sunday, 19th April at 3pm, at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Admission is free!

tapestry banner

This concert is co-produced by Suntory Hall, Tokyo.