May 25, 2012

The Music, Our Works – some thoughts on the concert


I don’t usually put up reviews so quickly, but with three concerts and one masterclass to attend this week, I feel that I have to write this now or else the memory of last night’s concert might be blurred and mishmashed with tonight’s. So here’s my thoughts, for Bernard and gang.

“And who, pray, made all these pretty songs?” asked Elisabeth.

“Oh,” said Eric, “you can tell that by listening to the rubbishy things—tailors’ apprentices and barbers and such-like merry folk.”

Reinhard said: “They are not made; they grow, they drop from the clouds, they float over the land like gossamer, hither and thither, and are sung in a thousand places at the same time. We discover in these songs our very inmost activities and sufferings: it is as if we all had helped to write them.”

– Theodore Storm, from Immensee

The Music, Our Works
24 May 2012
The Arts House Living Room

“Pieces are somewhat like photographs, snapshots of a composer’s life that reflect the situations, emotional states and feelings the composer is going through”, said Alicia, summing up the post-concert dialogue last night in a succinct and memorable statement.

It was about this time last year that I had to perform Bernard’s Looking through the Unbondable Links of Hours after doing a triathlon the day before. That concert also marked my first performance encounter with “new music” (I certainly must clarify, I use the term “new music” in this post to mean music composed recently in the span of the last five years, whose composers are still living, and composing), involving unconventional oboe-playing techniques such as quarter-tones and pitch bending among other techniques, and the structured randomness of Bernard’s form of music notation.

This year however, I am most delighted to be in the audience, watching and listening to five of my ex-NAFA schoolmates’ compositions. Opening the concert on a very somber tone was Ernest Thio’s I Felt a Funeral in my Brain. Written for piano, two voices and ukulele, the title of this piece was based on a poem with the same name, and another poem Death is a Dialogue Between, both by Emily Dickinson. Pervading the entire piece as if underlying funeral march were chords by the piano. Pianist Samuel King coaxed out the darker tones of the piano and alternated this with dream-like running notes on the higher registers, all while Chloe Toh and Ernest duetted and duelled in song and dialogue, floating lightly above it all.

De Silva Alicia Joyce’s piece, simply titled The Cadenza, was taken from her Suite for (solo) Viola. This work, I daresay, demands a violist who can not only play virtuosically, but also theatrically. Atonal and without a fixed key centre (at least to my ears), violist Christoven Tan did just that, bringing out the emotions in the piece with his playing and facial expressions. Transiting from the senza misura sections to the fast, intense and metrical sections, he tackled it energetically and with theatrical flair.

My One True Love is a melodious, programmatic work (complete with storyline!) for violin, clarinet, glockenspiel and piano. In three movements, the work sounded almost like a soundtrack to a soppy lovey-dovey Taiwanese drama! Although the harmonies were somewhat predictable and the lines a tad cheesy, there was some very nice writing, of which the glockenspiel added a sprinkle of brightness and cheerfulness to the piece.

Following that was the second of three works Ernest Thio presented for the evening. This one, called Poise, was a melancholic little character piece to represent a highly stressful period of his life sometime last year. It is peppered with ethnic influence, written for two Chinese stringed instruments – the Zhonghu and the Erhu.

A change of mood was brought about by Lu Heng’s Blues of the Day. Using the date of the performance (24.5.12), he used the numerals to create the motif (re-fa-sol-do-re), which entire piece was improvised upon. In a quasi-blues style, the ensemble was a piano trio with an added viola, forming a quartet of eclectic fun and fusion. In fact, the approximately six minutes of music was encapsulated into a single sheet of music, making me wonder what was written on that piece of paper! I was apparently not the only one who had that thought, as another member of the audience later asked the same question at the post-concert dialogue.

And It Happens To Drop From Beneath for solo violin was selected as the set piece for the semi-finals (Artist Category) of the 2011 National Piano & Violin Competition, following an open call for scores. I have often heard about this work from Bernard himself, but I have not heard it. It was a soliloquy for violin, making the violinist take on a wide range of different personalities. The structure was well-explained in the programme notes, guiding the listener through the soliloquy. It was charming in its own way and enjoyable in all its seriousness, to hear the wide range and versatility of the violin.

Ending off was yet another character piece by Ernest Thio, Nian (translating roughly to reminiscence?), in memory of his maternal grandmother, who lived and worked in a Chinese temple. Not unlike the opening piece, there existed an underlying Buddhist chant-music theme on the piano that unified the work, accompanied by the gentle strumming of the ukulele and long tones on the Zhonghu and Erhu.

From morbid to quirky, melancholic to blues, there was indeed something for everyone, as the composers had promised (;

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