February 10, 2010

DisconTENt – a review

DisconTENt – a review

A friend of mine once said, “The thing about these amateur same-instrument ensembles, especially guitar ensembles, is this – you can immediately pick out the few good players. Then all the others are simply there to fill the space.” And so I attended this concert, wanting to test the credibility of his statement.

disconTENt by Guitarissimo
Thursday, 4th February
SMU Arts and Cultural Centre. 2000Hrs.

DisconTENt was held as part of the ongoing SMU arts festival. This year marked the 10th anniversary of SMU, and the Arts Fest promised to be bigger and better than previous years’.

The programme lineup included popular pieces from the Western classical music repertory, Japanese Anime, movies and video games. Opening the concert was a solo piece One Summer’s Day by Joe Hisaishi, a notable Japanese composer. This was a case of an extremely poignant piece being only mediocre because the performer was nervous. She could have taken much more time to rubato and express the music. After her performance, the emcee announced that the young lady was “one of the more talented ones” in Guitarissimo. Oh dear, I thought, and contemplated leaving. Is this the best they could do?

Next was an easy duet arrangement of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. However, performing this only four months after learning the guitar from scratch, the duo did quite an impressive job of starting, ending, and keeping together throughout the piece, all the while listening to each other.

Canon in D was an extremely brave attempt at the rendition of a piece originally meant for three violins and a bass. The guitar quartet, if I may borrow a phrase from a dear friend, messed it up nicely. There were occasions where a guitarist got lost, only to find his/her way back into the music a few bars later. I guess that’s one of the advantages of playing a Canon, you just jump back in at the start of the bass motif and whatever you play will fit in. Many of the stray notes had made me wonder if they had transposed it without my noticing. Since when were there F-naturals or G-sharps in the music anyway?

Für Elise (mispronounced by the emcee and probably every other non-German speaker) was tastefully arranged, but alas, it was only the first half of the piece. Such a pity though, as it would have been interesting to see how the arpeggios and chords of the second half would be like. After all, the continual ostinato and the a minor arpeggios would have worked quite well on the guitar.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence was somewhat like Ravel’s Bolero, in the sense that the underlying chord progression repeated itself over and over, adding layers of sound or altering the tone each time. Despite hobbling onto stage with crutches, music director Antoni Lewa showed no sign of his injury when he was playing. He had such commanding stage presence, coupled with his beautiful tone, that the captured the ears and hearts of the entire audience. He breezed through the piece (with all the brilliant pyrotechnics of fingerpicking, harmonics and various strumming methods) visably nervous but not shaken. In fact, it was as though the nervousness gave his performance a certain edge, like an adrenaline rush, which made it all the more appealing.

Having already heard the best, the rest of the concert plodded along slowly and monotonously. Grieg’s Anitra’s Dance had a few harmonic errors, more lost musicians, and even more stray notes. He’s a Pirate! from Pirates of the Carribean was a disappointment. Due to the large ensemble and the docility of their plucking, it sounded much more of a leisurely waltz than an action-packed piece. Each of them could do with some rum or whiskey!

The concert came to a close with a duo playing two plesant little pieces. Although their performance was good, I couldn’t help but leave the auditorium after with a sense of disconTENtment – a restless longing for better music, and perhaps fried chicken (:

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