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.