September 4, 2014

Listen to the 20th Century: Early Modernism and the Jazz Age – a review

Listen to the 20th Century: Early Modernism and the Jazz Age – a review

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 5 September 2014.

Listen to the 20th Century: Early Modernism and the Jazz Age
Southbank Centre/ London Sinfonietta/ YST Orchestra
SOTA Concert Hall
Wednesday 3 September 2014

It is ironic that while the Singapore Symphony Orchestra just played for the BBC Proms in London last night, the London Sinfonietta is here playing at the Singapore International Festival of Arts. This festival of 20th century music by the Southbank Centre and London Sinfonietta encourages the audience to “Listen to the 20th Century”, breaking it down into six concerts (including a triple- bill on Saturday) and five talks across four days.

the combined orchestra of YST and London Sinfonietta in the opening works

Starting with what many consider to be the beginning of modern music, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra opened with Debussy’s Prelude l’apres midi d’un faune and Webern’s Passacaglia. Conducted by Jason Lai, these were cautious and restrained readings, and the orchestra seemed as though they were holding back, even at the climaxes. The lovely flute solos in the Debussy were much too soft and often covered up by the orchestra.

The rest of the concert was played by members of the London Sinfonietta, led by Sian Edwards. While the stage was being readied, BBC Radio 3 presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch engaged the audience by speaking about the works and the contexts in which they were composed.

Although condensed into a smaller ensemble of eleven musicians, the colouristic textures of Schoenberg’s highly detailed Five Pieces for Orchestra were clearly brought across, the missing orchestra instruments filled by an electronic synthesiser keyboard. Likewise, the harsh blips, beeps and chugging of industrial machinery in Varese’s sound world Octandre were played with machine- like precision.

As the music moved away from serialism and atonality towards jazz, pianist John Constable accompanied mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds in three songs by Kurt Weil. Simmonds looked a little awkward and stiff in her rendition of Surabaya Johnny, standing rooted to the spot with her arms by her side. She loosened up in The Ballad of Sexual Slavery and Le Grand Lustucru. Vocally, she delivered her characters’ disenchantment, disillusionment and later artfulness with sophistication, using a tone of voice that was half operatic and half broadway.

The Three Pieces for String Quartet were strange and short miniatures, comprising of rhythmic and melodic fragments, were delicately handled, especially the “wrong-note” chorale in the final piece. If jazz was threatening to break out before, it was finally let loose in the closing work, Milhaud’s lively 6-movement La création du monde, based on the African mythology of the creation of the world, of which particularly noteworthy were the bluesy oboe solos which complemented the soulful saxophone solos.

The rest of the Talks and concerts of Listen to the 20th Century take place over the weekend at SOTA, dealing with music of the Soviet era on Friday evening, post-war directions on Saturday and finally the progression into a musical world without rules on Sunday afternoon. Don’t miss the chance to catch the London Sinfonietta and the YST Orchestra in action!

all photos by kind permission of SIFA and credits to Chong Yew.

September 3, 2014

What’s On Your Mind? – A review


An edited version of this review will be published in The Straits Times on 4 September 2014. 

What’s On Your Mind?
Jasper Goh, flute, Tommy Peh, piano
Esplanade Recital Studio

Natalie Ng

Glancing at the highly ambitious programme for the concert, one wondered if it was a flute recital accompanied by piano or piano recital accompanied by a flute. Presented by young flautist Jasper Goh and pianist Tommy Peh, the repertoire showcased a myriad of styles from baroque to jazz to cater to the differing tastes of the audience.

Half shuffling onstage with a sheepish expression to cheers and applause from the audience, Peh launched into the opening prelude of Bach’s Partita no. 5 in G Minor without properly settling down at the piano. At best, Peh managed to play all the notes. For the faster movements his tempo was erratic and unsteady, with no sense of pulse. The lines of running notes were also often uneven and hurried, as though he might trip and fall anytime. The slower movements he played with more restraint, yet had no sense of direction. The fiercely tempestuous and highly compressed Third Piano Sonata of Prokofiev which followed was mostly loud heavy-handed, but remotely better than the Bach. The lower notes were often muddied with overtones, and those in the high register were sharp and jarring. For a smaller performance space such as the recital studio, it might have been better if the piano was at half lid rather than fully open.

The works Goh selected to perform were all by French composers, beginning with Jules Mouquet’s neoclassical work La Flûte de Pan. When Peh reappeared to accompany Goh it was as though a transformation took place backstage. The opening pastorale was played energetically yet elegantly, with long-limbed melodic lines. In the second movement which depicts Pan and the birds, flourishes of notes in the flute that portrayed birdsong were beautifully echoed by the piano. Peh proved to be a much better accompanist than soloist, complementing Goh’s polished playing with much sensitivity and insight. The third movement was agile and playful, and Goh was immaculately precise and rhythmically stable in the rapid, staccatissimo double-tongued passages.

Pierre Sancan’s subtle and evocative Sonatine for flute and piano was an atmospheric work with difficulties in both instrument parts. Goh was highly imaginative in his playing, and both flute and piano lines were often woven seamlessly together to create a fine balance in tone and sound.

The next two works for solo piano blurred the lines between classical and jazz, scored out on sheet music but performed as though improvising. Peh dedicated these to his late teachers, Mr Lim Shieh Yih and Mr Ong Lip Tat. Haze, by classically-trained jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara, was a quasi-impressionistic, semi-jazzy work which featured extemporisations and improvisations over a constant, almost hypnotic bass. Peh sat with his head bowed, very much like Keith Jarrett, and gave an intense and highly emotional performance. The Op. 41 Variations by Nikolai Kapustin were a little more light-hearted, jazzing up the famous bassoon solo which opens Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in various virtuosic guises. Peh was clearly in his element, breezing through the technical challenges and animatedly bringing out the characters of each variation.

The closing work, Cesar Franck’s monumental Sonata in A Major, only proved Goh’s affinity for French music. Franck’s masterful writing sees the violin and piano parts given equal treatment, working together to bring across the lush and complex melodies. Peh and Goh brought a glorious close to the recital, playing off each other in the charming and action-packed finale.

So after all that, what’s on my mind? Perhaps a book by Proust, a madeleine and tea, and even more french music.

September 2, 2014

The Philharmonic Chamber Choir presents The Bird of Time – A review

The Philharmonic Chamber Choir presents The Bird of Time – A review

The Bird of Time
The Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Victoria Concert Hall
Last Sunday

The Philharmonic Chamber Choir, led by Lim Yau, marked their 20th anniversary with a concert in Victoria Concert Hall on Sunday, in what was probably the first choral concert since the opening of the hall after a 4-year-long refurbishment.

The concert programme was made up entirely of Asian a capella music, featuring a varied selection of works by well-known composers. Titled The Bird of Time, the Singaporean premiere of local composer Zechariah Goh’s Péng (鵬), based on a Chinese fable about the metamorphosis of a large fish into a large bird, was an apt opening to the concert. Perhaps due to nerves, the composition’s ambiguous opening, the fact that the composer was in the audience, or a combination of all three, the choir sounded unsettled and was initially off to a shaky start. Despite that, they soon gained the confidence needed to portray Goh’s highly imaginative word-painting which made use of aleatory, depicting the grandeur and majesty of the large bird as it took flight for the heavens.

The next work on the programme was Rubáiyát, a set of six pieces by Japanese composer Takatomi Nobunaga. Its text was derived from the quatrains of Renaissance philosopher Omar Khayyám, translated from Persian into English then Japanese, and then set in song. Having gone through such transformations in the text, much of the Persian element was also lost in the music. What transpired in the music was the heavy influence of the Western choral tradition, blended with Japanese harmonies. Taking listeners on a wisdom-filled journey from the plainchant-like beginning to the vast expanse of sonority and luscious harmony, sanity to madness, each member of TPCC showed that they were proficient soloists in their own right, yet able to blend beautifully together.

These fine qualities were also showcased in Filipino composer Francisco Feliciano’s setting of Psalm 23 in Tagalog instead if the usual English or Latin. The novel juxtaposition of plainchant with Tagalog was further enhanced by the sweet and angelic solos from Isyana Sarasvati. Pamugun, which closed the concert and was also by Feliciano, was rhythmically tight but lacking in character. The mocking of the sparrow as it taunted the hunter could have been much better characterised. Instead of imitating the raw, bright timbres of the Kulintang, the choir looked visibly tired and sounded a tad too polite and polished.

Fairing much better were the two Korean works by Lee Geon Yong. In his Four Songs Without Words, the ethereal harmonies of the outer and more contemplative songs were delightfully contrasted with the more active inner movements, which were a mimicry of sounds and instruments. With such a quirky title as Buckwheat Jelly for Sale, the second was somewhat a soundscape of typical day on a Korean street two or three decades ago. The haggling and sounds of tofu and taffy sellers plying their trade was heightened by the use of percussion – tambourines, gongs and bells – but alas, the tambourines were a little too loud and occasionally drowned out the choir.

Chen Yi’s arrangement of the traditional Korean folk tune Arirang was soulfully dished out as an encore. Happy 20th birthday TPCC, and wishing you many more years of music-making!

August 27, 2014

Chamber.Sounds presents New Chamber Operas – A Review

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 28th August 2014 with the title ‘Sweet Sounds of Chamber Operas’.

New Chamber Operas
Esplanade Recital Studio
Last Tuesday
Local contemporary ensemble Chamber.Sounds had their beginnings in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2005, and have been presenting a concert of local and original new music annually since 2011. In what seemed to be their most ambitious project yet, they premiered four chamber operas specially written for them in a concert yesterday, following a successful call for proposals for commissioning early last year. The same programme was also performed a day earlier on Tuesday as a preview for children and students, which this reviewer attended.
Chamber operas, as their name suggests, employ a much smaller ensemble and cast. Hence, the musicians share the stage with the singers and are sometimes involved in the action. In the final opera, Canadian composer Rita Ueda’s One Thousand White Paper Cranes for Japan, musicians were dressed in white instead of the usual black, and made to shuffle around the stage at the beginning, as though wandering souls leaving this world for the next.
A heart-warming story with a happy ending, her work was based on a real life story of a Canadian boy who began a fund-raising project for the victims of the 2011 tsunami which impacted Japan. Although teeming with newfangled compositional techniques, multimedia (lighting and video) and conceptually strong, most of it was lost in translation. Without a synopsis, explanation or a copy of the music, the audience would not be able to fully grasp the content.
Opening the concert was Australian composer Nicole Murphy’s work, The Kamikaze Mind, based on a book of the same title. The strange and highly philosophical work was made up of recovered fragments from the mind of an astronaut who launched himself into a black hole. His past comes back to find him, consisting of a He, his younger self, and a She, a former lover. Baritone Daniel Ho’s deep voice and clear enunciation was a joy to listen to, and he was complimented by the lyrical and lighter voices of tenor Jeremy Koh and Bernadeta Astari.
Also in the same vein but less strange was local composer Chen Zhangyi’s Window Shopping. This tonal and light-hearted work had a mix of elements such as neo-Baroque, Impressionism and Broadway. The narrative juxtaposed two differing attitudes of a lady who was shopping for shoes, the more contemplative and mature older version of her was contrasted alongside the younger, feistier self. Maybe because of the similar vocal ranges of both characters, it was difficult to make out their singing. Perhaps it might have worked better if one character was an alto instead of two sopranos.
Japanese composer Naomi Sekiya’s Winds of Summer Fields was the most outstanding, albeit disturbing work presented. Sekiya set four poems of Emily Dickinson to music, which have central themes of insanity, pain and death. On top of three long-haired, gothic-looking singers dressed in black and reminiscent of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there were three other non-singing roles which added to the drama. These took the form of three dancers, dressed in black bottoms and white tops, writhing and twisting in a sinuous and sinister form, with creepy facial expressions to boot. Of the four poems-movements, the first and third were loud and thumping, while the second and fourth were more melancholic in nature, not unlike the nostalgia and longing evoked in slow English country folk songs.
To present four operas in two hours was not an easy feat, and one can only imagine the sheer amount of work that the musicians, singers and conductor Clarence Tan have put in. So kudos to Chamber.Sounds for yet another successful concert, and in their continuing effort of promoting new local music.

August 3, 2014

Four Musical Offerings..


Singapore turns 49 in less than a week! In celebration of our national day, Plink Plonk Plunk takes a look at what three of Singapore’s ensembles offer:

No new NDP theme song this year? There’s still a new song: “It’s Here, I’ll Stay” was written by local conductor/composer Kah Chun Wong and singer Jeremy Teng, and performed by the Asian Contemporary Ensemble and sung by Jeremy. The unique instrumentation (accordion, indian percussion, chinese flute, cello, guitar and piano) symbolises Singapore’s diverse cultures, and the video, filmed in various locations in Singapore, features cute stuffed toys!  

The second takes the form of a FREE CONCERT(!!!) at the Esplanade Concert Hall on the 10th of August at 3pm featuring works by local composers Zechariah Goh, Kelly Tang, Ho Chee Kong and Tsao Chieh, performed by Orchestra Collective, an independent musical ensemble presenting classical and wind band repertoire. Listen out for melodies from popular folk tunes and patriotic songs in this concert celebrating our country, directed by their music director, Lien Boon Hua.

The third and fourth are also free concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. One of them is a lunchtime concert happening TOMORROW at 12:30pm at the newly refurbished Victoria Concert Hall (details found here), and the other is also on the 10th of August, 6pm at the Botanic Gardens Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage (details here). Works featured are popular classics such as Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla overture and the Simpsons theme, and also on the programme are Kelly Tang’s works Sketches of Singapore and an arrangement of Dick Lee’s Home.

Long weekend and don’t know what to do? Do a concert-hop from the Esplanade (3pm) to the Botanic Gardens (6pm) to end off celebrations with a bang!

Happy birthday, Singapore!! 

July 31, 2014

Chamber.Sounds presents: New Chamber Operas – An Advertisment

Chamber.Sounds presents: New Chamber Operas – An Advertisment

You’ve heard of a double- or a triple-bill, but what about a quadruple one? Chamber Sounds, a contemporary music ensemble of composers and musicians, is presenting four chamber operas in a single concert. Composers featured are from various countries, and the operas cover themes from shoe-shopping to the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Come, join them in an unforgettable night of music and drama on the 27th of August 2014 at the Esplanade Recital Studio Email or call Alicia (9367 5883) or Jeremiah (97828503) for tickets!

Or, if you can’t attend, support the musicians and composers by liking their Facebook page, following them on Youtube, or giving generously here.

July 26, 2014

Alternate Worlds – A Review

An edited version of this article will be published in The Straits Times on 28 July 2014.

Alternate Worlds 
Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday 26 July 2014

Looking through the programme booklet, one gets a sense that largely self-taught composer and jazz pianist Tze Toh was trying to do too much with too little time. He had put together a “genre concert” of his compositions which promised video game music, jazz, funk, world music, choral works, film soundtracks and improvisations; these were to be performed by ensembles of various combinations: a saxophone quartet, a children’s choir, a string quartet, a wind quartet, a solo saxophone and the Looking Glass Orchestra (which was really an ensemble of 12 musicians). Throughout the concert Tze rushed around like a busy host, introducing the performers and the pieces either before or after each item, talking about the works as the crew set the stage.

Tze was at the piano for most of the concert, except for two pieces, Adventures of the Goggled Giraffe and Prelude to Avalon, which were played by 7-year-old Aone Ozaki. The former was a lively and comical miniature for piano orchestra, and the latter was a sentimental solo piano piece. Ozaki handled these expressively with sensitive pedalling and a varied touch, with no sign of nervousness.

Like the above mentioned pieces, many of the works were written with visuals in mind, evoking a scene, a mood, or a memory. Opening the concert was the two-movement Island of Spring, inspired by the music of film composer Ennio Morricone. Scored for boy solo, children’s choir and orchestra, Tze clearly knew how to exploit the various timbres to conjure up the lush imagery. The contemplative prelude which led into the joyous second movement could have been much better sustained by the visibly nervous choir and boy soloist Timothy Tan, but at the reprise of the opening theme they seemed to have warmed up and gained confidence, which made all the difference in sound. 

Mornings and A Thread Through Time were also poignant, nostalgic works scored for strings. The latter was composed for Royston Tan’s short film Popiah, and featured Christina Zhou as a violin soloist. Zhou’s tender and heartfelt playing was immediately transformed in the next piece, Passing Morning, a catchy jazz number which required the string quartet to play in a bluesy style. 

The other jazz works featured Teo Boon Chye on the saxophone and Wendy Phua on the electric bass. Most were improvisatory passages over a set chord progression. Although Teo was a master at improvising, belting out long complicated lines and sultry tunes, his intonation was less than perfect. Playing without first tuning, he remained annoyingly sharp whenever he played on the soprano saxophone. 

Jokingly mentioning that he improvised when he was too lazy to write music, Tze included two improvisations on the programme, which he performed with Teo. The first was more structured and had rhythms reminiscent of Albeniz’s Tango, while the second which ended off the concert was more fragile and delicate. Tze and Teo bounced ideas and themes off each other, creating music on the spot out of nothing.

Tze has shown that he can take any combination of instruments, any genre of music which he set out to write, and together with the Looking Glass Orchestra, create alternate worlds of sounds that are appealing to all ages. 
July 21, 2014

Composer profile – Tze Toh

“Then there’ll be a pot of gold beside you,” he joked, when I mentioned I was wearing a rainbow coloured top. Up-and-coming young composer Toh Tze Chin, or Tze (pronounced ‘Zee’ when Anglicised) as he would like to be known, was meeting me for the first time to talk about his works and upcoming concert.

Tze, who has a computer science degree, turned to music after working for 2 years and coming to the realisation that he didn’t want a desk bound job relating to his field of study. He then enrolled in Laselle-SIA college of the arts to pursue a music diploma, and has been composing and performing seriously since 2007, and his compositions have won awards and have been performed locally and overseas at international events.

Listening to his first album from 2011, Stories from Wonderland, his compositions come across as a blend of mostly jazz infused with local elements, a sort of ‘fusion’ music, and he likens his music to the local culture: unique, diverse and yet harmoniously co-existing side-by-side. He describes his music as diverse, from the melodic and lyrical, to descriptive and evocative soundscapes; from traditional/Indian music to jazz or classical influenced parts.

The Looking Glass ensemble had its beginnings as a trio (piano, saxophone, drums) with Indian violin, or with erhu (a Chinese two-stringed bowed instrument). In his search for an identity for a Singaporean’s music/a Singapore sound, he founded Tze n Looking Glass, inspired by the diverse cultures here and Singapore’s unique identity as a gateway between east and west, a melting pot of sorts, and started exploring with Indian and Chinese fusion. Tze decided one day to try putting both ethnic stringed instruments together with the jazz trio, and the rest, they say, is history. Of course the combination of Western, Indian and Chinese instruments was not without problems: all three use different tuning systems, different modes, and read different types of notation. The differences were eventually ironed out with a lot of time jamming together, listening, learning about each other’s cultures (in ethnic instruments, culture and even religion is inextricably linked with music) a bit of transcribing.

Because he was trained as a jazz pianist and mostly self-taught as a composer, the way he creates music is different from other classically-trained composers. He first imagines the sound world, then uses the instruments and textures to recreate what he imagines. His compositions are diverse but can be separated into two separate paths, fusion jazz and film music.

Tze counts video game music composer Nobuo Uematsu and film composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Ennio Morricone as his primary influences. He is fascinated with the minimalist style which Sakamoto employs and the layering of textures in his music. He enjoys the challenge of writing music to fit a specific time limit, emotions and action. “In film music you have to be concise. It’s all about capturing the moments and feelings in the scene within the length of it. If it’s 15 seconds long then you only have 15 seconds to work your magic,” he explains. He has written for numerous animations as well as films; his most recent being the original score for filmmaker Royston Tan’s short film, Popiah.

When not writing for films, each of his compositions usually lasts longer than 5 minutes. He likens an experience when listening or performing music to a journey, an exploration into a ‘wonderland’ where the unexpected and impossible can happen. He expanded his Looking Glass Ensemble into an orchestra for the next album, Return to Wonderland. He had in mind an ‘epic’ sound which he wanted to create, and decided to try writing for an orchestra. There was one problem: he had no idea how to do so! He then got his hands on all the resources on scoring, orchestration and instruments he could find and read late into the night. The result was a highly successful Return to Wonderland concert and recorded album featuring the now expanded Looking Glass Orchestra directed by Tze, released in 2012. His upcoming concert, Alternate Worlds, sees the addition of a chorus into the mix. Since then, with the fluid nature of the ensemble and their appearance in many guises, Tze decided to shorten their name to Looking Glass, appearing as TLG, or Tze n Looking Glass.

Tze strongly believes in the transcendence of music across cultures, boundaries and genres, and that opportunities should be given to anyone who wants to try making music together. The TLG is a platform for classically and traditionally trained musicians to be able to experience other kinds of music, such as jazz, Indian music, Latin, and to learn how to improvise collectively. It is also a space for musicians of different backgrounds to interact and learn from each other. As such, he regularly holds music-jam sessions, and welcomes budding musicians who would like to join him.

In this upcoming concert, Alternate Worlds, musicians move out of their familiar territory to explore different kinds of music: the string quartet gets to explore funky blues, the wind quartet, video-game-soundtrack-inspired music, and the audience is in for a treat – to experience different musical worlds all in one concert from choral, film, jazz, latin to improvisations and more.

Come and watch Tze and the Looking Glass Orchestra in their concert Alternate Worlds | もうひとつの世界 happening next Saturday, 26 July 2014, at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Get yourself lost in the convergence of the different musical worlds as they explore jazz, tango, film, anime,  and video game music. Also presented will be a special performance of the film score for Royston Tan’s Popiah. Email to purchase tickets.

Meanwhile, here’s the trailer for their upcoming concert:

and the highlights from their Wonderland series:

July 20, 2014

Concerti I Solisti III – A Review

An edited version of this was published in The Straits Times with the heading ‘Budding talents shine with orchestra’ on 21 July 2014. 

Concerti I Solisti III
OMM/ Seow Yibin, conductor, Rebecca Lee, clarinet, Joshua Evan Lee, Lin Xiangning, piano
SOTA Concert Hall
19 July 2014 Saturday
With the increasing number of musicians in Singapore, it is heartening to see that they are given chances to perform solo, backed by an orchestra. Nine different solo works were presented across three concerts in the past week, two of which take the form of a piano concerto festival.
However, unlike the soloists of the piano concerto festival, the three who performed with the Orchestra of the Music Makers under the baton of Seow Yibin were chosen by merit: they were the winners an internal concerto competition held by the School Of The Arts (SOTA) earlier this year.
Opening the concert was Weber’s single-movement Concertino for Clarinet, op. 26 performed by Rebecca Lee. Although visibly nervous at first, Lee handled the the long-limbed melodic lines beautifully with a fine lyrical tone. The quicker sections she also tackled with aplomb, sometimes racing ahead and leaving the orchestra struggling to keep up.
Due to the shorter lengths of the solo works presented, the orchestra, too, was given a chance
in the spotlight with Shostakovich’s enigmatic Ninth Symphony. Composed just after the Second World War and initially intended as a long, large-scale work for chorus and orchestra, Shostakovich eventually wrote it as a short and compact symphony in the neo-classical style, combining classical elements with his whimsical and quirky harmonies.
Seow opted to conduct from memory, and this proved to be an advantage as the orchestra sounded tighter and more focused. Woodwinds were the strongest sections here, with the jaunty woodwind solos which peppered the first movement, the soulful clarinet solos that open the second movement. The brasses also showed solidarity as a section with a strong tone and perfect intonation as they duelled a slightly out-of-tune bassoon towards the end of the third movement. Also particularly notable was the brilliance of the flute and the trumpet in their solos.
From the iconic clarinet opening trill and glissando to the muted trumpet solos, it was as though the orchestra had morphed into a jazz orchestra during the intermission for Joshua Evan Lee’s rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The Rhapsody was a bluesy, laid-back affair, the performance every bit as suave as the young soloist who sauntered on stage in skinny black jeans and a matching blue-black coat and tie.
Lee took his time with the solos, deliberately but tastefully stretching his phrases with elastic freedom; and Seow was only too happy to indulge him. Here, the strings regained their confidence to produce a full, luscious sound for the slow theme in the second half. Due to the acoustics of the concert hall, it was a pity that the piano was often drowned out when the whole orchestra played loud passages together with it.
The more transparent orchestration in the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto allowed Lin Xiangning to fare a little better. Ably accompanied by the orchestra, Lin varied her touch and tone to switch effortlessly between the dramatic and the poetic themes, and played the running passages with precision and clarity. Bringing the concert to a feisty close, it was only during the cadenza that Lin unleashed her prowess, building up to the climax and suddenly sounding much more powerful than before.
It certainly remains to be seen in a few years how these budding young talents will progress, if given the right mentorship.
June 30, 2014

21st Singapore International Piano Festival Day 4: Piotr Anderszewski – A Review

21st Singapore International Piano Festival Day 4: Piotr Anderszewski – A Review
An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 1 July 2014 with the heading ‘Quirky Surprises at Every Corner’. 

21st Singapore International Piano Festival
Piotr Anderszewski
SOTA Concert Hall
29 June 2014

When it comes to interpreting Bach’s keyboard music, there are the purists who insist that it is a travesty when pianists use the pedal; there are the romantics who romanticise the music excessively with copious amount of pedalling and indulgent tempo fluctuations; and then there is Piotr Anderszewki.

The Polish pianist gave the closing recital to this year’s Piano Festival with three Bach suites on the programme, which sandwiched Schumann’s Eighth Novelette in F# minor and the second book of Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path.

The last and longest of Schumann’s novelettes is made up of many sections, encompassing multi-faceted characters of Schumann’s personality. Anderszewski unpacked the contrasting characters of passionate, quietly reflective and joyful into a comprehensible and completely accessible performance with clarity, intelligence and musical insight.

Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path are deeply private diary entries chronicling his life. Anderszewski showed a more personal and introspective side in the second volume, which comprises of five short and untitled pieces (nos, 10-15). In a lapse of concentration or slip of memory, he missed out no. 13 and went straight to no. 14. Realising his mistake, he inserted it after 14 without batting an eyelid and continued on. 
The highlight of the recital was most definitely the Bach suites. In playing them Anderszewski taunted, teased, caressed and cajoled the piano, daringly placing accents at the most unexpected of places to reveal hidden melodic lines and intentionally highlighting harmonic dissonances with the use of more pedal. Playing all of the repeats, he made sure to differentiate the first time from the second by embellishing them differently, adding in little melodic runs and turns. He sometimes seemed as if he was speeding and threatening to let go of the reins, but was always fully in control of every phrase. If anything, Anderszewski looked like he was enjoying himself the whole time, spontaneously improvising his way along and having much fun while doing so.
At every corner there were surprises, quirky things he did which worked for him, but probably only for him no one else even if they tried. The emotional heart of the recital was the Sarabande from the Sixth English suite, where the sensitivity of his touch and remarkable sense of voicing and balance resulted in a detached faraway sound. Also particularly memorable was the Gavotte from the same suite, where he repeated the melody an octave higher in the second time, making it sound as though played on a toy piano.
Persistent applause from the audience was rewarded with two encores – Bartok’s 3 Hungarian Folk songs from the Csík district and Bagatelles no. 1-3 from Beethoven Op. 126 – performed in the wholly original style of Anderszewski.

At the  post-concert autograph session where he kindly obliged my requests for autographs a picture with Sheep.