June 28, 2014

21st Singapore International Piano Festival Day 2: Behzod Abduraimov – A review

21st Singapore International Piano Festival
Behzod Abduraimov
SOTA Concert Hall
27 June 2014
Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit stands undisputed as one of the most technically demanding pieces in the standard repertoire for pianists, and it has always been a hot favourite for young, competition-winning pianists to include in their recital repertoire. Around this time last year I watched second-prize winner of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition Louis Schwizgebel conclude his recital with it, and last evening, it brought 24-year old Behzod Abduraimov’s recital to a dazzling close. Having been catapulted into fame by his victory in the 2009 London International Piano Competition when he was only 18, Abduraimov has been establishing himself on an international level, giving performances worldwide and recording exclusively with Decca. Although he convincingly portrayed the seductive, watery world of Ondine and the hauntingly trance-like swaying of the body at the gallows at sunset in Le Gibet, Scarbo from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit was arguably the show stopper of the evening. The frenzied hand-crossing, repeated motifs and flashes of notes depicting a manic goblin disappearing and reappearing unpredictably were confidently tackled. 
It fit perfectly well in the programme, which had an underlying theme of death and the imagination of after-death experiences. The opening two works centred on the funeral march: Beethoven’s Twelfth Sonata in Ab major, Op. 26 whose third movement is a funeral march ‘on the death of a hero’, and Chopin’s Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49, which begins with a. funeral march. When one thinks of the term “funeral march”, what comes to mind is usually a weighty, sombre, and slow. Abduraimov was neither sombre nor slow, thundering through both works. Perhaps he could be forgiven for the Chopin as it is after all, a fantasy, but apart from the fast and loud, there was little much else to offer. The first movement of Beethoven was played with much restraint, but Abduraimov whirled through the second and fourth movements. His running notes often sounded muddy and muffled, perhaps due to the echoey acoustics of the hall coupled with misjudgements and over pedalling. To end off the first half, he showed his athletic prowess in the Saint-Saëns/Liszt/Horowitz Dans Macabre, a one-man orchestra conjuring up the diabolical scenes of skeletons dancing to the devil’s fiddle-playing. 
Aptly placed to open the second half was Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, placed in between the darker works as if a confession or form of atonement. Here, Abduraimov played with more sensitivity to the harmonic nuances and textures, but lacked the maturity that would turn his playing into a profoundly moving work. With his imagination, talent, and technical facility, one can definitely expect greater things from him in the years to come. 

June 27, 2014

21st Singapore International Piano Festival Day 1: Kun-Woo Paik – A review

21st Singapore International Piano Festival
Kun-Woo Paik
SOTA Concert Hall
26 June 2014
If Schubert wrote a song cycle for the piano, tonight’s programme would have been exactly it. Korean pianist Kun-Woo Paik’s recital comprised entirely of selected pieces from Schubert’s later piano works – the 6 Moments Musicaux D780, Vier Impromptus D980, and Drei Klavierstücke D946 – which he arranged into a specific order and played without breaks for applause, as if performing an entire song cycle.
Beginning with the soft, single melodic line after a unison note, Paik created the atmosphere of melancholic beauty as he brought the half-filled concert hall into the world of Schubert’s songs. The first of the four impromptus was sad, subdued and questioning, yet not overly indulgent or excessive. From there, just like how Schubert often put the parallel major after minor, Paik launched into the bright, sunny no. 3 of the Drei Klavierstücke, accelerating towards the calm middle section, then afterwards racing to the end.
The middle section of the second Moments Musicaux which followed brought to mind a Chopin nocturne, and the fourth played after sounded as though it had been a keyboard prelude lifted off from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier set! Later on, no. 2 from D946 proved a gripping, sincere and heartfelt rendition, contrasting the simple opening with the almost Beethovenian episode in the middle. With such a programme, Paik revealed the musical influences which Schubert was inspired by, and showed how later composers, in turn, drew from Schubert’s music.
The Eb-major impromptu (no. 2) was a slick, well-oiled roller-coaster ride, the undulating waves of notes unfurled with crystal clarity and control. Here, Paik rarely used the pedal unlike the Gb major impromptu (no. 3) before it.
Throughout the entire evening, Paik was ever sensitive in his playing, always intentionally singing out the melodies. He was a picture of grace and poise, maintaining a dignified composure at the piano while masterfully interpreting the music with a controlled passion. He clearly understood the geist of the works, carefully selecting his tempos and tastefully using rubato to bring forth a shaded, nuanced palette of colours from the Steinway.
The hymn-like chorale, no. 6 from D780, prayerfully and thoughtfully delivered as though a benediction, brought the recital to a close on a unison A-flat, neither major nor minor and unresolved, like the open-endedness of life’s questions which permeates Schubert’s works. 
June 22, 2014

Albert Lin: Reflections on our local classical music scene


Fellow Straits Times music critic, blogger, pianist and friend Albert Lin has penned a highly thought-provoking piece on the music scene in Singapore which deserves a re-post, so I’m posting it here. The original article can be found here.


Despite vast investments by the government into the arts and music education in Singapore, the annual President’s Young Performers Concert remains the one realistic opportunity for our young musicians to perform with the national orchestra. Over the years, it has featured both accomplished professionals and promising young students, ranging from violinists Chan Yoong-Han and Grace Lee to pianists Lim Yan and Abigail Sin. But one curious fact is that apart from violist Lim Chun in 2002, only pianists and violinists have been selected.

The obvious reason is that the piano and violin are seen as the glamour instruments of classical music, and are considered the conventional choice for soloists and hence would be easier on box-office sales. But if the purpose of this concert is to showcase the brightest talents on our shores, surely then the opportunity should go to the most deserving and not just the most popular? Why not feature a work by a promising composer too, considering the general lack of support the orchestra shows for them during their season? Attaching our country’s name to the orchestra does not give it a national identity, and their debut at the BBC proms will see our nation represented by a Chinese-American conductor with an American concertmaster and a Swiss soloist performing a concerto by a Chinese-American composer. Are we so ashamed of our own talents? Perhaps the powers that be behind the orchestra should take a leaf out of the playbook of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, whose recent tour of China featured our very own Jazz Impressario Jeremy Monteiro and works of composers Eric Watson, Kelly Tang, and Ho Chee Kong. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Yeh Tsung was hired by the SSO instead. And to add insult to injury, on Harrison Parrott’s (SSO’s management team for their proms appearance) website, it states that “in support of Singaporean talent, local musicians and composers feature prominently in the concert season.” What blatant hypocrisy. If they are so ashamed of locals, perhaps they should drop the word “Singapore” from their name and affix some ambiguous term like “Metropolitan” to it instead.

According to a former arts administrator, featuring local talents brings down the standard of the event. An interesting point considering this said person inserts herself into SSO chamber series programmes whenever possible, and she no longer does it for a living. If the consensus is that engaging a foreign artist is a safer option, one must not have witness the debacle that was Li Yundi doing his best David Helfgott impersonation in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and whose rumoured fee would have funded the amount SSO pays to its President’s Young Performers for the next 40 years.

This attitude has unfortunately rubbed off on other musical groups in Singapore, unconsciously or otherwise. Before I continue any further, I must reiterate that I have no problem against the presence of foreign musicians. Singapore has benefitted greatly and some of these musicians have made it a point to contribute to the society that welcomed them with open arms. Spaniard flautist Roberto Alvarez has single-handedly transformed the landscape of flute playing in Singapore, and violinists Alexander Souptel and Zhang Zhen Shan have trained a legion of prize winners. The argument is not whether foreigners or locals are better, but against the belief that foreigners are better not based on merit but because their passports are of a different colour.

But if these groups are dipping their hands into the coffers of the National Arts Council, whose kitty comes from taxes paid by Singaporeans, then they have a duty to do more for the locals. Or are we only good enough for them to take money from and nothing else? It’s bad enough that their sense of self-entitlement sees them demand that society subsidize their hobby.

It is telling that the SSO ceased its partnership with the Public Service Commission and stopped awarding scholarship holders a place in the orchestra upon graduation. And since then, how many Singaporeans have joined them? Oh, sure they hire locals when they need freelance players to fill the space, but that’s only if they’re desperate for numbers while their more established players go on leave for concerts nobody wishes to play for. How many born-and-bred Singaporeans currently play in the orchestra? A whopping 12!

Can you imagine an American orchestra with only 10% of its members local? Being globalized means that the influx of foreigners is inevitable, but it does not mean that locals and foreigners do not stand on equal footing. Are some of the foreigners being hired better than our locals? And we are not even talking about cheaper alternatives. So if the hired guns are neither better nor cheaper, it indeed is puzzling as to why they were preferred.

What’s the point of spending all that cash on lavish events such as Singapore Day in London (which interestingly is not open to public unless you have a Singaporean friend) or the Singapore Biennale? To prove a point that Singaporeans are only worth celebrating when there’s an incentive to do so? Or is it meant to placate the dissenting voices? To claim that enough is being done for local musicians/artists based on one-off events is akin to saying that one is an excellent spouse because you bought your partner flowers on his/her birthday, while sleeping with his/her best friend for the other 364 days of the year.

Why are we encouraging our youngsters to pursue an education/career in music, if we are here putting roadblocks up for them when they return? Are we just creating a market to support ourselves? So that we create an environment where we have enough students interested in music enough to purchase concert tickets?

What exactly awaits them when they do return to Singapore? How many talents are being laid to waste playing in random orchestras and playing wedding gigs? How many choose to not even return at all?

It indeed is their perogative if they prefer to hire foreigners, but they should also cut the pretence about supporting local talent and do away with patronizing events such as the President’s Young Performers concert which often sees the orchestra under-prepared and concertmaster missing from action.

If this is the blueprint for the future of the Arts in Singapore, then we are doomed. Right now it is not about culture, but creating a money-spinning industry aligned with the rest of Singapore.

June 20, 2014

Beethoven/Katsaris Concerto no. 5, ‘Emperor’ – CD Review

Beethoven/Katsaris Concerto no. 5, ‘Emperor’ – CD Review
Sometimes, in a concerto, the orchestra gets all the good parts – and the role of the soloist is to accompany the orchestra by playing arpeggios and other embellishments while the other instruments belt out the heart-on-your-sleeve melody. One case in point is the second movement of Brahms’ violin concerto where, after woodwinds set the stage, the melody enters, profound, gorgeous and unassumingly innocent, only that it is not by the solo violin, but the first oboe. The long oboe solo is so complete and self-sufficient — what more needs to be said? — that violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate refused to perform the work, remarking, “I don’t deny that it’s fairly good music, but does anyone imagine that I’m going to stand on the rostrum, violin in hand, and listen to the oboe playing the only tune in the Adagio?”

French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris has transcribed and recorded a solo version of Beethoven’s Concerto no. 5 in E-flat, Emperor, explaining his reasons in the CD sleeve notes for doing so:

… I have always felt a degree of frustration regarding the magnificent introductory tutti in the first movement, which is the exclusive preserve of the orchestra. Naturally I was appalled not to find it in the piano score, and so I determined to appease my (avowedly selfish!) 55-year-old longing by making this transcription…

On the CD is two versions of the Emperor concerto, one version conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and accompanied by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and the other, a world premiere recording of the solo piano arrangement. Katsaris is no stranger to transcriptions, especially those of Beethoven’s music, having been the first to record Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s entire Symphony cycle between 1983-89 on Teldec. This disc is produced by Katsaris’ own Piano21 label instead of a bigger or more commercial recording company.

Katsaris’ arrangement fills in the grand orchestral tutti parts with tremolos and octaves, and plays them with such great energy and drive that the outer movements are considerably faster than the orchestral versions. In fact, sacrilegious as it may sound, if listening to the solo piano transcription as background music, one might not even notice the absence of the orchestra!

After a while, though, one gets a sense that Katsaris might be trying too hard to produce an orchestral sound on the piano, with the tremolandos and hammering out the block chords. In the first movement, especially at sections where the piano echoes the orchestra or vice versa in short phrases, the timbre of the orchestra is missed, and the chords repeated on the piano seem inevitably pointless. The adagio is an oasis of calm and beauty, its transparent textures providing respite from the pounding in the outer movements. There were snatches of sensitivity in places, but the need for ‘being’ an orchestra overtakes that at times.

Katsaris is fleet-footed and nimble in the rondo. His transcription tries convincingly to differentiate between the piano and the orchestra part by adding thicker textures and more notes into the orchestral parts, but it results in those passages sounding cluttered and dense. Still, his playing is marked with clarity and vigour, although he is not the most subtle of pianists.

This CD is probably only a must-get for fans of the Liszt piano transcriptions of orchestral music or fans of the Emperor concerto, otherwise, one is not missing out on much.

Rating: 3.5/5

This CD will be available for purchase from 7 July 2014.

June 10, 2014

The Philharmonic Orchestra presents… I hear the water dreaming – An Advertisment

The Philharmonic Orchestra presents… I hear the water dreaming – An Advertisment

Unlike music of other countries or states and as distinct as it is, it is practically impossible to generalise Asian music in a single word. The diversity in styles stem from the culture, religion and beliefs of the composers. To highlight the range of styles of Asian music, The Philharmonic Orchestra is embarking on a new concert series, one which features only Asian composers. The first in the series is titled I Hear the Water Dreaming.

For centuries, rivers and seas have served as the heart of human civilisation, enabling the movement of people, commerce, and culture across vast distances. Elemental and poetic, they have also long provided an oasis of artistic inspiration. Smetana’s symphonic poem Die Moldau from his set of six symphonic poems Ma Vlast (or My Fatherland) traces the course of the Vltava river from its beginnings as two streams merging, through landscapes, events and scenery until its end in the Elbe. Strauss’ An der schönen blauen Donau (more commonly known as the Blue Danube Waltz) and Xian Xinghai’s Yellow River Cantata which the Yellow River Piano Concerto was based on, are also examples of works which have been inspired by water.

TPO embarks on an exploration of Asian orchestral works contemplating the theme of water – works by pioneering Singaporean composers Leong Yoon Pin and Phoon Yew Tien feature alongside Toru Takemitsu’s I Hear The Water Dreaming and Zhu Jian’er’s A Wonder of Naxi. Join TPO in this unique survey of music fusing the traditional and contemporary, Asian and Western. Featuring soloists Jasper Goh on the flute and Derek Koh on the yangqin, the unique repertoire makes this concert one not to be missed! It takes place on the 14th of June at the SOTA Concert Hall at 7.30pm. Get your tickets from Sistic now! Tickets are priced at $22.

June 9, 2014

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers presented by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – A Review

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers presented by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – A Review

I attended this concert with a friend, whom I encouraged to contribute a review as a guest writer as well. Her review is shown below mine. 

Sheep is excited to attend his first movie screening with live orchestra!
He was also hoping to see sheep in the movie because it was filmed
in New Zealand.. 

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, Vocal Associates Festival Chorus and Children’s Choir, Justin Freer, conductor
The Star Performing Arts Centre/ Saturday, 1pm, 7 June 2014

Although nothing compared to Richard Wagner’s 4-opera, 17-hour-long Der Ring des Niebelungen, attempting to perform the trilogy was still quite a feat, especially having to synchronise live music to a film. It was fitting that Howard Shore wrote for almost Mahlerian forces (over 250 musicians in the orchestra, choir and children’s’ choir combined) and about 9 hours’ worth of music with interlocking themes and motifs for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I hesitate to use the term accompany here because the OST is, in my opinion, much more than mere accompaniment — it sets the scenes, conveys emotions, and, in the case of LOTR, is probably as important as the spoken dialogue. Even then, wouldn’t the recorded film music do? After all, it was recorded by none less than the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and movie tickets are much cheaper…

Perhaps this was the point that director Chan Tze Law and Metropolitan Festival Orchestra were trying to prove in staging the screening of the LOTR trilogy with live performance of the soundtrack, so as to increase the awareness of the role of film music. They were joined by the Vocal Associates Festival Chorus and children’s choir, prepared by Khor Ai Ming. The Two Towers continues from where the Fellowship of the Ring, which was staged around this time last year, left off. The 5000-seater venue was slightly over half filled for the matinee show, but because of the sheer size of the hall and for balance of sound, microphones were placed at every desk of the orchestra. Immediately that amplifies (no pun intended!) the problems faced — even if the musicians played and sung their best, the ones responsible for sound were still those sitting behind the sound console.

The mix was often erratic and inconsistent; although woodwinds and were brasses sufficiently loud, the strings, especially the lower strings, were often overpowered by the other sounds in the first half. When the spotlight was turned on them, however, they projected a luscious sound and conjured up the imagery of the scenes well. In fact, the same can be said for the entire orchestra: the versatility in their sound was impressive, notably that of the horns. From the heartfelt, tender and lyrical to the menacing and sinister, they were together in setting the atmosphere for the action onscreen. Particularly noteworthy also, were the poignant and melancholic English horn solos by Veda Lin.

Despite not having a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle for the Rohan solos, concertmaster Chan Yoong Han used the higher strings of the violin to successfully recreate the rustic timbre. Also cleverly substituted was a yangqin for a dulcimer. A distressed piano was another interesting instrument featured, where the strings of the piano were struck with metal chains.

The chorus was mostly out-of-tune when singing in parts, but when singing in unison, especially at the final scenes of the battle at Helms Deep, they exuded majesty and strength. Soprano Rosalind Waters was a let-down. In the Rivendell scenes, laments and final Gollum’s song, her intonation was unstable, and her voice lacked the character or the ethereal, other-worldly quality required. The added reverb to enhance her voice only made the quivers in her voice more obvious. Boy soprano Samuel Yuen was delight to listen to. From where we were seated in the stalls, he stood up to the height of a seated orchestra member, and even with the spotlight on him, he remained hidden from our sight. His voice soared beautifully above the choir with absolute purity of tone. Maybe what he really needed, in Legolas’ words, was a box to stand on!

If the exciting final instalment in future is a success, why not do the Star Wars series next? 🙂

At lunch before the concert. The press kit came with a
beautiful blue MFO pen!


Tessa and I after the concert

Review written by Tessa Khew, a Tolkien fan, English Literature graduate and teacher:

The Partial Plebian LOTR Concert Review

I attended the Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers Orchestra Concert by the Metropolitian Festival Orchestra in the capacity of one wedged between the statuses of regular concert-goer and reviewer. I know my penultimate sentence is marked with loaded terms that can echo the endless debate on what makes a reviewer and whatnot, but let’s reserve that can of worms for other platforms. My in-between status stemmed from the fact that my foremost intention was to enjoy the film with an added performance dimension but 6 years of MEP education had ingrained in me an instinct to view the concert as a musical endeavour too.

In all honesty, what struck me first upon entering The Star’s Performing Arts Centre was the sheer number of musicians and instruments on stage. This surprise was in part due to the 7 year gap between the present and my last attendance at an orchestral performance, yet it was a timely reminder of how much work goes behind producing an OST. Another aspect that surprised me was how little rest the musicians had as the movie progressed. There was nary a still moment on stage; even the seemingly quieter parts of the movie were bolstered by controlled, soft tremolos from the strings. I’d dare say the effort at producing an OST is no less than the producing the theatrics of the movie, and it is a pity that the accompanying music is often overlooked. Raising such an awareness is perhaps one of the best takeaways from such concerts, for by extension it may lead to an increased recognition for musicians and their craft.

The film commenced in perfect sync with the orchestra’s rendition of the opening theme and much credit must be given to the efforts at replicating the original film experience. For one, a Chinese instrument, the Yang Qin, was roped in to support the percussion section as it drummed up the battle atmospheres. The concert master utilized open strings and more distinct bow strokes to bring to life the Norwegian fiddle’s role in introducing picturesque Rohan. Samuel Yuen’s return to his role as the boy soprano was an A+ textbook performance. The ethereal tone of his voice resonated as it pitched, perfectly, one note after another, perhaps a testament of the many times he practiced to the original sound track. Such attention to detail led to an easy viewing of The Two Towers in which I found myself forgetting I was not in a cinema. Suffice to say, concerts such as these would be good introductory sessions for newcomers to orchestral music.

However, considering such concerts from the viewpoint of one who has experience with music would yield a different conclusion. If even my amateur ears could be unsettled by the off pitch harmonies by the chorale in its opening lines, I’m sure the alliance of Legolas’ and Aragorn’s beauty combined would not be enough to keep the attention of a more seasoned individual at that moment. Another incident that would have distracted such an individual was Rosalind Waters’ solo performance. Water’s vocal timbre was rich but with a rough edge that would have nailed a Broadway role. It was unfortunate that such a style was misaligned with the clear resonance that this role called for, and the mismatch was most pronounced during the closing item where the enunciation of the lyrics left much to be hoped for. Yet all these might only be of concern to one whose instincts naturally divert their ears from Tolkein’s rich poetic dialogue at the presence of music.

Nevertheless, I can safely say that I left this concert with a rekindled passion in orchestral music and certainly feeling that I got my money’s worth from watching both film and performance. I am hoping the Metropolitian Festival Orchestra persists with such style of concerts and enliven the film appreciation and classical music awareness in Singapore.

May 27, 2014

In Good Company – A Review

In Good Company – A Review

An edited version of this article appeared in The Straits Times on 26 May 2014 with the heading ‘Musicians’ Good Company’.

Loh Jun Hong, Violin, Abigail Sin, Piano, Lin Juan, Cello
Esplanade Recital Studio/ Saturday 24 May 2014

Salon-style concerts harken back to the 17th-century, where music was played and ideas were exchanged in smaller, more cosy locations. As if to recreate the salon setting, violinist Loh Jun Hong, pianist Abigail Sin and cellist Lin Juan took turns to perform more intimate chamber works in this themed concert.

Three beanbags, two wooden little tables with a bottle of wine and champagne flutes on them made the recital studio appear more homey. The invisible barrier between performer and audience was also lessened as the trio took turns to speak about the works they played, giving anecdotes and personal takes on why they liked and picked them.

the opening Handel-Halvorsen duel

Perhaps due to nerves from having to speak to the audience and then perform, the opening Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia for violin and cello, also possibly the most technically challenging work on the programme, was messy in the faster parts and had numerous intonation issues. That seemed to have been Lin’s baptism of fire as he was welcomed into More Than Music, a new and growing society of musicians founded by Loh and Sin last year with the aim of creating an enjoyable concert-going experience for the audience.

Lin and Sin tackle the Schumann while Loh listens
on a comfy beanbag

From there however, the evening only got better. The buoyant freshness of the outer movements of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata for violin and piano, and the poetic lyricism of Schumann’s Three Fantasy Pieces for cello and piano displayed the quiet elegance and high standards of musicianship each of them had.

All three played with a maturity which belied their youthful countenance, but the star of the evening was undoubtedly Sin. She remained a solid accompanist throughout, and her rendition of Faure’s Theme And Variations for piano was so thoughtfully planned and wonderfully executed from beginning to end – the enigmatic and beautiful prayer-like ending – that it left the almost-full recital studio in a long moment of captivated silence before the applause began.

The concert officially ended with the trio performing the little-known and rarely-performed Phantasie by English composer Frank Bridge. Most impressive was their understated virtuosity. While Lin offered the most exquisite singing lines on his cello between impassioned episodes, Loh’s charismatic playing and Sin’s impeccable control of the piano resulted in an engaging and intellectual musical conversation.

Continuous applause from the audience was rewarded with an encore from each of the performers: Saint-Saëns’ The Swan by Lin, Preludes no. 3 and 4 from Chopin’s Opus 28 set by Sin, and Piazzolla’s catchy Nightclub 1960 tango by Loh.

This evening’s concert was not only highly enjoyable, but also memorable. One can be sure that they are definitely ‘in good company’ around such talented young musicians!

Photo credits: Abigail Sin and her father

May 23, 2014

Flights of Fantasy by Anderson and Roe – An Advertisement

Flights of Fantasy by Anderson and Roe – An Advertisement

Some classically-trained musicians have dared to venture away from the world of classical music. Sometimes the results aren’t always the best (cue cheesy Bond quartet music), but at other times, some collaborations produce the most remarkable and sometimes even fun results. I have always liked Jacques Loussier for jazzing up every work he plays, and recently, the PianoGuys and Gabriela Montero have caught my attention.

In the same vein, duo pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, better known as Anderson and Roe, play practically everything from baroque to ragtime, Rimsky-Korsakov to Radiohead. Having missed their 2012 concert because I was still in the UK (read Pianomaniac’s review here), I’m really quite excited to watch their concert here this year.

On this year’s menu is a good mix of classical and contemporary, all fresh, original arrangements of popular favourites such as Saint-Saens’ The Swan, Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee and even Radiohead’s Paranoid Android! Also included on the programme are selections from their latest CD, An Amadeus Affair.

FLIGHTS OF FANTASY promises to be an evening of high-octane entertainment and fun for both classical and contemporary music enthusiasts alike. So come, and be enthralled by the dynamic pianism and creativity of Anderson and Roe! One night only, on the 13th of June at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Tickets are available from Sistic and priced from $58 to $158. 
May 21, 2014

Bach Ahead by re:mix – A Review


An edited version of this article appeared in the Straits Times on 20 May 2014 with the heading ‘Playful, spirited Bach’.

re:mix, Foo Say Ming, director/violin, Lim Yan, piano
Esplanade Recital Studio/Sunday 18 May 2014

For a group that is known for their rather adventurous and eclectic concert programmes, re:mix’s programme this time seemed more ordinary than usual: a Bach-themed evening. But perhaps they were trying to prove the versatility of Bach’s music – that it can be taken and orchestrated or arranged for virtually any combination of instruments and transcend culture and genres, still remaining accessible to all.

Leopold Stokowski’s richly-scored transcription of Bach’s Aria from his Orchestral Suite in D Major, BWV 1068, more commonly known as the ‘Air on a G String’ opened the concert with the cellos singing out the melody soulfully while accompanied by the pizzicato notes from a solo double bass. Because of the small size of the ensemble and the tempo selected, re:mix handled this arrangement charmingly, seamlessly passing the melody line to and fro between the cellos and first violins without the excessiveness and overwrought sentimentality usually associated with Stokowski’s arrangements.

Director Foo Say Ming then took the spotlight in Bach’s Fourth Violin Sonata in C Minor BWV 1017 from the set of six sonatas for Violin and Keyboard, accompanied by Lim Yan on the piano. Rather than the role of accompaniment, however, the keyboard meets in equal terms with the violin, the keyboardist’s right hand as if taking on the part of another solo treble instrument, and the left, the part of the basso continuo. In the opening siciliano, the warm, mellifluous tone of Foo’s violin floated gently above the undulating waves of accompanying semiquavers, beautifully and elegantly shaped by Lim. In the slower middle movement however, as Lim worked to create a pastel blend of colours on the piano, Foo sounded almost bored and a little impatient. The second and fourth movements were delightfully fast. Both Lim and Foo performed with youthful vigour, exchanging playful banter. The presence of a pulse was always well-defined, but never rigid. Foo was not afraid to use touches of rubato in places, and Lim was always at one with him, sensitive to the balance and pedalling with subtlety.

The highlight of the evening was Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra. Mendelssohn had been instrumental in the revival and promotion of Bach’s music in the 1800s, and Bach’s influence can be heard throughout this work. Foo and Lim were much bolder, and delivered a spirited performance, revelling in one another’s musicianship in the miniature romantic quasi-character pieces that Mendelssohn writes in between orchestral episodes. The ensemble was also ably led by concert mistress Lee Shi Mei when the soloists were busy handling the technically demanding figurations.

In the composition of this concerto, Mendelssohn bridges the old and the new, not unlike re:mix’s continuing efforts in bridging the gap between classical music and popular culture.

May 19, 2014

On Stones, Sand and Light… Questions with Quinnuance, Composers’ edition 2014

On Stones, Sand and Light… Questions with Quinnuance, Composers’ edition 2014

Last friday, this resident kaypoh caught up with the composers of Quinnuance over brunch to find out about their upcoming concert which happens on the 30th of May.

 Hello guys! The last time we spoke was this time last year when you had your concert ‘looking deep into our roots’. Since then there seems to be a few changes to Quinnuance, including your very own conductor! Care to tell us more about this?

Bernard: After last year’s concert, two of our members had increasing outside commitments which left them little time for composing; they decided to come out from the group. Meanwhile, Clarence had just come back from Sydney after finishing his masters in conducting. His passion and vision for contemporary new music in Singapore was a perfect match for our group of contemporary young composers. As composers, we can now just concentrate on composing our music and leave the hassle of instrumentalists’ conflicting schedules for rehearsals and actual rehearsing to him. (Laugh) Then this year we are also excited to rope in Terrence Wong, whom we have known for a long time.

Terrence: For me, it’s the first time I’m participating in this project. It’s also my first time that I’m presenting a chamber piece in a non-school, public performance, and also my first time being part of a group that has to organise our own concert. In many ways it’s a lot of firsts for me in one group and I hope that I can contribute to the dynamic quality of Quinnuance.

Alicia: Yep, there has been some changes. As mentioned by Bernard, 2 of our members — Ernest and Enning — needed time off for their personal commitments and it so happened that Clarence was back from his conducting studies in Sydney and was very keen to help promote new music and the works of local composers. Hence we roped him in. Also, we had wanted to work with Terrence for some time now, but the opportunity never really came up, till now.

Has the group dynamic changed in any way?

Bernard: One less older chap and one less lady, and an addition of one young chap and another heading towards mid-life crisis with pot belly, the dynamic sure has changed a fair bit. Ha… (laugh)

Alicia: I don’t think there’s any major change in the group dynamic at the moment. I think it’s actually a little too early to tell? Afterall, it is a first time we have come together with Clarence and Fei Yang. So perhaps, after working together for a more projects, we can let you know again?

Lu Heng: Well, I guess it’s definitely different with the presence and creative input from Terrence and Clarence and sans those of Ernest and Enning, but I suppose it’s not too dissimilar since we have the same alma mater! Although it may be the first time we are working together in this particular collective, it’s definitely not the first day we know each other, and our shared memories as fellow composers and friends over the past decade or so has allowed us to anticipate and adapt to each other’s quirks and working styles.

What’s it like having a conductor in the group?And Clarence, how do you feel about not being a composer like the rest? 

Bernard: Having a conductor in the group means if the performance turn out bad, we can point fingers at him and say he’s the reason the music sounds bad. (Sorry, Clarence) (Laugh)

Terrence: I think it’s a pretty interesting experience working with someone who specialises in working with musicians to get the music out. Not that we composers have no experience with that, but having a specialist in his field gives us valuable insight into the practical aspects and possibilities (and impossibilities!) in the execution of our works.

Alicia: Personally, I always enjoy the process of the musicians “discovering” the piece through the musical motifs and gestures, before getting into a discussion/dialogue with them about the meaning etc. during rehearsals as it’s an interesting reflection of our thought processes as musicians. So now with a conductor (music director) present, there another perspective involved. This may just provide an added dimension to the discussion and it allows me as a composer to step away from my composition and see it in another light (which I may or may not have considered in the initial planning or composing process).

Clarence: All composers in Quinnuance are unique. It is interesting working together to tie their offerings to present a good concert. Like any organisation, an assortment of skills are required to drive successful projects and goals. Being a non-composer allows me to realise their works in the best possible way. After my studies in Sydney it’s indeed great to be approached to direct projects such as these. However, working with peers as your boss is not easy. You would not want to disappoint them, but that will not happen, Bernard! Quinnuance’s music is all unique and shall be delivered to their best during the concert. The advantage of directing such a program is the opportunity to learn personally from living composers. 

This year looks like it’s going to be bigger and better: you’ve changed venue from the usual Living Room @ The Arts House to the Esplanade Recital studio, with room for many more people! Do you think that the local audience and arts scene is becoming more receptive to new music?

Bernard: It would be like saying just because there are audiences who went for “Ah Boy to Men” Musical and now we have an increased number of people who likes musical. To gauge whether local audiences are more receptive to new music will not be apparent till another few more years or even a decade to see if that reception has increased. In my opinion, non musician audience who are not trained in music are more likely to accept the sound of contemporary new music. These audiences come to listen with unbiased ears and without baggage, thus making them more likely to appreciate the sound and music produced.

Having said that, we moved to a bigger venue so we can sell more tickets! (Laugh) Just kidding. Well, if we are going to get more people interested in contemporary new music, it’ll be good to have a space for more potential audiences to come. It’s a challenge for our young group, but we’ll see how it goes. Moreover, it’s good that we can finally have some playing of lights and a professional production team from Esplanade to assist us.

Terrence: I think the local audience, be they part of the arts scene or otherwise, is opening up -albeit slowly- towards new music. I feel that we as artists cannot wait for audiences to come to us; we have to go out to promote new music in a way that also appeals to a part of the general audience, be it in familiar sounds, stories or emotions…in that way, they will slowly accept that new music (and art) is a way of life and need not necessarily be repulsive or boring.

Alicia: Like what Terrence has mentioned, our local audience is slowly opening up to new music and being receptive towards local composers and musicians. Having our concert this year at the Esplanade is really us reaching out and encouraging more people.

Lu Heng: More musicians and ensembles have been putting up more concerts featuring more new music and naturally both performers and audiences have been warming up to it gradually. It’s relatively niche and would take some time, but there is definitely progress.

Stones, sand, and light: sounds very close to nature.. what’s the inspiration behind this year’s theme? 

Bernard: Actually it was proposed to be Stones, Sand, Time and Light. But it’ll be a mouthful, so we took away the “Time”, as it’s already implied in Stones, Sand and light. These were used in ancient days to measure time. Music is about the soundwaves that travel though time and space. With every note played on an instrument, sound is produced by vibration of air columns whose energy would disperse through that space and over a length of time.

Also, it is a continuation from last year’s theme, “looking deep into my roots”. After seeking the roots, a seedling needs soil to grow, soil which consists of stones and sand, and nurtured by sunlight. Another way of looking at this is to say that roots are infants, and after growing, we are now at toddler stage where we start to explore the surroundings and play with stones and sand. This is a way of charting our growth process as a group of young composers.

Alicia: I guess Bernard explained it best! (Laughs)

Lu Heng: We had collectively agreed to build upon the theme of our concert last year (“Looking Deep Into Our Roots”) and, after toying around with a few variations, settled on “Stones, Sand and Light” as suitable subject matter to transition into? Literally, moving from our roots underground to stones, sand and light above ground? (laughs)

How do your compositions relate to the theme?
Bernard: If you read my programme note, you’ll know that my work is about the time, this work is the 3rd of the series of work for a quartet of instruments that deals with time. It’s about the future and culmination of several ideas from the previous two works. So the theme of the concert implies on time, my work is about time, so there’s the relation.

Terrence: (d)evolution traces the construction and deconstruction of sound from a simple minor scale and Morning Dances depicts a dance of light – both pieces help to give life and imagery to the term ‘light’.

Alicia: My composition (not telling you guys the title, come to the concert to find out!) is quite literally based on the theme of the concert. As Bernard explained earlier about our conception of the concert theme, Time seems to be the underlying link to all three elements. And Time, in the sense of the past, a very distant past where stones, sand and light played an important role in people’s life…

Lu Heng: I personally identified with the transformative processes taken to get from stone to sand, and the binding factor of particles in sand (silica) and light (photons), in relation to my piece.

Finally, complete the sentence in your own way – Stick and stones may break my bones….

Bernard: Huh? That’s lame. (laugh) Ok, if you insists. Stick and stones may break my bones, but it’ll not stop my eyes to open in the hour of autumn. [editor’s note: Bernard’s piece is titled ‘Let the eyes open in the hour of autumn]

Terrence: …but even so, you can use the sticks, stones and my bones to play some exciting percussive sounds!

Alicia: But Sand and Light may make me whole!

Lu Heng: But put them together (stems and noteheads) and they form tones!

Brunch at Plaza Singapura’s Dome with the composers of Quinnuance.

Catch Quinnuance at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 8pm on the 30th of May 2014!  Get your tickets by emailing themusicourworks@gmail.com or by contacting Alicia (93675883) or Lu Heng (96392100). Tickets are priced at $22 each, and discounts are available for groups of 4 and above.