Thursday, 19 March 2009

Music by John Sharpley / Review

SIA Auditorium
LaSalle College of the Arts
Tuesday (17 March 2009, 1pm)

If a history of Western classical music in Singapore were written in fifty years’ time or so, Houston-born composer and pedagogue John Sharpley, now a Singapore permanent resident, might well occupy a position not too distant from Antonin Dvorak’s in American music. In a case of musical reverse-colonisation, his works have often taken on Asian inspirations and flavours.

This chamber concert of Sharpley’s music, however, revealed more of his homespun Americana. Three movements from The Lone Star (2007), a piano tribute to his home state of Texas that began the concert, were as American as the Alamo and apple pie. Square Dance Fantasy and Blues, alternating barn-dance rhythms with folksong-like charm, could have been close cousins with Samuel Barber’s Excursions. These works employed popular idioms unique to place and time.

The Native-American melody in Song Of The Spirit-Dance, might well have also served as inspiration to those in Busoni’s Indian Diary. The two LaSalle students who performed the duet version of these sounded under-rehearsed, but the essence of the music was not lost.

Sharpley took to the keyboard himself in Prayer For Edith (2009), a touching lullaby written for a well loved music teacher on her sickbed. Its soothing G major chords gently made its way to a reposeful E flat major.

Singaporean violinist Seah Huan Yuh (left) joined Sharpley in Ocean Song (1997), a meditation of extreme calm which had dream-like sequences filled with ethereal harmonics and arpeggios. The lyricism and song-like thread suggested that he has inherited the neo-Romantic mantle of great American composers such as Barber, Menotti and Rorem.

The contrasting two movements of Sharpley’s Second String Quartet (1995, revised in 2006) showed that he could be as spiky and ascerbic as Bartok, and yet possess the exuberance and humour of Bernstein. The quartet, led by Seah and including T’ang Quartet’s Leslie Tan, valiantly played through an ensemble of hammering and drilling, confirming that this promising new venue is all but concert-ready. A definitive performance will thus have to wait.

LaSalle's spanking new campus on McNally Street,
but its concert venue is hardly ready!
Other signs that the auditorium is presently WOEFULLY INADEQUATE:
1. Lack of proper seating for concert performers.
2. Clueless stage hands who did not know how to place seats and music stands.
3. Grand piano with castors that squeaked louder than a thousand mice in heat.
4. Complete lack of sound proofing
To add insult to injury, car-park charges were 5 cents a minute ($3 an hour). For goodness sake, THIS IS A SCHOOL, NOT THE ST.REGIS!

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