Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Spectrum: Alternating Current / YST New Music Ensemble / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory New Music Ensemble
Esplanade Recital Studio
Wednesday (3 November 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 November 2010.

It is always fascinating to view the stage set-up for any new music concert. Surprises invariably come up. This evening, concertgoers were greeted by the sight of gamelan metallophones and four standing loudspeakers. Seven musicians then trooped onstage for Alvin Lucier’s 1994 Music for Gamelan, Microphones, Amplifiers & Loud Speakers.

A mundane title for 15 minutes that involved amplification of resonance produced by gently percussing the gamelan and vibrating of bonangs (handheld bowl gongs). Feedback, that usually irritating quirk of mikes going berserk, was employed to eerie effect for this static and unusually calming piece.

Eminent British conductor Sian Edwards (left) conducted the rest of the concert. The next work, also inspired by things Indonesian, tossed disparate sounds of oboe, bassoon, bass, harpsichord and percussion into a salad dish. Its sheer randomness was baffling, and to what objective? Composer Dieter Mack had anticipated the poser, and titled it Gado-Gado (2005). Could rojak be next?

Singaporean Yuan Peiying’s Mutability (2009, left), at 8 minutes, was the shortest piece, but one with the lushest sound. Everything changes, according to the Buddhist principle of wuchang, was her credo in a work that varied in colour, shade and metre with every passing moment. This was music on a move, and going somewhere.

American Peter Edwards (left), faculty member at the Conservatory, saw his Artifact (2010) receiving its world premiere. A most eventful work, it began with individual instrumental notes coming together as if in search of some cohering form. With a discernable rhythm established, the music traversed through multiple shifting soundscapes. Taped static and broadcast frequencies were also introduced, as the piece zipped perpetual motion to a sizzling end.

A second half was devoted to Heiner Goebbels’ Samplersuite (1994, left). A half-hour distillation of his far longer Surrogate Cities, its 10 short movements were titled like dances in a baroque partita. Strung together like a pendant, each reflected some aspect of urban-living. A synagogue cantor’s wails, strains of Scarlatti, sentimental piano musings all pointed to some historical perspective or social life of a city.

Both frenetic and phlegmatic, the work pulsed like a breathing organism, and the ensemble’s committed playing brought it rude, hale and hearty life. With the national orchestra not paying too much attention to new music, the Conservatory is now Singapore’s de facto contemporary music champions.

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