Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Curtains Up! A Folksong Fantasy / Asian Contemporary Ensemble / Review




CURTAIN’S UP! A FOLKSONG FANTASY / Asian Contemporary Ensemble

University Cultural Centre Dance Studio / Sunday (27 March 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 March 2011 with the title "Fantastic new sounds for folksongs".

Should anybody be afraid of 21st century music? That question was posed by the newly-formed Asian Contemporary Ensemble making its debut at the National University of Singapore’s Arts Festival. Led by energetic composer-conductor Wong Kah Chun, its first concert premiered works by five young Asean composers, each given the task to write a piece inspired by folk music from their homeland.



Rasa Sayang provided the impetus for Malaysian Chow Jun Yan’s work, which began with seemingly random string scrapings, interjected by woodwind blasts. While Jason Cruz’s percussion improvisations were the most arresting feature, there was still no hint of the Malay folksong as the work ended some eight minutes later.


As one checked the title Metamorphosis – Where Is Rasa Sayang?, it all became clear. That was a rhetorical question, as the composer had converted melody into numbers, which dictated the sequence of notes to be performed. The song was merely a ruse.


Less abstract was Thai Pantawit Kiangsiri’s Illusion which mixed fragments of a lovesick prince’s lament Lao Duang Dern with recordings of Bangkok street sounds. Discernable themes were heard on cello, violin and viola, while the rhythmic percussion beat and recorded traditional instruments conjured an evocative aural snapshot of a bygone time.

Conductor Wong interviews Imson & Cruz.


From Philippines came Danny Imson’s Pangatuog, which employed a Southern tribal mother’s lullaby, juxtaposed with poet Ed Cruz’s recitation in Tagalog. Piquant chimes from the piano and kulintang (slung gongs) made for a soothing serenade, resonating deeply with the words that exhorted “Everybody needs to rest sometime”.




Indonesian Matius Shanboone’s Suara Demi Suara… had the most dramatic impact, largely due to Khairul Shahrin’s choreography for three dancers (above), which captivated with its fluid movements, subtle eroticism and pugilistic athleticism. So effective was the vigorous ballet that it almost overshadowed the music itself.





A Singaporean effort closed the concert with Syafiqah Adha’s treatment of Semogia Bahagia (Zubir Said’s Children’s Day anthem, his second most famous song after Majulah Singapura) called Of Home And Happiness. The least radical of five works, its deconstruction of melody and visual representation of key words through children’s art from Clementi Primary School provided an overpowering sense of nostalgia and harmony.

The composers and performers of the Asian Contemporary Ensemble are encouraged to continue exploring, and reach out with their unique and inimitable voices.

Four of the composers with Wong Kah Chun.

(From L: a dancer, Chow, Wong, Syafiqah, Shanboone & Imson)

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