Tuesday, 3 May 2011

TURN! TURN! TURN! / re:mix / re:view

TURN! TURN! TURN!... / re:mix / FOO SAY MING, Violin
Esplanade Concert Hall / Sunday (1 May 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 May 2011 with the title "Great synergy for all seasons".

About ten years ago, violinist Foo Say Ming performed Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons Of Buenos Aires with The Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, which caused a minor sensation.

This year, Foo and his crack string ensemble re:mix have taken a further step by commissioning four new seasons by Singaporean composers. Played without a break over 90 minutes, the twelve seasons drew from the strengths of each work, resounding with a synergy that was both unusual and refreshing.

First, the traditional sequence of Spring to Winter was disposed of. The concert instead began with Piazzolla’s Autumn, where Kenneth Lee’s cello immediately perked up the ears, singing with an immediacy that was a perfect foil to Foo’s solo fireworks. The first Singapore season was Denise Lee’s Barely Restrained, a kinetically charged toccata that never let up on its energy for a second.

Its buzzing minimalist shifts generated an uneasy tension, suitably echoed by the pelting rainstorm of Vivaldi’s Summer, where violinist and ensemble were buoyant, responsive to each other and breathing as one through its course. Vivaldi’s vigorous Autumn and Piazzolla’s warmly shaded Summer then gave way to two successive local seasons.

Before one jests about overcast and cloudy skies, Chen Zhangyi Ariadne’s Lament – Love and Derek Lim’s Weep could have been two chapters from the same meteorological guide. Chen’s serene, sustained strings with Janice Tsai’s lovely viola solo came as an all-too-brief interlude before Lim’s ashen and lachrymose elegy, like petals and leaves falling off colourful garden blooms in time-lapse photography as the sky gradually darkens.

Denise Lee, Chen Zhangyi, Derek Lim & Kelly Tang (L to R)

Before long, one reached the final trilogy, opening with Kelly Tang’s brightly celebratory Spring!, with lively quasi-Chinese themes and a fugal culmination for good measure. Drawing from twin cultures, his string writing may be cheekily described as Vaughan Williams goes to Shanghai.

Shane Thio’s harpsichord improvisation then linked Piazzolla’s Spring with Vivaldi’s familiar La Primavera, but performed in reverse order, beginning with the third movement and closing with the rousing opening. Was there some method to this apparent madness? Clues may be drawn from the arty programme booklet, which cited Pete Seeger’s 1959 song Turn! Turn! Turn! and the biblical book of Ecclesiastes.

After all, there is a time to break the rules, and a time to be different.

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