Thursday, 28 July 2011



Lee-Hendrijanto Duo Recital
4 August 2011, Thursday, 7.30pm
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tickets at $20 (free seating, $12 for students, $6 with Tote Board subsidy)

For tickets, please contact:

TCHAIKOVSKY (Arr. ECONOMOU) Nutcracker Suite

DEBUSSY Prélude l’apres midi d'un faune

ANANDA SUKARLAN The Humiliation of Drupadi

BERNSTEIN (Arr. JOHN MUSTO) Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

Original Variations & Paraphrase on 'I Got Rhythm'
(featuring guests pianists Frances Lee & Song Ziliang)

Pianomania is fortunate to have Singaporean composer-pianist Denise Lee speak with us about the début of her new piano duo, in tandem with Indonesian composer-pianist Elwin Hendrijanto.

Denise is Singaporean, while Elwin is Indonesian. How did the two of you get to meet?

We met at the Royal College of Music, London, where we were studying. In fact, we both started College as first-study pianists, but quite swiftly got increasingly involved in composition. I was working in the classical contemporary idiom, while Elwin discovered a massive talent for film composition. However we both remained committed to piano playing, and have been leading very hectic lives trying to develop both areas as much as possible.

When was the first time you discovered that the both of you could "click" as a piano duo?

This concert marks our first artistic collaboration. We had never really worked seriously together as pianists before, but had become familiar with each other's playing and musical personalities through concerts, endless discussions, and of course, through the music we write. In casual reading sessions at the piano, it didn't take too much effort to understand what the other was doing, which was encouraging! As pianists, we also much preferred performing chamber music to solo recitals. We decided it would be a nice idea to do some concerts together back home in Asia - one in each of our home countries - and thus this concert was created.

Performance on two pianos requires a great degree of give and take. How did you manage problems of coordination and balance in this special artform?

As with anything involving music, I think the golden rule is to simply use your ears, and to use them scrupulously well. Balancing sound at the piano, let alone two pianos, requires a solid understanding of the nature of the instrument, as well as the way sound itself works. I find that in this respect that being a composer is implicitly useful. Paying close attention to detail in pedalling goes a long way, as does with articulation. Coordination has not been a major issue given our general music like-mindedness, but I do find that conviction and clarity in phrasing helps the other pianist understand your musical intentions.

Your concert pieces, strongly influenced by dance and drama, is a very interesting one. How did you arrive at such a programme?

From the outset, we were adamant about not giving a concert with the standard classical repertory In Singapore. As an educator and musician, I often think people who are not yet properly initiated into the world of art music are not given sufficient opportunities to do so in a non-alienating manner. We felt it important to create a program with immediate appeal, and yet containing music of uncompromisingly high quality. We also wanted to celebrate the wide variety of colours and styles the piano is capable of articulating.

Music associated with dance and drama naturally embodies a certain directness about it, and is often evocative. Such qualities provide something tangible for the listener to enjoy, which is one thing the newcomer will find tremendously helpful, and more importantly, encouraging to them as a listener. Tchaikovsky Nutcracker is a wonderful curtain-raiser, with its attractive character pieces. The Debussy provides an opportunity to recede into a subtler, more softly-hued sound world, while Ananda Sukarlan's piece reveals yet another harmonic palette. The jazz-inclined second half explores rhythmic excitement and a harder edge, with plenty of drama and dance energy thrown in for good measure.

Tell us a little about Ananda Sukarlan's (left) new work, and the Gershwin Variations for 8 hands.

The Humiliation of Drupadi, written in 2009, is one of several ballet collaborations between Chendra Panatan and composer-pianist Ananda Sukarlan. It is based on an ancient Indian Mahabharata epic, but the harmonies are reminiscent of gamelan music, thus pointing towards the Indonesian origin of this music.

As for the Gershwin, we felt it would be a shame if a duo recital by two composers did not feature something of their own. We decided that the best way for a collaborative composition - one that allowed for individual stylistic flexibility, yet overall coherence - would be a variation form of sorts. I Got Rhythm was chosen for its simple and direct charm, and the ease with which it lends itself to elaboration and paraphrase. Gershwin's own set of variations for piano and orchestra testifies to this. For two composers working in vastly different fields - myself in concert music, and Elwin with screen composition - this proved to be a madly fascinating endeavour. Fortunately, it was also one which we both enjoyed very much. Initially, we sketched out the overall design together, agreeing on the big shapes and rough characteristics of each section. Then we wrote our individual variations, put them together, and smoothed out the bumps. The result is quite an eclectic mix, but one we hope presents a positive union of our musical personalities.

As a composer yourself, what do you seek for in writing something new based on something already quite familiar?

The advantage of using pre-existing material as base material for a composition is that it becomes a quite easily perceived reflection of the composer's unique stylistic characteristics. With something familiar - and therefore, taken for granted - one can focus on the composer's treatment of raw material. I think this can reveal really interesting insights to one's musical approach. I speak for the composer as much as the listener. This has been a fascinating exercise that has exposed certain artistic inclinations I have, the awareness of which is invaluable.

So this is going to be your official debut. What does the duo plan to do after this concert? What next?

Both of us have an interest in outreach, and would like to organise more performances with repertoire such as this. Hopefully, this will not only help develop a habit of concert-going in the younger generation, but also chip away at the perception that art music is some esoteric, impenetrable world, only available for appreciation to a select few.

We also hope to draw on our ability as composers to add an innovative and creative edge to our future performances. We also want to centre our musical partnership in our immediate region, so hopefully somewhere not too far from home!

Denise Lee was interviewed by PianoManiac.

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