Monday, 9 April 2012

BEYOND COLOURS / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory New Music Ensemble / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory New Music Ensemble
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (7 April 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 April 2012 with the title "Sprouting varied but polished sounds".

There has never been a better time for the performance of new music in Singapore. That is because of Esplanade’s ongoing Spectrum series and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory’s commitment to two concerts a year from its New Music Ensemble.

Further stature is gained when these concerts are conducted by bona fide gurus of contemporary music. The French conductor Diego Masson (left), a student of the great Pierre Boulez, is one of them.Under his guidance, the young Conservatory musicians performed an 80 minute programme that showed that new music was a heterogeneous and varied entity.

Student composer Xu Wei Wei’s X Virus had the honour of opening the concert, beginning with long held single notes from the double bass, and then organically building up through a growth of ideas. The idea of a virus replicating its own genetic material within a host cell leading to an implosion, represented by a violent climax, before dissipating into its original single notes is a plausible description of the music.

Three more conventional works followed. Colin Matthews Two Tributes (1999) contrasted the dynamism and movement of Little Continuum (dedicated to Elliott Carter) with the slow, troubled cortege of Elegeia, written in memory of the late cellist Christopher van Kampen. In the latter, brass dominated while the sole cellist took his symbolic leave from the ensemble. Toshio Hosokawa’s Interim (1994) was a Zen-like study in static shifts. The instrumentation of strings, harp, flute, clarinet and percussion re-created the serene sound world favoured by Toru Takemitsu, Japan’s most famous composer.

It was a welcome re-encounter with Singaporean Ho Chee Kong’s Shades of Oil Lamps, commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival in 2008 and premiered by London Sinfonietta and Masson. Over a spirited counterpoint of percussion (woodblock, gong and marimba), a Chinatown storyteller spins a tantalising yarn, regales and draws his audience in before abruptly leaving it hanging as he collects hand-outs. A marvellous piece of musical characterisation that will be often heard, one hopes.

The concert closed with Greek avant-gardist Iannis Xenakis’s Thalleïn (1984), a more than worthy bookend to mirror the opening work. Both worked on the premise of germination (Thalleïn means to “sprout” or “shoot forth”), but this one began with a loud crashing chord and expanded upon its waves of repercussions. Exuberant and wide-ranging in sound and dynamics, this was the most complex score, but one delivered with much brio and immediacy.

New music, performed with polish and professionalism, looks likely to stay.

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