Tuesday, 28 August 2012


Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (26 August 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 August 2012 with the title "High scores for Singapore sounds".

It would be no understatement to assert that the Singapore’s cultural milieu is not conducive for the creation of new music. For example, the national orchestra has not commissioned a significant symphonic work from a local composer since 2004. Singapore’s latest opera Fences by John Sharpley and Robert Yeo received neither funding nor support from the National Arts Council. Composers persevere nonetheless, and it is the dedication of small groups of musicians and zealots that ensure that their music gets heard.

Chamber.Sounds is one such group, and its call for scores in 2011 saw the fruits come to bear in this varied and interesting hour-long concert. Five young composers were represented, beginning with Jeremiah Li’s Flourishes, three short movements for flute, clarinet, cello and piano.

Jeremiah Li's Flourishes

Described as “broad brush strokes”, various aspects of instrumental colour were explored. Bass clarinet and later piccolo solos opened the atonal first movement. The insides of the piano were plucked in the second movement, where the alto flute’s shakuhachi-like passages lent an Asian feel to the proceedings, while vigorous piano and cello ostinatos led the final movement.

Bertram Wee's Blurebird

Bertram Wee’s Bluebird, inspired by Charles Bukowski, was a duo for Kevin Seah’s flute and Chan Si Han’s cello, both locked in alternating intimacy and mortal combat. Flutter-tonguing on the flute produced a typically eerie and visceral sound, which contrasted with the cello’s more sustained lines. 

Derek Lim's In Darkness, Light Shines

In Darkness, Light Shines is the middle movement of a piano trio by Derek Lim. This is a journey from despair to hope, underpinned by a throbbing pulse from Wong Yun Qi’s piano, which at times resembled that of a tango. Beginning in low registers, the music traversed through a series of emotional ups and downs before arriving at a reassuring resolution in A major. Now this listener is moved and curious to hear the other movements.

Tan Mei Ling's Paradigm of a Magician
In this flute-dominated weekend, flautist Seah was called upon as the protagonist in Tan Mei Ling’s Paradigm of a Magician, a three-movement quintet (with clarinet, violin, viola and cello) inspired by a children’s picture book project. His flight of fantasy in the unaccompanied first movement met its match in Daniel Yiau’s clarinet in the slow and calming second movement Encounter. More lovely sounds returned in the finale which saw the magical flute having the last words.

Emily Koh's Freyja

The most adventurous work was Emily Koh’s Freyja for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, which portrayed the changing seasonal foliage of New England. Autumn was vigourous and sprightly, giving way to the static austerity of winter before the augurs of spring brought a return to life. The astonishingly vibrant score saw the liberal use of microtones, with instruments sliding and segueing into pitches that lie between the notes. The seemingly off-pitched stances provided an unnerving and unsettling feel, which is probably the message of the piece – everything is impermanent.     
Chamber.Sounds has become the de facto New Music Forum of old. May its laudable endeavours continue to bring out the best of new Singaporean music.

Chamber.Sounds in Concert 2012
Performers were (from L) Jeremiah Li (conductor), Chan Si Han (cello), Ng Wei Ping (violin),  Kelvin Seah (flute), Wong Yun Qi (piano), Daniel Yiau (clarinet), and Jaryl Luo (viola).

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