Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A TRIBUTE TO SINGAPORE / Association of Composers (Singapore) / Review

Association of Composers (Singapore)
Lee Foundation Theatre
Sunday (12 July 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 July 2015 with the title "Diverse influences at Singapore tribute concert".

If a Martian happened to arrive here in time for this concert, the extra-terrestrial would be hard-pressed to place Singapore on the globe. Presented by the Association of Composers (Singapore) and lasting nearly three hours, the programme featured 14 works by 13 locally-based ethnic Chinese composers, the majority of whom are members of the pioneer generation.

Eclecticism triumphed over uniformity, but judging by the concert's first part with the Braddell Heights Chinese Orchestra conducted by Lin Ah Leck, Singapore's geographical location would be somewhere in the Middle Kingdom. The first work My Beloved Country, Singapore jointly composed by Sin Kwek Toong and Lin was all about nostalgia, from wistful dizi solos, bookending a faster central section made busier with a percussive beat.

The melodies and idioms were predominantly Chinese, as with Lin's Praise For My Homeland, which had festive gestures from woodwinds and suona that either evoked Chingay or some Socialist workers' parade. Liu Bin's Moonlight On My Hometown did attempt infusing Nanyang themes into this rhapsody-concerto that showcased the nimble skills of excellent dizi soloist Len Ming Hui, but one was also reminded of the Silk Road.

There was a segment that featured chamber works by Xiao Chunyuan (violin & piano), Chew Chin Sik (solo harmonica), Wu Qiren and Toh Heng Guan (erhu & piano). Wu's Long For My Country had an Oriental erhu part from Han Yong May accompanied by incongruously Western harmonies from pianist Wang Shu Yang. This dichotomy was most probably an expression of homesickness and yearning.

Toh's Erhu Concerto in Zhi Mode went for modernity with emphasis on dissonance and virtuosity. The first two movements played by Wong Qin Kai (erhu) and Tan Yu Mu (piano) provided a dazzling display including the former's bow accidentally striking a microphone with a violent thud. A complete performance of this daring showpiece with orchestra will be most welcome.

The concert's second half was performed by the Association of Composers Symphony Orchestra also led by Lin. Lee Yuk Chuan's Singapore Fantasy, Lian Sek Lin's A Garden City and Ng Eng Thong's Dance In Harmony, were for strings only. These drew inspirations from string works by Elgar and Britten, but one wished for more rehearsal time, as the string players struggled with tricky rhythms and myriad intricacies.

A full orchestra featured in the second movement of Yan Ying Wing's First Symphony, entitled Harmony, which quoted the Chinese song Orchid. Tang Yuen Wai's Oh, My Dearest Mom was a set of variations on the very popular Hong Kong song, with Cheng Jang Ming's harmonica solo pretty much stealing the show.

Tan Chan Boon's SG50 – Celebration Of A Rising Sun was premiered just a week ago by alumni of the Singapore Youth Orchestra conducted by Vivien Goh. Based on a rising 4-note motif first heard on the French horn, his style is Central European which meant a development of the motif to a big climax, culminating with the obligatory fugue before closing with an emphatic orchestral bang.

The final work was Lin's Singapore River, which combined both Chinese and Western instruments to seamless effect. Its scenario was a grandfather walking hand-in-hand with his grandson while regaling him with tales of Singapore's inexorable development. The main theme was the carillons of Victoria Memorial Hall's clock tower, which could plausibly place the work in London's Westminster by the Thames. However the harmonic and instrumental language used and its self-effacingly quiet ending made it undeniably Singaporean.     

All the performers and composers gather
to take a group photograph, clan association style.

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