SAYANG SINGAPURA! ORIGINS
Asian Contemporary Ensemble
The Chamber, The Arts House
14 November 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 November 2015 with the title "Fun way to discover Singapore".
The Asian Contemporary Ensemble, founded by Singaporean conductor-composer Wong Kah Chun, seeks to preserve Asian musical aesthetics while forging new paths in expression. Its 75-minute-long concert incorporated story-telling, dance and pantomime with eight works (including three world premieres) woven into its fabric.
Aimed at young people, the story of Indian King Rajasuran and how his grandson Sang Nila Utama discovered Temasek was directed by Peggy Ferroa, narrated by Rosemarie Somaiah, choreographed and danced by members of Paragraph. The 11 members of ACE conducted by Wong performed on stage, making for a colourful affair of sound and movement.
Phoon Yew Tien's Variations On A Transfigured Theme Rasa Sayang performed on piano by Jonathan Shin opened the concert, revealing a metamorphosis of a simple song that went through a whole panoply of tonalities and modes. John Sharpley's Glissando On The Black Keys was a pentatonic fantasy that saw Shin's instrument channelling the sound world of a Chinese guzheng.
The three world premieres began with Christopher Clarke's Teeth, a concertino for saxophone accompanied by Indian percussion inspired by the merlion's dentition. Samuel Phua's dusky tone on sax was a revelation, as was Joyce Poh's dizi in Bernard Tan's Keroncong, a cheerful dance that combined Chinese and Malay influences with the Western rondo form. Poh's arrangement of the popular Jiangnan Hao saw the familiar Chinese tune on dizi accompanied by Edward Tan's violin and Dylan Lee's cello.
The musicians then congregated around a collection of gongs and metallohones for the gamelan-inspired Suite Of The Thieving Sea by Anne Choo, with solo parts for bamboo flute and bowed rebab. This Javanese-styled music accompanied the dance of Sang Nila Utama surrending his crown to appease buffeting waves, before the premiere of Shin's Sang Nila Utama Meets The Mercat, which saw Li Lingzhi's clarinet, sax and dizi backed by tinkling toy piano.
The mercat is the official mascot of ACE, created by violinist Ayane Sato, and supposedly some descendant of the merlion, Pokemon and Hello Kitty. Even she has a theme of her own, composed by Wong, which combines a march, sea shanty and Anime music.
This final piece of merrymaking saw the appearance of the fluffy blue mascot, also named Ace, in the flesh, who went on to pose for photographs with National Arts Council CEO Kathy Lai and all the children in attendance. Needless to say, everyone present had a good laugh.
Photographs by the kind permission of Asian Contemporary Ensemble.