Monday, 23 November 2015


Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall
Saturday (21 November 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 November 2015 with the title "Lion dance score wins top prize".

Now in its third edition, the Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition is without doubt the nation's most prestigious competitive platform for new music. Hosted and organised by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the competition was made possible by a generous personal donation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself.

Thirteen works by thirteen composers vied for six prizes in this year's finals and five were performed at the concert and award presentation ceremony. Conducted by Music Director Yeh Tsung, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra proved extremely adept at learning new music and gave very convincing performances of the winning pieces.

The concert opened with young Taiwanese Liu Wei-Chih's The Calling From The Distant Hills, which was awarded the 2nd prize. Zhao Jian Hua's solo erhu ushered in a highly atmospheric piece which relied on deft use of instrumental colour to create a mysterious haze from which various voices emerged in the tradition of Hakka folk-singing. Among these were a chorus of suonas, solo cello and guanzi before reaching a serene conclusion.

Two Singaporean composers took the Nanyang idiom, central to the competition's ethos, to heart. Wong Kah Chun's Krakatoa, which won the Singaporean Composer Award, was originally scored for wind orchestra. His Chinese instrumental version was evocative of Javanese tradition with dizis simulating the suling (flute) and a flight of birds just before the volcano's famous eruption. From the ensuing violence emerged a new creation, Anak Krakatoa, represented by a more Western-styled idiom that brought to mind Richard Strauss' avatar of the Superman in Also Sprach Zarathustra

Singaporean composer Wong Kah Chun
acknowledges the applause.

Chew Jun An's Bale Bengong, winner of the Young Singaporean Composer Award, was a more static work that dealt with the generation of ideas and fantasies. Its title refers to the Balinese “pavilion for day-dreaming”, where a complex counterpoint became a hotbed for themes and motifs to arise, all accomplished while seemingly fomenting in an arak-induced stupor.    

The 3rd prize was named for Chinese composer Kong Zhixuan's Go Across The Rainforests, which was eventful in packing as possible within its brief duration. A tropical and Oriental version of Eden was conjured with all members of the dizi family engaged, before the use of Javanese scales and a graceful Indonesian dance indicated the work's specific geography. The work had a loud end which included a busily chromatic fugue for good measure.

Hong Kong-born Gordon Fung Dic-lun's Arise, Lion Of Glory! was awarded the 1st Prize of fifteen thousand dollars by an international jury comprising well-known Asian composers, conductors and academics. Its title had nothing to do with Singapore's jubilee but rather a Cantonese version of the festive lion dance. Unlike the other entrants, it was a concertante work, one which showcased SCO pipa principal Yu Jia in a stunning virtuoso role.

The pipa had both percussive and lyrical parts which underlined the rituals behind the lion dance, before breaking out in an all-out assault with drums and cymbals leading, familiar from Chinese New Year celebrations. However raucous the procession, the pipa still had the last word, finally accompanied by the gentle tinkling of Tibetan prayer bowls.

Chew Jun An gets the
Young Singaporean Composer Award.
The Singaporean Composer Award
goes to Wong Kah Chun.
Hong Kong's Gordon Fung Dic-lun
won the overall 1st Prize.

Some post concert photos:

Composers at large:
PerMagnus Lindborg, Joyce BT Koh
and Wang Chen Wei.
Composers Ho Chee Kong and Isao Matsushita
with Maestro Yeh Tsung.

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