Wednesday, 22 March 2023

YOUNG VIRTUOSI 2023 / Musicians Initiative / Review



Musicians Initiative

Esplanade Recital Studio

Tuesday (21 March 2023)


Ever wondered how the likes of violinist Chloe Chua or pianist Toby Tan came about? Musical child prodigies are rare miracles of nature and nurture, but given the right environment, education, guidance and encouragement, many children can aspire to great heights. It is a matter of time that their talents are revealed, and there are many more prodigies than one suspects. Chloe and Toby, winners of international music competitions, are the only the tip of a giant iceberg.


It repays to discover how big this talent pool is, and this special concert for young soloists presented by Musicians Initiative (now in its second edition), was a big step in the right direction. Six string players played concerto movements and showpieces with the string ensemble from Musicians Initiative led by conductor Edward Tan, better-known as the concertmaster of re:Sound and first violinist of Concordia Quartet.


The 80-minute concert opened with Timothy Chua (12 years old) performing the first movement from Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major. A picture of confidence, his healthy and robust tone served the music well, including a technically demanding cadenza by Steven Isserlis. Despite a short segment of desynchronisation between soloist and orchestra, he shrugged it off without batting an eyelid and continued to complete his task at hand. Composure is not something easily acquired or grasped, but he has it in shovels.


Despite 10-year-old Korean boy YooJun Curtis Lee being the tiniest of the six, he exhibited the heart of a lion. So natural he was in the first movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3 in G major (K.216) that it seemed as normal as breathing. Totally unfazed by the double stopping in the cadenza that might have unnerved older players, his reading was one of total control and confidence.


Alyssa Anne Low (11) was perhaps over-ambitious to have chosen Sarasate’s very tricky Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), but she launched into it with steely determination. She produced a voluminous tone but had intonation issues in the most technically demanding parts. While the slow movement sang prettily, the romping finale came across as a little messy. With the passage of time and more practice, she will certainly grow into this showpiece.   


The surname Qin is almost synonymous with the cello in Singapore, Australia and China, so it was not a total surprise to see Jayden Qin (11) appear in the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major. His was a very nuanced and thoughtful reading, displaying good tone and an understated kind of virtuosity. He is certainly a chip off the old block (and apologies for calling Li-Wei an old block!).


Yuto Lim, despite being just 11, already appears like a seasoned veteran. In Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, he started playing as if a member of the orchestra, and his solo that emerged from the throng was distinguished by clarity of articulation and tone. His was a no-holds-barred reading, unafraid to let rip in the fiery outer movements yet maintaining a reassuring warmth and glow at its core. He might just be the one to emulate the world-beating feats of Chloe Chua.


Jacob Cheng (14) was the most mature of the six talents, and his view of Ravel’s gypsy rhapsody Tzigane had the requisite virtuosity demanded from an adult performer. His opening unaccompanied solo was spell-binding and the ensuing ride being a thrilling show of swaggering pyrotechnics. Most alertly accompanied by the orchestra, as with the other works, this brought the concert to a stunning close.  


All six young virtuosi returned to perform an encore: the first movement of Vivaldi’s popular Concerto in B minor for four violins. This was an absolute blast, simply because each player had already completed their individual projects and was now enjoying the company of the others. The audience was just as enchanted, erupting with a big communal cheer, the best encouragement the soloists could possibly get. It was the best way of saying,“We want to hear you play again!” 

10TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT / More Than Music & Friends / Review


More Than Music & Friends

Esplanade Recital Studio

Sunday (19 March 2023)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 March 2023


About ten years ago, a violin and piano duo called More Than Music was formed by two young alumni of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, with their first concert presented by Kris Foundation. It was the intention of violinist Loh Jun Hong and pianist Abigail Sin to present classical music as accessible and unstuffy, yet without needing to dumb down.


Their unqualified success led to concerts involving more members of the musical community, including violinists, violists, cellists, and the odd guitarist and trumpeter. During the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020, they invited fellow musicians to present all ten of Beethoven’s violin sonatas in a series of digital concerts. 

More Than Music’s tenth anniversary concert featured some more musical partners, but it was Loh and Sin who opened with Brahms’ Scherzo in C minor. Part of the four-movement F-A-E Sonata crafted by three composers for the violinist Joseph Joachim, its recurrent motif of three short stabs and one long note was reminiscent of Beethoven’s famous Fate theme.


Its sheer insistence, placated by a swooning lyrical melody, provided cuts and thrusts of this short impactful movement. Both players were in one mind throughout, bonded by a chemistry developed over the past decade, making for an impressive opening.  


Ironically, that would be the duo’s last outing for the evening, with Sin joined by fellow Conservatory colleague Albert Tiu in Rachmaninov’s Second Suite for two pianos (Op.17). Its inclusion also marked the 150th birth and 80th death anniversaries of the popular Russian composer. The first movement’s Alla Marcia, with quick successions of chords could have made for heavy weather, but their response was both crisp and devastatingly accurate.


Split-second razor reflexes ruled in the mercurial Waltz, dispatched with almost nonchalant ease, while the Romance simply oozed sensuality from every pore. The finale’s swirling Tarantella could have been even more scintillating had they gone absolutely for broke. Cooler heads prevailed, but the outcome was still a satisfying one.


As the pianists retired, Loh was joined by violinist Yang Shuxiang, violists Zhang Manchin and Wang Dandan, and cellists Ng Pei-Sian and Jamshid Saydikarimov (the latter four all Singapore Symphony musicians) for Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D minor (Op.70), also known as Souvenir De Florence.


This has to be the usually-morose Russian composer’s most cheerful and uplifting work, the music filled with Mediterranean sunshine and high spirits. From the outset, all six players bathed the hall with a warm sonorous glow, with each and every part distinctly discerned. Passion was in full flow for the fast outer movements, balanced by playing of true finesse in the slower second movement.


Here, pizzicato strings laid the way for a love-in between Loh’s violin and Ng’s cello, their parts so closely intertwined as to delight the inner voyeur of every music-lover. Most of all, it was the unbridled joy of music-making exhibited between friends which was the essence and lifeblood of chamber music. May we have many more years of More Than Music.  


An impressive wall of posters
from past concerts 2013-2023.

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

FRIENDSHIP / Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra / Review


Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall

Saturday (18 March 2023)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 March 2023 with the title "Friendship, camaraderie at Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra's 20th anniversary show".


This concert marked the 20th anniversary of the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra (SNYCO) as a ensemble assembled under the auspices of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Its 80-minute programme, featuring five works performed without an interval, was a showcase of how far the group has progressed.


Music Director Quek Ling Kiong, who had been at the helm since inception, was his usual bubbly best, not just as a podium maestro but also cheerleader. Friendship and camaraderie was the concert’s overall theme, also the subject of Liu Xing’s Bian Ba, named after the composer’s close Tibetan friend and colleague. The music was more reflective than exuberant, with solo and grouped erhus (Bian’s own instrument) in lyrical repose before rising to a crescendo, reflecting the blossoming of a friendship.


Its restrained and congenial tones could not have been more contrasted with Wang Danhong’s Strings On Yangko Dance, inspired by rural celebrations in Northern China on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. This raucous commemoration of the equivalent of our Chap Goh Meh was characterised by the virile play of strings and incessant percussion. Standing tall amid the throng were solo and grouped suonas, resonating like the earthy voices of humanity, providing an orgiastic  climax before dissipating to nothingness.  


Liu Wenjin’s orchestral fantasy on Molihua (Jasmine) was more traditional, with cellos and basses opening the work and various orchestral groups taking on the popular melody. First it was the dizis, then huqins and later pipas, building up to a drum roll and somewhat overblown apotheosis. When you have a memorable tune, milking it to the max seemed to be the message.   


Far more exotic was Xu Jingxin and Chen Dawei’s Fei Tian (Flying Apsaras), inspired by murals in the famous Mogao caves of Dunhuang. Beginning with an air of mystery, the piercing high pitch of the whistle (from a dizi player) was particularly haunting. Its Central Asian feel was heightened with yangqin, guzheng and percussion (wood blocks, cymbals and xylophone) as the dance wound to a high before returning to an idyll of serene whistling.


Law Wai Lun’s tone poem Prince Sang Nila Utama and Singa provided the evening’s only example of Nanyang music, works with distinct Southeast Asia influences and inspiration. The score was a curious blend of impressionistic colour reminiscent of Ravel and Debussy and use of Indonesian scales, giving it a very local flavour. Dizi, suona and guan were used to ear-catching effect, and a stentorian melody at its close represented the prince’s encounter with the lion and the ensuing historical myth-making.  


That made for a suitably rowdy close, and with the slightest bit of prompting, the orchestra launched into its encore, Kuan Nai-chung’s Da Gui (Vanquishing Demons) from A Trip To Lhasa, an ear-worm of a piece if any. Cheered on by an audience filled to the rafters, one foresees in these talented young musicians a very bright future ahead for Chinese instrumental music in Singapore.


Here is a piano recital not to be missed! 

Scottish super-virtuoso KENNETH HAMILTON returns to perform a recital of piano works you will be unlikely to encounter outside of usual concert venues. A specialist of Romantic piano music by Liszt, Alkan, Busoni and Ronald Stevenson, Hamilton will present the Singapore premiere of Busoni's transcription of Franz Liszt's monumental organ work Fantasy and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, alongside Brahms' highly demanding Variations on a Theme by Handel and shorter works.




BACH-BUSONI Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ

CHOPIN Nocturne in B flat minor

BRAHMS Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel

CHOPIN Nocturne in G minor

LISZT-BUSONI Fantasy and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Esplanade Recital Studio, 7.30 pm

Tickets from $14 available at:

Romantic Fantasies and Fugues - A Piano Recital by Kenneth Hamilton - Esplanade



Every once in a while, I get invited to attend finals and prize-giving ceremonies of music festivals and competitions. These are usually long-drawn and boring affairs with multitudes of well-groomed children dressed in their nines collecting awards and photo opportunities that will proudly adorn show cabinets at home. However, the event may be graced by musical luminaries and talented young musicians who actually perform, and a worthwhile concert situation arises.

That was the case of Music Singapore's annual International Piano & Violin Competition gala, held on Sunday 19 March 2023, which had some truly substantial musical offerings. When often does one get to listen to Singapore's premier string quartet, Singapore's brightest piano talent and Thailand's finest pianist in one sitting? Here it was, and here are the photos!

T'ang Quartet was invited to perform
the first two movements of Ravel's String Quartet.

This young lady performed something
virtuosic by Isaak Berkovich.

This young man performed Chopin's Waltz in A minor, 
and he also won a top prize for the violin.

This young man made light work of
a Scarlatti Sonata in G major.
Lim Yan, Director of the Singapore International
Piano Festival, was a jury member and was on hand
to give away some prizes.

Toby Tan, fresh from winning 1st prize
at the Aarhus International Piano Competition
performed Liszt's La Campanella.

A confident showing with the finale of
Korngold's Violin Concerto.

The highest violin category winner played
Amy Beach's Romance.

Celebrated Thai pianst Poom Prommachart
was invited from Kuala Lumpur to grace the event.

Poom Prommachart performed
Medtner's Sonata Tragica with stunning aplomb.

All the prize winners with jury members
and the competition founder Vivien Gao.