Monday, 19 July 2021

OUR TRIBUTES TO ADRIAN TAN (1977-2021)




TRIBUTES TO ADRIAN TAN (1977-2021)

 

The Singapore musical community was shocked and saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of Adrian Tan on 12 July 2021, at a tragically young age of 44. He was the Music Director of the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO), Singapore’s only community orchestra, and is widely considered the “conductor of the people”.

 

Through his tireless hard work and missionary zeal, thousands got to enjoy and appreciate classical music at the grassroots level. His concerts involved amateur musicians, included instrumental players and singers, young and upcoming soloists, and he programmed popular works which would have been many people’s first exposure to classical music. Among these were concerts of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, Handel’s Messiah and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which featured hundreds of singers who would have otherwise never encountered these masterpieces.

 

Many of these concerts were free events, held in venues as large and prestigious as Esplanade Concert Hall, and were often filled to the rafters. He was a champion of Singaporean composers, an often neglected group of artists, and premiered many local works with the BHSO and Singapore Wind Symphony.

 

He was well-loved by the many musicians, composers and colleagues who had worked with him, and below is a sample of tributes so generously offered by them. He will be sadly missed but fondly remembered.

 

Adrian & Albert Tiu taking bows
after the Brahms and Liszt concertos.

 

ALBERT TIU, Concert pianist

 

The music scene in Singapore just lost a most vibrant participant and a tireless advocate in Adrian Tan, who reached out to so many in his abruptly ended lifetime. Given his insatiable curiosity and affable character, he should have led a long life of fulfilling all the projects on his wish list. Adrian always had this bright spark and smile that made interacting with him so enjoyable.

 

We worked together on four piano concertos altogether, because he had the eager curiosity of a student to explore repertoire which was new to him. We did the Rachmaninov Second Concerto in 2014, the Brahms First in 2016 (which was later conducted by Apo Hsu), and then the Liszt and Brahms Second Concertos in 2019. In that last concert, he was most intrigued by my proposal to put together two composers who were at opposite ends of an artistic Cold War in the late 19th century. I am now working on a solo arrangement of the slow movement of the Brahms Second as a tribute to Adrian’s legacy. May he rest in peace. 

Video of Albert Tiu's arrangement of the slow movement from Brahms' Second Piano Concerto can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv2OhNG--EU

 

Adrian Tan conducted the World Premiere
of Bernard Tan's Cello Concerto in 2014.

 

BERNARD TAN, Composer &

Singapore Symphony Orchestra Founding Director

 

It is an irony that Adrian Tan never fully knew how highly the Singapore musical community valued and appreciated his multi-faceted contributions to the cause of music here. Perhaps less well-known to the public at large than some of his conducting contemporaries, Adrian was a driver of many musical projects in Singapore. He made significant contributions to both orchestral and band music, and was Music Director of the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO) and Singapore Wind Symphony.

 

In particular, he took the BHSO well beyond its traditional role as a community orchestra, energising it to a highly commendable standard and promoting his musical objectives through its concerts. One of these objectives was his tireless championing of Singaporean music and composers, who will certainly miss his unstinting support for their cause.

 

I was most fortunate to have him agree to the BHSO performing the premiere of my ‘Cello Concerto in 2014. Adrian and the BHSO magnificently accompanied Noella Yan’s impassioned and riveting performance. I could not have asked for a better premiere!

 

Adrian was a generous and serious collaborator, as many who have worked with him can confirm. His musical energy knew no bounds, moving effortlessly across the boundaries of classical, jazz, ethnic and pop music. He infused all he did with a broad-minded and knowledgeable eclecticism which respected all musical genres.

 

Adrian will be very much missed and could have contributed so much more to Singapore music. But what he already achieved will certainly have a lasting impact, and will serve as an inspiration for others who will take up his many worthy musical causes. We need more like him to selflessly move our musical scene to greater heights.

 

Rest in peace Adrian, and thank you for doing so much for Singapore music in your all too brief time with us!

 

A meal in Saigon, Adrian Tan with cellist Noella Yan
and violinist Yew Shan, after a performance of
Brahms' Double Concerto in 2007.

 

NOELLA YAN, Cellist based in Melbourne

 

I was on a walk with my two-month-old baby when I received the message Tuesday morning. No, I thought. This can’t be. How could this be the same Adrian? He's far too young to be gone.

 

Adrian and I first met in 2007 when he invited me to perform with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi. Over our first meal, I noticed how much Adrian enjoyed talking. A lot. In the early days of our friendship, I remember feeling exhausted and sometimes annoyed keeping up with these wild conversations and crazy ideas of his. Adrian always had a way of looking at life. He was calm when necessary and full of energy at other times. He was bright, ambitious, authentic and fiercely determined. He was unapologetically himself, honest and blunt. He was also a visionary; he dreamed big, worked hard and pursued these dreams with immense boldness. He could be initially misread as obnoxious, but once you got to know Adrian personally, you could see how big and sincere his heart was.

 

Around 2011, my father Yan Yin Wing, who helmed Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, was planning to step down, which meant looking for a successor. My father’s vision for BHSO had always been ‘Music for the community by the community.’ I remember vaguely connecting the two of them, and the rest was history. Under Adrian's leadership, BHSO grew to new heights. He knew how to connect people and more importantly, he connected humanity through music. He took the elitism out of classical concerts and made it accessible to the masses. The numerous Esplanade projects he led were a clear reflection of this. I distinctly remember being moved to tears singing in one concert and feeling immense gratitude that I could share in that incredible moment. He always looked to grow, to better himself as a person and a professional. He fought incredibly hard for the local music scene and devoted himself to building others up and finding opportunities to empower others. I was one of them.


Rehearsing Bernard Tan's Cello Concerto
with the BHSO

 

Adrian was pivotal in my return to the stage after a short hiatus spent caring for my boys. I had settled into being a mother and gotten rather blasé about playing. I distinctly remember his constant nudging during the few years leading up to 2014, which somewhat fell on my deaf ears. He then decided to nudge harder. Late 2013, Professor Bernard Tan and I received an email from him, out of the blue. In the e-mail, he asked Prof. Tan when this new cello concerto would be composed, to which the reply was, ‘By December.’ And just like that, he had succeeded in getting me to practise again! I will not forget how he had put me on the spot. April 2014 was the world premiere of Bernard Tan’s Cello Concerto and I will always remember how special it was to share the stage with a dear friend once again. I have not looked back since and for this , I have him to thank. His beautiful spirit and spark will live on.


Adrian with Noella's two sons in Melbourne.

 

As they say, ‘People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.’ Adrian had a larger-than-life personality and we never imagined how our time with him would be this brief, but it has no doubt impacted us all, reached us all. May his life be a celebration of who he was and a sharing of our happy memories of him. Adrian, may you rest in the peace and quiet delight of Bach's last words, "Don't cry for me, for I go where music is born." Go well, my friend.

 

A review of Noella and Adrian’s performance of the Bernard Tan Cello Concerto with BHSO can be found here: pianomania: COMING HOME / Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra / Review (pianofortephilia.blogspot.com) 

 


 

ROBERT CASTEELS, Composer & Conductor

 

Generous, innovative and confident is how I would define Adrian’s Tan’s complex personality.

 

In 1999 at National University of Singapore Winds which I conducted, Adrian played the saxophone, contributed as an executive committee member and later became my assistant. He was one who burst with energy, asked multiple practical and philosophical questions. Years later, he embraced the reality of conducting and created two ensembles. His musical intentions were confident. I merely advised him to acquire a conducting technique if he wanted to progress. He thus abandoned the security of a full time navy career to study conducting in Sydney.

 

A focused, driven and confident Adrian returned and became the artistic leader of three estabished Singaporean orchestras. Adrian presented well. He spoke well. He knew how to connect with the audience. His innovative programming really supported our local composers. Adrian was generous with his time and ideas. He created a new concert-ticketing agency and a union to represent and support Singaporean musicians. Adrian’s energy was infectious. He was a people connector. Adrian’s geographic area of activities expanded to the whole region.

 

Adrian, the number of musicians who attended your wake attests to the mark you leave in the music community. Adrian, you will be missed. Adrian, rest in peace in the eternal joy of music.

 

After a performance of Sibelius' Violin Concerto
with Chan Yoong Han and BHSO.
 

CHAN YOONG HAN, Concert violinist &

Fixed Chair, Singapore Symphony Orchestra

 

It’s been a very sad week indeed for all of us, but and very touching to see all the tributes made to Adrian. This is a true testament to how much he has impacted the lives of so many in our musical community.

 

Maybe pictures speak louder than words in the following photos contributed by Yoong Han:

 

A photoshoot at the “sand dunes” of Lorong Halus, part of the marketing of Fiddlers’ Feud, featuring Yoong Han and Jin Li in a duo recital. That 2007 concert was presented by the Chamber Music Society of Singapore, set up by Adrian and modelled after the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre.

 


 

A group photo of the Bridges Collective, a chamber group based in Melbourne, which presented two concerts in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, featuring works of John Sharpley (seated far left), Bernard Tan, Mohamad Rasull and several Australian composers.

 

 

JOHN SHARPLEY, Composer

 

Adrian Tan, a friend and colleague remembered

 

Adrian Tan was a visionary! His tireless dedication to the development and flourishing of new music in Singapore was extraordinary, exemplary and inspiring. I would count him as one of the most engaging and informed musicians that I have had the pleasure to know. He was also a good friend. Adrian saw possibility where most would see nothing or even impossibility. His projects were often daring, ambitious and successful. As both a conductor and educator, Adrian possessed the ability to bring out the best in others. His musical approach was always towards simplicity, creativity, clarity, confidence and intelligence.

 

Our first major collaboration was a commission by Adrian and the Singapore Wind Symphony to compose a work based on the Malay folk song, Geylang Sipaku Geylang. It premiered in 2013 at Esplanade Concert Hall. Another collaboration was a commission from Bridges Collective, a music ensemble based in Melbourne, with Adrian conducting. Singapore Dreams, was premiered at Federation Square in Melbourne and later toured in Singapore and Malaysia. The latest collaboration was with Adrian conducting the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of my oratorio, A Moment of Rest Upon the Wind, based on Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. The performance took place at SOTA Concert Hall. We also served together in various committees, panels and seminars over the past decade. Even up to his untimely demise, Adrian and I were formulating some new projects together. Each collaboration with Adrian was joyful, meaningful and enriching. His enthusiasm and integrity never waned.

 

The following quote is from the last lines of The Prophet which are also near the end of my oratorio. During the collaborative process, Adrian and I had a number of impassioned philosophical discussions about the profoundly spiritual texts. In this particular moment of Gibran’s narrative, Almustafa, a man of great wisdom and vision, is dying. He speaks his last words: “People of Orphelese, the wind bids me leave you. Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.

 

Adrian Tan’s meteoric fire burned brightly albeit too briefly. May he long be remembered and the seeds of such a remarkable tenacious plant be scattered!

 


 

AZARIAH TAN, Concert pianist

 

Adrian was a wonderful human being and artist, and I had the privilege of working with him in a soulful Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto in a 2010 concert. I still vividly remember the moments we had at rehearsals, eating together in the coffee shop, or walking down the streets. The conversations we had revealed a deep passion and personal interest he had in fellow artists. And I will never forget that experience of a lifetime performing the concerto with him. He was inspiring both on and off stage, but more importantly, he was a down-to-earth and humane person. Although the world has lost a wonderful soul, his legacy will continue to live in the the hearts of those whose lives he touched. 

 


 

HO CHEE KONG, Composer &

Vice-Dean of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

 

Adrian had been very supportive of local music and composers since we first met in 2000, while he was still an officer in the Republic of Singapore Navy. At that time, I was teaching at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (National University of Singapore), and together with fellow music-lovers Ng Tian Hui and Chia Han-Leon, we discussed about setting up a local society for composers. He was the most enthusiastic amongst us to draft the initial constitution for the society, which later evolved to suit the needs of composers as more joined the society. It was a tremendous step forward to bring a collective recognition of contemporary art music works by local composers and those based in Singapore.

In the earlier years, four of us were involved in hosting the Singapore-Japan Composers exchange concerts in 2005 and 2006, presentations made to the Asian Composers League (ACL) since 2003 to showcase works and developments in the contemporary art music scene in Singapore, and the eventual establishment of the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) in 2007, that was registered with Registry of Societies. Adrian became a CSS executive committee member and contributed to welcoming composers to be part of the society.

While pursuing his conducting studies, he continued to help CSS in many ways, including when we hosted the 31st ACL Conference and Festival in Singapore (2013), which was a landmark event showcasing local composers and musicians that resounded beyond Asia. Those of us who e-mailed Adrian know he used avnger as his email id. That id says a lot about Adrian the person, his strong convictions and passion for life. May he find more adventures beyond.


Now a familiar pose: Adrian Tan addressing the
audience at a Braddell Heights Symphony concert.


And finally, an entry by yours truly:

My first encounter with Adrian, while writing as a music reviewer for The Straits Times, was not so positive. In a 2005 concert when he conducted his New Festival Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Piano Concertos, I had written of a young conductor, “whose bio suggests he has had more theatre than experience, the ensemble bared coped...” and an Intermezzo which was, “ponderous and ragged, where a better orchestra and less pedantic conductor would have made a difference.” Ouch.

Little had I known that was Adrian’s conducting debut. Years later, I apologised for my scathing words, and his response was one of utter humility. “You were right!” he said. His totally positive and “can do” attitude made me eat my words. He quit his navy career, pursued formal conducting studies and became one of Singapore’s most active and popular conductors.

His work with the Braddell Heights Symphony and proselytising of classical music in general has made a real difference. In his concerts, he often served as master of ceremony, explaining each work performed to the audience as he would a friend, using plain and colloquial English without going into technical jargon, nor ever dumbing down. His approach was always fuss-free, fresh and friendly, making the experience of classical music as easy as possible.

His unwavering support of young musical talents, local composers and compositions have greatly encouraged many artists that their efforts were really worth the while. Singapore’s musical scene has indeed become better all round.  He will be missed, but the shining example of his love and passion for music will live on.  

Thursday, 15 July 2021

RESONANCES: RESILIENCE & LOTUS FUGUE / Bellepoque / Review


RESONANCES:

RESILIENCE & LOTUS FUGUE

Bellepoque

Esplanade Recital Studio

Saturday (10 July 2021)


An edited version of this review was published by The Straits Times on 14 July 2021 with the title "Seeking beauty in a time of ugliness". 

 

The Covid pandemic has inspired musical endeavours, not least the Compassion series of chamber concerts at this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts. Resonances, a double bill by local musical theatre company Bellepoque, seemed like a logical extension but turned out radically different in its execution.

 

Rather than a concert proper of listed set pieces, the audience was treated to two separate and seemingly unconnected works of performance art. Multi-disciplinary in nature by combining music, movement, spoken word and film, the synergism derived in both formed an aesthetically pleasing whole.



 

The first part, Resilience, was a 20-minute long composition by Robert Casteels, who true to form defied conventions of concert music. If it is unclassifiable, it is likely to be by Casteels, who was himself part of a trio of live musicians. Operating on electronics and pre-recorded material, he was partnered by pianist Bertram Wee and violinist Kailin Yong who improvised for most part by not having any scores at hand.



Bellepoque founder-director Sabrina Zuber provided the element of dance movement, but eclipsing her in the memory were the lighting design by Yeo Hon Beng and stunning filmography of Tejas Ewing and Deepesh Vasudev. Theirs was a kaleidoscopic treatment of subjects including filmed musicians, nature and cityscapes, an allegory of healing and rejuvenation. This idea was further emphasised by the music centred on and firmly closing in the reaffirming key of E major.

 

If Resilience was virile and masculine in feel, the second part Lotus Fugue was to be its feminine counterpart. At almost double its length, excerpts from letters and lecture scripts of legendary local artist Georgette Chen were neatly wrapped up as a story engagingly told by veteran writer-playwright-actress Verena Tay.



 

The accompanying music was more traditional, with sung melodies by Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy (pre-recorded by Zuber, now doubling as soprano), piano solos of Erik Satie, Debussy and improvisations by pianist Tabitha Gan. These better reflected the impressionist lotus paintings of Chen, which merged Western techniques with Eastern sensibilities.



 

The more substantial dance segment was helmed by Mohd Sharul Muhd, exhibiting a rare grace and athleticism in a white frock. His moves were sometimes mirrored by the ubiquitous Zuber, who flitted on and off the floor in a subsidiary role. The accompanying visuals were again en point, but it was Chen’s own words that literally rang with the most resonance.



 

At a time when people question the role and value of artists in society, Chen provided the answers. Why do we do it? Art is “a labour of love,” she countered, and that alone was the “eternal driving force”. As a parting short, she also added, “When a lotus blooms, its beauty drives out all ugliness in the world.” It may be surmised that all the artists involved in Resonances strived for beauty in a time of ugliness.  

Final curtain call.
Photo by PianoManiac

 
All photos by Xavier Keutch Photography 
(unless otherwise stated).

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

STRINGS OF ELEGANCE II / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review




STRINGS OF ELEGANCE II

Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall

Tuesday (22 June 2021)


An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 30 June 2021 with the title "Night of versatile music-making".

 

As the nation gingerly eases out of heightened alert circuit breaker measures, live concerts are understandably thin on the ground. This concert, part of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s Music Tuesdays chamber series, was attended by an audience of fifty, but it would have been much more under normal circumstances.



 

The pairing of Li Yulong and Mu Ruixue was the star of the evening, exhibiting enormous range in their erhus and other members of huqin bowed string family. The hour-long concert opened with Liu Tianhua’s Liang Xiao (Nocturnal Peace), a work of exquisite beauty where both players alternated between melody, accompaniment and providing counterpoint. This kind of intimacy goes to the heart of traditional Chinese music.  



 

In Liu Mingyuan’s Crescent Moon Before Dawn, Li played the gaoyin banhu. Its higher range,  robust and penetrating sonority were well suited for portraying a maiden pining for her loved one by the glow of moonlight. In the same composer’s A Tune From Henan, based on Henan Quju opera, Mu’s sensuous erhu assumed the many varied inflections of the singing voice. Both works were partnered by Qu Jianqing on yangqin, a role that transcended mere accompaniment.   



 

For Yi Jianquan’s Birds Returning To The Woods, the ensemble expanded to six members, including yangqin, xiao (played by Phang Thean Siong), zhongruan (Cheng Tzu-Ting) and cello (Huang Ting-Yu). Mu now performed the yehu, a fiddle fashioned from a coconut shell, which produced a deeper and mellower sound, not unlike the viola. This lively Cantonese work depicted a flock of birds nesting at sunset, with exuberant mimicry of birdsong from yehu and xiao.



 

Few instruments can match the erhu for displaying heartwrenching emotion, as amply demonstrated by Li in the Dongbei folksong Jiang He Shui (River Of Sorrow). In this well-known melody, a woman seeks her warrior husband by the riverside, only to be met by torrents of tears. By the sense of desolation evoked in the music and the playing, there could only be one conclusion: death.



 

The concert closed on a far happier note, capped by the sheer versatility of the erhu and its exponents. Zhang Che’s famous Taiwanese song Maiden Of Alishan simply rocked in Gao Jia’s jazzy arrangement accompanied by Hu Chung-Chin on piano, one so idiomatic and dynamic that the late Russian jazzman Nikolai Kapustin would have approved. Following that, Vittorio Monti’s riproaring Czardas, a popular tribute to Hungarian gypsy fiddling, sounded almost staid by comparison.



 

The enthusiasm engendered led to an entertaining post-concert show and tell session, where requests were made and short excerpts played to all around approval. Never underestimate the size of an audience, especially when the music-making is this good.

 


This was my 2400th article for The Straits Times, a record that stretches all the way back to 1997.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

OMM RESTARTS! / FRENCH IMPRESSIONS / Review




OMM RESTARTS!

FRENCH IMPRESSIONS

Esplanade Concert Hall

Recorded in January 2021

YouTube: https://youtu.be/1cPx8g16Mic 

 

Orchestral concerts are not back to what it was pre-Covid, and no thanks to the recent heightened measures taken in May-June, further concerts had to be cancelled. Online concerts have become a new normal, and no less than the Singapore Symphony Orchestra has relied on this platform to share its art. The Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) has done the same, employing the same recording specialists (msm-productions and Dancing Legs Productions) to do its bidding, and the results have been just as spectacular.

 

Viewing this latest concert video of mostly-French music (https://youtu.be/1cPx8g16Mic), and one will be challenged to decide which is the national orchestra and which is the independent youth orchestra formed by students, free-lancers, working non-musical professionals, and a handful of SSO players. Even the OMM’s programming has been one of sophistication, combining popular with less heralded works, as well as commissioning young local composers for orchestral transcriptions.



 

Conducted by Seow Yibin, the concert began with Debussy’s Reverie (originally a piano work) orchestrated by Lee Jinjun, who also played the trumpet in this concert (but not in this piece). This made for a calm and atmospheric prelude, with Vincent Goh’s solo clarinet providing the opening melody before the theme being passed around. Ethereal strings (with occasional use of harmonics) and the ever-evocative harp lent the performance an other-wordly feel it deserved.     


Lee Jinjun playing the trumpet in Ravel


 

The four orchestrated movements of Ravel’s piano suite La Tombeau de Couperin (excepting the Fugue and Toccata) followed, opening with a flowing Prélude which saw solo woodwinds negotiating multiple tricky turns with great aplomb. This was pretty much a woodwind masterclass, continuing into the bouncily syncopated Forlane, and the Menuet where solo oboist Tay Kai Tze  had the choicest of plum parts. His excellence also shone through in the slow central section of the rollicking Rigaudon, which closed the suite on a high.



 

Prokofiev’s only Flute Sonata, orchestrated by Jonathan Shin, has become Prokofiev’s Flute Concerto, now receiving its world premiere. This has the same music as the Russian’s Second Violin Sonata, which had been for reconfigured for David Oistrakh from its flute origins. One wonders why it did not become a third violin concerto as well. At any rate, Shin’s is a totally idiomatic and faithful transcription, one which gave soloist Cheryl Lim full rein to express her virtuosity.

 

Hers has never been one of outward flashiness, instead she is completely assured and totally musical. Her tone is gorgeous and limpid, well suited for the work’s broad vistas of sheer lyricism in the opening and Andante third movements. Even in the thorniest passages of the Scherzo, she remained unfazed, leaping over hurdles and through hoops with seeming comfort and ease. For the  jocular finale, the was overarching spirit was one of unremitting joy, bringing to a close a performance of utmost satisfaction. When can we get to hear the violin version of this concerto, from the likes of Alan Choo or Yang Shuxiang?     



 

Francis Poulenc’s four-movement Sinfonietta (1947) is too modestly titled. Running over 30 minutes, it is actually a fully fledged symphony, longer than all of Mozart’s symphonies and at least three Beethoven symphonies. It is scandalously neglected and I do not remember the SSO ever programming it, so kudos to OMM for possibly giving its Singapore premiere.

 

It contains all of the Frenchman’s grace, charm, sumptuous melodies and good humour, and the same uplifting spirit as his better-known ballet Les Biches (1924). Poulenc was no modernist, but one will detect influences of Stravinsky from his neo-classical phase, the infectiously chugging rhythms of the fast outer movements and svelte strings (think Apollon Musagetes) of the slow third movement.

 

While one might marvel at the typically comedic high jinks regularly offered up, it was the slower lingering passages, such as midway in the first movement and finale, which showed the ensemble at its subtle and sublime best. This was a very fine performance with much to be proud of, distinguished by very confident woodwind and brass playing and a general cohesiveness from conductor Seow’s firm yet flexible control from start to finish. It was so good I had to rewatch the whole Sinfonietta and pinch myself about the quality of the music and its playing. Perhaps OMM might also want to look at Prokofiev’s Sinfonietta as well.  



 

Highly pleasurable concerts such as this should be enjoyed by a full-house Esplanade Concert Hall, and one simply cannot wait for audiences to return. It is a big hope, but that is what will buoy us through these troubled times.

 

Watch it here:

https://youtu.be/1cPx8g16Mic

and its free of charge, 

thanks to the National Arts Council.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

COMPASSION: Online Chamber Concerts / Singapore International Festival of Arts / Review



SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL 

FESTIVAL OF ARTS 2021

COMPASSION Chamber Concerts

Online videos-on-demand on SISTIC Live

 

BE COMFORTED NOW: BACH CANTATAS

Red Dot Baroque

 

BEFORE LIFE AND AFTER

Felicia Teo Kaixin, Jonathan Charles Tay 

& Jonathan Shin

 

ECHOES OF FIRE AND WATER

Ensemble Aequilibrium

 

HEALING RHAPSODY

Ding Yi Music Company


An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 16 June 2021 with the title "Emotional healing through music".

 

The heightened measures of the present circuit breaker could not have come at a worse time for the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). Limited audiences were further restricted to 50 persons per event, and live shows of the Compassion series of chamber concerts involving singers and wind players had to be cancelled. These were, however, recorded and made available for viewing on demand, a reminder that art and artists provide solace and comfort, and will ultimately survive adversity.



 

Red Dot Baroque, Singapore’s only dedicated professional baroque ensemble, presented three sacred cantatas of J.S.Bach which explored the pain of human suffering and healing through faith in God. Sung in German, Bach’s Lutheran perspectives still ring true in modern times.

 

The world-weariness in Ich Habe Genug (I Have Enough, BWV.82) was poignantly portrayed by soprano Joyce Lee Tung while bass-baritone John Lee manly broached the subject of sacrifice in Ich Will Den Kreuzstab Gerne Tragen (I Shall Gladly Bear The Cross, BWV.56). Both singers were united for Ach Gott Wie Manches Herzeleid (Oh God How Much Heartache, BWV.58), which closed the concert with a spirit of blessed optimism.



 

Art songs of three 20th century composers, Frenchmen Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc, and Briton Benjamin Britten were the subject of Before Life And After. Tenor Jonathan Charles Tay ran the full gamut of emotions in Britten’s Winter Words, eight settings of Thomas Hardy poems, encompassing pastoral innocence and seasonal bleakness. Its culmination was the titular final song, which pondered what came before “a time there was... when none suffered sickness, love or loss”.

 

The French songs from soprano Felicia Teo Kaixin were more lyrical but no less gripping, such as Ravel’s melismatic Kaddish (a Hebrew song of mourning) and Poulenc’s deceptively congenial Poems of Louis Aragon, with words by a famed Surrealist and Communist. In between groups of songs, pianist Jonathan Shin performed movements from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, each dedicated to a friend killed in the First World War.   



 

Newly-formed new music group Ensemble Aequilibrium’s eclectic programme of 20th and 21st century works had one thing in common: uneasy calm that comes before impending doom and the aftermath that follows. Japanese icon Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Spell and Singaporean Young Artist Award Recipient Chen Zhangyi’s Walks On Water set the tone, with the fluid realm providing more than a modicum of sustenance and comfort. The atmosphere conjured was haunting and dissonances paradoxically soothing, especially with the use of flute, harp and piano. 

 

This continued into Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s Cendres (Ashes), a diametrically opposed scenario of consumption by fire. Volume and tempo were upped but stopped short of outright violence, as if stilled by the warmth of embers. The main work was American avant-gardeist George Crumb’s Eleven Echoes of Autumn, which employed only four instruments: piano (with “string piano” techniques), viola, flute and clarinet. This apparent economy however translated to a myriad of tonal effects, its very short connected movements suggesting that “less is more”.



 

Healing Rhapsody was the offering of Ding Yi Music Company, conducted by Quek Ling Kiong, in response to civilisation’s perpetual cycles of crisis and rehabilitation over the ages. Joyce Koh’s stark but dynamic Isskimmer was a reflection of natural beauty as viewed in ice formations. In Benjamin Lim Yi’s Memory, liuqin, cello and sheng starred as concertante instruments, with its rich melodic content signifying nostalgia and yearning.    

 

Buddhist precepts dominated the rest of the programme, with Chow Jun Yi’s serene and lushly-scored Zen Thoughts a meditation on impermanence, the current strife being just a passing phase. Luo Mai Shuo’s specially-commissioned Compassion, which lent its title to the entire chamber series, received its world premiere. Sounds of nature were recreated in its quiet introduction, the music then blossoming into a hope that humanity aspires to kindness and ultimately love. Finally, the vigourous chant-like closing pages of Wan Yun Fei’s Bodhi, the embodiment of enlightenment, provided an upbeat end to a concert that promised healing, and delivered.