Sunday 6 September 2009

KLAVIESTA! SMU Piano Festival / The Tri-University Concert: B / Review

Tri-University Concert: B
Singapore Management University Arts Centre
Friday (4 September 2009)

Klaviesta! is the first piano festival to be organised by a local university. Held over five days at the Singapore Management University (SMU) campus, the event featured informal student performances, a masterclass and two full-length concerts. The first of these concerts was also a first-ever collaboration between the piano ensembles of three universities: SMU, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The title B reflected the names of composers played at the concert, including Bach, Baksa, Barber, Bartok, Beethoven, Bennett, Bolcom, Brahms, Bruch and Busser. Almost all of the works were for two pianos, and kudos go to the students and tutors for unearthing a broad spectrum of repertoire.
Two pianos at SMU's Arts & Cultural Centre.
To be certain, none of these students are full-time music undergraduates, and they could certainly be forgiven for not replicating the standards attained by their Yong Siew Toh Conservatory counterparts. Safety first seemed to be the watchword, as most of the performances strived to get the notes in first, before even attempting any sort of spontaneity or risk-taking that would have taken the music to another plane. This resulted in politically correct and middle-of-the-road readings, entertaining enough but nothing to raise eyebrows.

For example, when Richard Rodney Bennett marked his final piece from his Divertimento as Tempo di Hard Rock, he did not mean it to be polite or limp-wristed. Similarly, the sexiness and sensuality in William Bolcom’s Paseo from Recuerdos were lost in a virginal and over-clipped performance. There were two solo performances, both from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, including an impromptu from a SMU law professor. It should be said that the NTU student could have learnt a lot from this lecturer.

There were, of course, a few exceptions. If this were a competition, here would be the placings:

Joint Third: Robert Baksa’s Hudson Festival Overture performed by Sherilyn Lim and Kelvin Koh (NUS). There was a Mendelssohnian lightness to this eclectic piece, which received a quite fluid reading. Five of Brahms’ Waltzes Op.39 performed by Mark Sim and Sooty Heng (NUS). A messy reading for sure, but it had lots of spark. The duo was obviously attempting an interpretation, not merely a run through.

Second: The finale of Bartok’s Suite Op.4b, performed by Maryanne Chua and Clarensia Lim (SMU). This well-matched duo created a dark, mysterious sound, assisted by deft pedalling and a fairly good grasp of its complicated polyphony.

First: Max Bruch’s Fantasie Op.11, from Goh Hui Min & Liu Shunhong (SMU, above). By far the most difficult piece on the programme, played by undoubtedly the best duo of the evening. They mastered all three parts of this work with aplomb, finishing off with a joyous fugue that almost brought down the house. From what I’ve learnt, both are accountancy students, but they are certainly not number-crunchers.

SMU and its piano ensemble Ivory Keys should be commended for this encouraging maiden voyage of a piano festival, which will be a veritable showcase of young non-professional musical talent for years to come. They obviously have the keys to the city, and long may this initiative thrive.

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