Sunday 10 December 2023

THE BARDS OF NEVERLAND / Debut at Pasir Panjang Power Station


Bards of Neverland

Pasir Panjang Power Station

Friday (8 December 2023)

There is a new string quartet in town, and it's called Bards of Neverland. Formed by violinists David Loke and Yang Shuxiang, violist Martin Peh and cellist Cho Hang Oh, it gave its debut at the unexpected venue and post-industrial wasteland that is the disused and repurposed Pasir Panjang Power Station. There is a grunge factor associated with this deserted place, which suited the Bards' programme to a tee.

Rushing from Victoria Concert Hall after witnessing the echt-Viennese Rudolf Buchbinder performing Beethoven's piano concertos, this was somewhat a shock to the senses. I missed the opening work, Alfred Schnittke's Canon in Memory of Igor Stravinsky, and ran smack into the second movement of Mendelssohn's String Quartet No.6 in F minor (Op.80). 

Was this really Mendelssohn? It sounded like late Beethoven, so dark and intense, with none of that Victorian prissiness the German was so fond of. Composed in 1847 as a homage to his recently deceased sister Fanny, Mendelssohn was to pour his heart out into something that was not superficial or glitzy. That this work was to heard by an audience lounging with their glasses of wine and prosecco in an industrial setting bathed in changing colour illuminations was somewhat surreal, and why not?

The applause on the conclusion of that most serious work was seriously good. The ultimate irony was that Mendelssohn would also be dead a couple of months later, struck down by the very affliction that killed Fanny. 

What followed was a sequence of minimalist-New Age-pop inflected works for "easy listening", which for the record included Max Richter's On the Nature of Daylight, Freddy Pucha's Variacion Andina and David Loke's own The Edge & Lost Touch. Nothing atonal, nothing too serious and but seems like lots of fun to play and an equal quantum to enjoy.

The hour passed all too quickly, and the immediate impulse was to declare that another Bards concert is imperative and hopefully sometime soon! Many of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory faithful were present, as were others escaping Beethoven, and I chanced to meet Leslie and Lionel Tan, founding members of the T'ang Quartet. 

Remarking to them that the Bards were like a new T'ang Quartet, with the anarchic spirit of the "bad boys of classical music" from the 1990s reborn. Their response was, "They are already better than us when we started.", and that spoke volumes. The late Bohemian violist Jiri Heger, whose spirit remains with all who care deeply for music in Singapore, would have heartily approved. 

One downside about Pasir Panjang Power Station as a concert venue: the parking is an extortionate $8 per entry. My response was: You must be f***ing kidding me. I drove the car out and parked on the roadside and then walked into the abyss. At 9.45 pm, I did not get a parking ticket. Those buzzards need their sleep too.

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