Concerts devoted wholly to Singaporean composers are very rare. What more one that features only string quartet music? That is the gauntlet thrown down by local composer-impresario JUN ZUBILLAGA-POW, who curates Music Space 2011, a platform for Singaporean music centred around the Substation. The Singaporean String Quartet promises to be a most interesting and intriguing event, taking place on Friday 2 September 2011, 8 pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Seven composers are represented, including Zubillaga-Pow who has kindly granted this interview with Pianomania. For the record, the works performed are:

The Singaporean String Quartet

Friday 2 September 2011, 8pm

Esplanade Recital Studio

Artsylum Quartet and Oxley Quartet with

Sanche Jagatheesan, Jun Zubillaga-Pow and Daniel Chiang

LEE YUK CHUAN Lingzhi Capriccio (1973)

KELLY TANG String Quartet (1990)

PHOON YEW TIEN String Quartet (1980)

JUN ZUBILLAGA-POW Weird Witches (2011)

JEREMIAH LI KAI HAN Three Korean Scenes (2006)

BENJAMIN LIM YI Porcelain Harlequin / Through the Glass / Threshold (2007-10)

LEONG YOON PIN – Largo and Vivace (1982)

The Singaporean String Quartet sounds like a most interesting concert. Are there actually that many string quartets written by Singaporean composers?

Yes. The genre of the string quartet is in fact a very versatile vehicle for composers to display both their dexterity and craftsmanship in handling a traditional art form. Most of the composers after the first Viennese school, that is from Brahms to Birtwistle, have written at least one string quartet in their careers. The string quartet is almost always the first entry point, not only for the composer to attain a level of artistic maturity, but also for the audiences to grasp the aesthetic style of the composer. Indeed, I can hereby say there are as many Singaporean string quartets as there are established Singaporean composers amongst us today. It is unfortunate we were unable to perform all the pieces.

Leong Yoon Pin, Phoon Yew Tien & Kelly Tang

Tell us about the Singaporean composers whose string quartets are being played at the concert.

There is a distinct criterion in my programming of composers from the English-educated and the Chinese-educated domains of Singaporean society across three generations, with composers born from the 1930s to the 1980s. If one were to compare the works of Lee Yuk Chuan and Leong Yoon Pin, one can hear the clear Eastern-Western divide in their compositional treatment, as is the case between the creative aesthetics of Phoon Yew Tien and his counterpart Kelly Tang. These are composers born before the self-governance of Singapore and thereby had aligned themselves with a certain musical tradition.

On the other hand, the music of Jeremiah Li, Benjamin Lim and myself can be considered as representations of the citizen-composer's interaction with the travel, filmic and electronic aspects of contemporary cultural life in the age of globalisation. I am sure listeners will be able to detect the stylistic shifts from one piece to the next, as well as how the structure of the two-movement form in Leong and Phoon gradually gives way to the more tentative ternary divisions of the younger Lim and Li. These observations are symbolic of the changing character traits of Singaporeans over the past 50 years, of which composers are but one of the many constituents.

Jun Zubillaga-Pow, Jeremiah Li Kai Han, Benjamin Lim Yi

Why have these works not been heard - until now?

Actually, most of the quartet works in the programme have been premiered in Singapore, but were spread across a spectrum of time and space. Some were performed only once in college recitals or as an accompaniment to staged or filmic productions. This concert is special in the sense that it is both a revival of local music and also presents a historical trajectory of how the string quartet has evolved in the hands of Singaporeans: from generic to programmatic to electronic.

Given the many concerts and hectic business of the general public, I'm not surprise these wonderful works have not been played or heard enough. Yet, there remain factors such as unwilling performers and insufficient funding. We are hereby grateful that the National Arts Council and the Zubillaga family from Argentina is able to sponsor this performance.

All of us know the T'ang Quartet, but who are the Artsylum and Oxley Quartets (below)?

The members of the Artsylum Quartet are Ng Wei Ping, Chia Jit Min, Christoven Tan and Elizabeth Tan, while the Oxley Quartet is made up of Seah Huan Yuh, Lu-Min Chew, Matthias Oestringer and Peter Alsop. They are possibly the most diverse string players one can find living in Singapore. They are also well-trained in performing chamber and contemporary music.

Are you seeing a wider appreciation of Singaporean music over the years, and how can we help more local composers to be heard?

I think 'appreciation' is not the right imperative at this point in time. There continues to be a lack of knowledge and exposure of good Singaporean music. I find it odd that even with the increase in the number of Singaporean performers and performances locally and overseas, Singaporean music has hitherto failed to garner popularity both on concert platforms and public broadcasts.

This criticism does not pertain to classical music per se, but there lies some serious soul-searching within the 2.1 million Singaporeans who had voted in May and August this year. Kudos to S. Rajaratnam and Ong Teng Cheong whose visions had allowed Singaporean music to be heard. Vote wiser next time, AND COME TO THE CONCERT!

ONE GREAT SYMPHONY / Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Concert / Review


Goh Soon Tioe Centenary

SCO Conference Hall

Tuesday (30 August 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 September with the title "Tribute to a Singapore legend".

It is easy to forget our history amidst the rapid pace of life in Singapore. Whenever we enjoy the sumptuous string sound of the Singapore Symphony and local youth orchestras, it would be apt to remember the pioneering work of Goh Soon Tioe (1911-1982). He was the foremost violin teacher from the 1940s through 70s, besides multitasking as performer, conductor, luthier and impresario.

His students represent a Who’s Who of Singapore music, including Choo Hoey, Lee Pan Hon, Seow Yit Kin, Lynnette Seah, Kam Kee Yong and Lim Soon Lee amongst many others. They in turn mentored the movers and shakers of music today, but how many people younger than middle-age remember his name?

Goh Soon Tioe and some of his illustrious students: (Clockwise) Goh, Choo Hoey, Kam Kee Yong, Seow Yit Kin, Lynette Lim, Lim Soon Lee, Lynnette Seah & Vivien Goh

This concert, uniting alumni from the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra, was a timely celebration of his centenary. The centrepiece of the evening was a 40-minute film by Cheng Lai Yee documenting Goh’s life as a starving student in pre-War Europe to his legacy as master pedagogue. One is challenged not to be touched by his passion and dedication to his students, several of whom were reduced to tears in their interviews.

As for the performances, how would the arch-perfectionist and strict disciplinarian in Goh have responded when Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor grounded to a halt in the slow movement? Perhaps with words of comfort and encouragement, as the ensemble of mostly amateur musicians picked itself up to complete the piece, and went on to play works by Dell’Abaco, Mozart and Vaughan Williams with conviction and without further hitches.

There was an air of informality, like family birthday gatherings, with Goh’s second daughter Vivien Goh directing the proceedings with much congeniality. His eldest daughter, flaming redhead Sylvia Goh-Luse, was an equally proud stalwart in the cellos, also providing a steadying influence.

The future of Singapore music: Seah Huan Yuh, Jonathan Ong, Yang Shuxiang & Beatrice Lin (From L to R)

The other performances came from one of Goh’s youngest students Lynette Lim, now a successful teacher herself, and her students. Lim and Seah Huan Yuh mastered the tricky cross-rhythms of Martinu’s Sonatine, also blending amiably with Jonathan Ong in three light pieces by Shostakovich, both accompanied by pianist Beatrice Lin.

The most stunning performance came from another Lim student Yang Shuxiang, whose command of Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs was hair-raising. These young talents are the bright future of Singapore music, a future made possible by the vision of Goh Soon Tioe.


"I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes"
-Oprah Winfrey

Lets talk shoes, My obsession! I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as too many shoes. No way, right? With fall right around the corner I am on the hunt for some good fall shoes! You can never go wrong with boots in the fall- stylish and warm. I have a pair of Steve madden brown leather boots and a pair of cowgirl boots that are my immediate fall go-to's. I get made fun of my almost everyone but I also swear by my brown Dansko's. I am in education and being on your feet all day you need some comfy shoes! I guess clogs aren't the most stylish but they sure are comfy! I want to spice things up this year with something new for these fall days/nights! These are some of my favorites I have been eyeing!

Farmar from Aldo                    Howett from Aldo

Akoupe from Aldo                      Natural Burlap Toms

Michael Kors Carla                     Tory Burch Ballerina Flat

Okay- I swear I didn't try to pick out shoes all in a camel color. I didn't even notice until just now.. whoops! I obviously need to branch out! It is my FAVORITE color right now for handbags and shoes. Maybe I will do this post over on a later date with all colorful shoes. What shoes do you have your eyes set on?

Last night I went to my friend Sarah's apartment where she made homemade chicken casserole and squash fresh from her grandmothers garden. Yum! She is becoming quite the little cook and it is A-okay with me! Class started back today as most of the damage has been cleared away. I am kind of glad- I'm ready for a more structured day. Too much free time is not always good! Today will be long with class all day and then babysitting tonight but when I get home I have my big, little and grandlittle coming over for a family taco dinner night! Yay! I have spent so much time with all of these girls lately however we haven't all four been together in a while. This is long overdue!

Thinking about Dad

My dad and mom got a divorce when I was three years old. I saw my dad on weekends until I was about 12 years old. I don't remember when my parents were married. I just remember going to Dad's house and spending the night. He would take us skating or to eat somewhere. I remember eating so much that I threw up in my sleep. We didn't have much food at my mother's house. She was on welfare and got food stamps. We shopped at the local thrift store. In the summer we would go to Clarksville, Tennessee to visit relatives. I was always fighting with my cousin Ken. He was the same age as me.

My dad never hugged me. He never said one kind word to me that I believed. He would pay for stuff and help my mother hold on to the house but he never showed any affection for me. He had a hard time understanding me. I read alot and he just didn't understand why I read so many books.I got into the Bible and he didn't understand that either. He didn't try to understand me. Alot went unsaid between us for a long time. I didn't understand why we were living in poverty and he was buying and selling houses. I felt like a burden to him and what money he gave us he made sure we felt guilty for receiving it.

When I went to jail for burning my apartment in a suicide attempt I called him. He said I was a special person. I didn't believe him. I was so depressed. I was sure that I was going to do prison time but that didn't happen. I got two years probation with the case to be dismissed after two years. I had to file bankruptsy to avoid a law suit from the apartment complex's insurance company. My dad paid for the attourney and gave me a place to live for two years. I felt like he thought I was a disappointment. I dropped out of college and had to go on medication for bipolar disorder. I never felt his approval of my life. Even when I moved out of the house he let me live in rent free he never told me he was proud of me.

When the basement of the house where I was living in flooded he got mad at me because I forgot where the shut off valve to the pipes was. He had to buy a sump pump and pump out the water. He was livid. I was spacey from all the medication I was taking. He said something very hurtful . He said I had book learning but no common sense. Those words really hurt me and I never forgot them.

When my dad was dying of cancer I just told him I loved him. I didn't try to get him to apologize for that comment. I thought it was irrevelant. Watching him weaken and die filled me with compassion for him. He really felt guilty for my brother's suicide in prison. I don't know the details but he felt responsible some how. When he died I mourned the relationship we could have had together. I was hurt that he couldn't communicate his love for me and my siblings.

He died in 1994 and I am still feeling the sting of his words. He never believed in me or understood me. He never tried to understand me. He never tried to show his love for me. I think that's why I became religious. I wanted love from a heavenly father. I wanted to feel like I mattered to someone. I joined a cult because they love bombed me and made me feel wanted and loved. If my dad had tried a little harder to let me know he loved me I wouldn't have fallen for such a monumental waste of my time.

I finally realize that I can't keep blaming my dad for his inadequacies. He was unable to communicate for whatever reason. His indifference really hurt me but I can't change the past. I need to see that he did love me and that he was unable to show it most of the time. I wish I would have made him say he loved me. I wish I could have had more time to explain myself. Why I was a Christian , why I read so many books. I wish we could have reached a mutual understanding. He didn't understand my illness and the way it was affecting me. He didn't understand why I would forget something like where a shut off valve would be. What hurts is that he didn't try understand me or my illness. He never asked questions. I couldn't get him to talk to me. It was hard. I should have tried harder but I didn't realize that I was running out of time.

I've carried around in my heart alot of anger and hurt towards my dad. I need to let it go and realize that my dad's inability to love me wasn't my fault. I have to realize that he just couldn't communicate the way I wanted him to. I need to accept the relationship we did have and leave it at that. It's hard to do but I need to let go of all this anger and hurt. My dad worked hard at things but relationships he couldn't handle very well. Maybe he had a rough childhood and had a hard time in Korea and Vietnam. It's hard to tell. I just want to make sure that I am not like my dad and communicate to those I love.

Moving Day: Oh, the madness!!

Above: A Moving Day calamity in 1831!

I'm moving into a new apartment starting tomorrow morning, and the whole process should take a few days. But on a brighter note, tomorrow will be my first day as a resident of Brooklyn! As a result the blog will be a little quiet until Friday afternoon, when I'll have some notes on this week's podcast, corrections and additions, and some recommendations of other books to read.

Historically, of course, May 1st has been considered Moving Day in New York City and was a sort of unofficial holiday, the day when leases uniformly began throughout the city. Thousands of people filled the streets with their possessions, causing what must have been the year's most unusual traffic jams: horsecarts, pushcarts and wheelbarrows, loaded with furniture.

The tradition has been traced all the way back to the city's Dutch days.

In 1832, the mother of Anthony Trollope wrote, "On the 1st of May the city of New York has the appearance of sending off a population flying from the plague, or of a town which had surrendered on condition of carrying away all their goods and chattels. Rich furniture and ragged furniture, carts, wagons, and drays, ropes, canvas, and straw, packers, porters, and draymen, white, yellow, and black, occupy the streets from east to west, from north to south, on this day."

No less than frontiersman Davey Crocket was flummoxed by the strange event.: "Broadway, it seemed to me that the city was flying before some awful calamity..... It seemed a kind of frolic, as if they were changing houses just for fun. Every street was crowded with carts, drays, and people. So the world goes. It would take a good deal to get me out of my log-house; but here, I understand, many persons ‘move’ every year."

You can read more about this curious custom of early New York here. And I'll be back to post in Friday if I haven't lost my mind!

Here I am, Rock you like a hurricane

I'm still aliveeee, haha. I know I have been MIA for way too long and I'm sorry! There have been so many things going on in my life that I don't even know where to start. For starters, I survived Hurricane Irene. My town however.. not so much. Things got bad early Saturday morning and we immediately lost power. A group of us got together and planned to spend the whole weekend together since we knew we would probably be stuck in one place. I guess we picked the wrong house however because a tree FELL ON THE house while we were there. Talk about scary! We were actually looking out the window when it happened so that was quite the shocker. Where Irene finally left, she left the whole town flooded, without power and with tree's down everywhere. Class has been canceled the past two days but I think we will be back in action tomorrow! Here are some pictures from the house and around town.

Major Flooding.. see the car?!

my backyard

the tree that fell on our house!

backyard again

ZTA driveway

Okay, sorry for the picture OVERLOAD! I'm sure it's not even that interesting but that is what has consumed my life for the past few days! We have made the most of it however because...
which means hurricane parties everyyy night. We might as well make the best of a bad situation right?! Well since this post is getting crazy long because of my picture overload I will go ahead and end it. Did anyone else get affected by Irene?!

Welcome to 1864! A 24-karat gold hoax, New York's first theme restaurant, and a Confederate plot to torch the city

Barnum's American Museum at left (the building with the flag) and the Astor House at right, from the vantage of City Hall Park, circa 1850. Both buildings were victims of the Confederate plot of 1864 to burn the city.

PODCAST We're officially subtitling this 'Strange Tales of 1864', presenting you with a series of odd, fascinating stories from one pivotal year in New York City history. With the city both fatigued by the length of the Civil War and energized by Union victories, New Yorkers were often at their best -- and their worst.

The city unites around an unusual parade -- the first regiment of African-American troops -- even as it elects a pacifist mayor sympathetic to the Southern cause. A grand and flamboyant fair, uniting the community, offers up a surprising New York tradition -- the theme restaurant. Meanwhile, a local newspaper editor devises an elaborate hoax to get rich quick off the gold market.

But with the November re-election of Abraham Lincoln also comes a deadly threat -- a Confederate conspiracy aimed at New York's luxury hotels. Tune in as we recount the botched plot to destroy New York in an conflagration of 'Greek fire'.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Hoaxes and Conspiracies of 1864

The Knickerbocker Kitchen, a featured restaurant at New York's Metropolitan Fair. Women dressed in traditional Dutch and Colonial garb and served items believed to be popular with the residents of old New Amsterdam. [NYPL]

Pavilions were specially constructed around Union Square for the Metropolitan Fair, which raised money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

The 'Indian Department' at the Metropolitan Fair. [Library of Congress]

A nighttime 'torchlight' rally for presidential candidate George McClellan, the clear choice for New Yorkers in 1864. For a Democratic stronghold like New York, the former general was an especially appealing alternative to Abraham Lincoln. [NYPL]

A scene from the New York Gold Room, epicenter of American gold speculation. During the Civil War, traders would buy and sell based upon Union victories and defeats. The trade was also susceptible to false information, such as the events of the Gold Hoax of 1864. (NYPL)

Robert Cobb Kennedy, the only one of the Confederate conspirators to be caught. He was executed at Fort Lafayette in 1865, a couple weeks before the end of the Civil War.

Some Words with Singaporean Cellist LOKE HOE KIT

Singaporean cellist LOKE HOE KIT will be giving a recital on Thursday 1 September at the Esplanade Recital Studio, in conjunction with the launch of his newly-released CD recording featuring works for two cellos. Entitled A Double Life, he plays both cello parts for this his debut recording. Pianomania is privileged to have a few words with arguably Singapore's most colourful cellist.

Congratulations! You might be the first Singaporean cellist to produce his own recording on CD. Could you tell us more about this recording? Thank you!

This is my debut solo album, and one that I've self-produced. What spurred me to do it was the prospect of attempting something that I couldn't do in a live performance. The concept of partnering oneself in playing duets has always intrigued me; how I'd unilaterally blend two persons' parts to create a perfect union. More than just creating a novelty, it's a whole new artistic pursuit of creating a work of art possible only through recording technology. Admittedly, overdubbing per se isn't uncommon these days, but such is rarely attempted for 'serious' classical music, and I was game for the seldom-tackled artistic challenges that came along with creating a classical recording of this nature. With the audacious nature of this project, it seemed natural that I had to produce the album myself. You could call it a labour of love.

My friend Nicholas Loh was the very first pianist to accompany me since I started playing the cello. It's been decade since, so it's also a pleasure to be collaborating with him for my debut album.

Artists like Jascha Heifetz and Glenn Gould have done it before, by recording both parts of the score and playing them together for the recording. Could you elaborate on the overdubbing process and some of the problems you faced?

In preparation, I focused on the cello part that I would finally play with Nicholas in the recording studio, which would form the 'template' for the overdubs. In order to chart out a coherent interpretation, we obviously had to rehearse both the cello parts separately to get familiar with them, while constantly imagining the missing cello part each time to prepare room for it. All these called for a lot of 'pre-emptive' measures and actions. Conversely, the overdubbing was more simple and straightforward, so long as the template I had molded with Nicholas was sound. Obviously we did not record to a click track, although it was used for some practical exceptions, such as cueing in the beginning of a movement where all the parts launched in together.

The 1946 recording of Jascha Heifetz overdubbing himself in Bach's Concerto for two violins which you were referring to was in fact my inspiration, which initiated the whole idea. It also offered me the much needed 'immunity' for such an atypical classical recording. Honestly, even if I had thought of the idea myself, but none of these legends have attempted it, I probably wouldn't have dared to carry it out!

You are playing on one of Nathaniel Rosen's cellos, which you now own. It must be a dream cello, but what is the sound like?

The cello in question is a 1987 cello by Clifford Roberts of Philadelphia. It has a rich, brawny tone, which seems to suit my style of playing well. It's about as old as I am, but has certainly been quite seasoned. My principal teacher Rosen (above) had acquired the cello when it was brand new, and it served as a secondary instrument to his 1738 Montagnana in concerts and tours for some time. He subsequently acquired another modern cello in the late 1990s, which ironically was a Montagnana copy. This newer cello must have served its purpose better, as concertgoers would have a harder time distinguishing whether Rosen was using his primary instrument or not!

The luthier Roberts passed away only a few months after I acquired the cello from Rosen, and as we had corresponded with him just before, we were shocked to learn of it.

The repertoire you have chosen in your recording and recital has a special significance. Care to share it with us?

Duality is the obvious theme of my album, and I've chosen to reflect this in the repertoire as well. There are only two works on the album, each with four movements, and the sets of movements parallel each other.

The album's highlight, Gian Carlo Menotti's Suite for two cellos and piano, is a work that is close to my heart, and one that deserves to be heard more often. I was introduced to it when I was 17 during my first visit to the home of my mentor, Nathaniel Rosen, in New York City. A proudly displayed photo of him performing alongside his mentor Gregor Piatigorsky, for whom the Suite was commissioned, caught my eye. I quickly found out that they had played together. We subsequently read some of the Suite together.

2011 is Menotti's centenary, which makes the recording of his work this year all the more eventful. Composed in 1973, the Suite relishes a largely neo-baroque style, and I figured it'd make an excellent pairing with a 'true' baroque work, albeit a transcription, the Handel Trio Sonata for two cellos and piano. I wanted to give these rare pieces a wider airing by recording them for posterity.

The concert programme will centre on these two works; the rest of the programme includes lighter and rarely heard pieces that revolve around the core works. These include Anton Webern's Two Pieces, an early work which showcases the late romantic side of this composer, and a movement from the pseudo-baroque Suite for two cellos by the German cello virtuoso Julius Klengel, who was in turn Piatigorsky’s mentor.

Obviously you are unable to have two of yourselves performing in the concert. Who have you enlisted to play the second cello part and what was it like working with another cellist?

I've invited my friend and fellow Singaporean cellist Lin Juan to be a guest for my concert, and I'm no less thrilled to be performing with him live as I was recording the same works with myself in the album. There are two ideologies to performing duos - the two musicians can stylistically contrast each other to “make virtue of their differences”, or complement each other as closely as possible. For the latter, the most ideal would be to partner oneself, which I had achieved in the recording studio. Overdubbing myself required a lot of planning, and taking 'pre-emptive measures', which was intriguing to me. Playing with another cellist is more about spontaneity, giving and taking, and of course provides a fresh view of interpreting the works. You can be sure the interpretation of the works in the concert will differ from that of the album. Juan and I will switch cello parts for the Menotti and Handel, as well as for the other duo works on the programme.

You have been described as the "Boy George cellist" and "Korean matinee idol", which has something to do with the onstage image your are trying to project. Does this trouble you or detract from the more serious matter of music-making?

No, not in the least. It is important for a performing artist to project an image, and this extends to classical musicians. Audiences attend a concert not only to listen but to see. While music making of course takes precedence, musicians obviously don't spend all their time thinking and working on music. Personally, grooming myself the way I do for concerts has always felt like a natural thing, but I've never used it as a selling point.

I have taken as a model the image of pop artists, especially Japanese and Koreans, and wonder how I could translate some of that into a classical setting, bearing in mind any limitations due to the nature of our genre. It enhances an artist overall, and whether this image suits one’s taste is personal. If a classical artist like Mitsuko Uchida had the looks of and was groomed like Ayumi Hamasaki (above), would that be any vice? Maria Callas was known to have taken Audrey Hepburn as a model in transforming herself into a symbol of glamour. Spurred by a meeting with Hepburn in 1953, Callas placed herself on a strict diet and loss a ton of weight, becoming the iconic opera diva that we remember today. There is no correlation as such that detracted her from serious music making.

What does the future hold for Loke Hoe Kit?

Having just completed my debut album, I do not have any immediate plans on another album yet, but who knows what may come next! I'm 23 but I started playing the cello at 12, so I've not even been at it for half my life. My parents loved music but never had the chance to study it. They have lent me their unwavering support, but not being musically connected, few doors were opened for me. I've always had to spearhead many of my projects and endeavours, in this case my d├ębut album, but thankfully always with my family's support. I intend to continue down the road in this spirit as far as I can, and to hopefully be recognized for these efforts over time.

A CULTURAL ODYSSEY / Alan Choo & Miyuki Washimiya Recital / Review


Alan Choo, Violin with

Miyuki Washimiya, Piano

Esplanade Recital Studio

Saturday (27 August 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 August 2011 with the title "Superb pairing of youth and maturity".

The unusual title of this recital has little to do with the programme but rather to a first time collaboration between a young Singaporean violinist and an experienced Japanese pianist, presented by the locally based Kris Foundation. This apparent disparity mattered little as the duo opened with a lucid account of Mozart’s Sonata in G major (K.301).

Even if it was designated as a sonata for piano with violin, this was a meeting of equals, Alan Choo’s limpid cantabile with Miyuki Washimaya’s precise and sensitive articulations. The initial congenial tone turned passionate for Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (left), the major work in the concert, when both dug in for a gripping performance that lacked nothing in fire and fury.

Choo’s unaccompanied solo was arresting, and Washimiya’s reply a full bodied statement of intent, setting the tone for an invigorating journey. Play on colour and nuances characterised the central movement’s Theme and Variations, before the finale’s whirlwind tarantella – executed with brilliant panache – swept the board.

There were solos from both artists, beginning with Choo in Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor (left), built upon just four notes (G-F-E flat-D) played over 65 times. In the personable young man’s preamble, he assured the audience that it would not be boring, and the result was a kaleidoscopic display of total technical assurance.

Washimiya contrasted compatriot Toru Takemitsu’s atonal Piano Distance (left), its seemingly random chords and blotches, with the heady rhythms and coruscating glissandi of Ravel’s La Valse. Her magisterial control of the latter’s insistent pulse, clashing harmonies and symphonic textures was simply breathtaking.

The duo returned for Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite (left), three movements celebrating scenes of Hassidic life and rituals. There is a lot to admire in Choo’s grasp of the idiom and enormous emotional range expressed on the 1850 Postiglione violin, from the sorrow of Nigun to unfettered rejoicing in Simchas Torah.

More familiar fare closed the concert, with the Saint-Saens warhorse Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso providing the fireworks. Again, Choo’s lovely tone smoothened the syncopated lilt of its slow opening before unleashing the works for a thrilling send-off. With an excess of talent to burn, this could very well be the debut recital of the year.

A Cultural Odyssey was presented by the Kris Foundation.

Some Reflections on OMM's Rach 3

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (26 August 2011)

There comes a time in the life of a young orchestra when it has to perform a demanding work that is a cornerstone of the repertoire but is neither a popular choice of the players nor of the audience. And a time when it has to collaborate in a concerto that has the most difficult orchestral part of all. That time is now, in what has been the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) most challenging concert to date. OMM has already surmounted the peaks of Mahler’s first two symphonies, but was it ready for Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto?

This onerous task was taken on by British conductor Christopher Adey, well known as an orchestral trainer and one-time professor of OMM’s Music Director Chan Tze Law at London’s Royal College of Music. Under his guidance, OMM gave very credible if somewhat raw accounts of both works.

First the Rachmaninov, which featured arguably the finest pianist resident in Singapore, the Filipino Albert Tiu. He was rock-steady from start to finish, getting all the notes in with great assurance, and generating a high voltage and frisson that is expected for such a work. However his solos in all their finery were muted for much of the first movement. Was it a case of balance, where the orchestra should have toned down, or could the pianist have exerted more of himself? The heroism in the score only came alive in the cadenza, where Tiu wisely chose the longer and heavier alternative, bringing a sonorous presence that was hitherto lacking.

The short orchestral introduction in the slow movement was ill-focused, sounding almost lacklustre, and again it was up to Tiu to pep up the proceedings. No worries in the waltz-like central episode where the orchestra gaily danced in step with the pianist for a delightful roll in the hay before the showdown of the finale. Certainly this was an exciting performance, not least because there were moments when the ensemble came close to careening off the tracks. Synchronisation between pianist and orchestra was a whisker away from disaster; one missed beat or one false step and it would have come apart. Thankfully both parties persevered to the very end, and along the way there was playing of sheer passion and purpose which made earlier concerns seem finicky.

The Shostakovich was admirable for different reasons. For once, the orchestra was coping with an idiom that was far more dissonant than what it had ever encountered. The low strings in the dark and murky subterranean opening created a genuine feel of unease that was to permeate much of the work. The monumental first movement inched its way, gradually and achingly towards daylight. It was an arduous journey which Adey helmed with great resolve, with much of the orchestral details well defined and articulated. The climax was reached with much deliberation and the catharsis of pain and suffering complete.

The brief but ferocious Scherzo movement, Shostakovich’s portrayal of Stalinist evil, was well realised, even if it did not snarl as malignantly as the Singapore Symphony’s performances from the old days (this symphony was one of Choo Hoey’s favourite showpieces). The third movement proved the trickiest of the lot, with the composer’s quotes of his own initials DSCH and the enigmatic Elfira theme (E-A-E-D-E) being the crux of the matter. Here the wind soloists were excellent, especially clarinettist Chang Hong, bassoonist Lim Tee Heong, oboist Tay Kai Tze and flautist Cheryl Lim, in characterising the themes. The French horn had an off-day, each of its 12 entries had the quality of playing Russian roulette – you don’t know which chamber was loaded.

The finale was a riot of sound, a parody on Soviet society where the apparent merry-making is a cloak for something far more sinister. Here the orchestra revelled in its high jinks, and the playing was back to the highest order which previous concerts have led us to expect. It was a brave decision to programme this symphony, but a necessary step in the growth and development of an orchestra. Despite the raw edges, this concert should still be considered a success, and it will be revealing when OMM returns to these works in the near future.

Podcast will arrive this weekend -- with the hurricane!

Coming this weekend: a podcast in the lap of New York luxury in 1864, including the Fifth Avenue Hotel, pictured above (at far right) in the 1900s. But wait, is that something burning?

This has been a pretty insane week, especially as I'm moving to a new apartment this Tuesday and Tom's recently back from his vacation. As a result, the podcast will go live this weekend, most likely Sunday morning, August 28. But I assure you it will be worth the wait and a great distraction as Hurricane Irene comes barreling through the city!

Since I've been focusing on subjects from the year 1864, you might have a good guess on what this week's podcast topic is. But here's another small clue: like a wealthy tourist, we'll be spending a lot of times in fancy hotels, but it won't be for pleasantries. (Don't worry, this show won't be quite as depressing as the Draft Riots!)

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2011)

LISZT Harmonies du soir


Decca 478 2728 / *****

This recital of piano music by Franz Liszt runs for under an hour, but every minute is well spent. Brazilian virtuoso Nelson Freire deliberate eschews outright fireworks and goes for the poetic. There are neither vulgar operatic fantasies nor showboating transcriptions, and the most overt display comes in the brooding Second Ballade in B minor which portends “tragedy on an epic scale”, and the ecstatic chords of the penultimate Transcendental Etude, Harmonies du soir (Evening Harmonies). These performances highlight Liszt’s much underrated greatness.

Of the much vaunted Hungarian Rhapsodies, Freire picks one of the shortest, the Third, contrasting lugubriousness with shimmering tinkles of the Hungarian cimbalom (dulcimer). The Six Consolations, hardly Liszt’s most flashy of cycles, find a sympathetic interpreter who fleshes out its genteel spirituality. Those hankering for some of Liszt’s scintillating fingerwork will relish moments in the concert etude Waldesrauschen (Forest Murmurs), Valse Oubliee No.1 and Petrarch Sonnet No.104, and Freire duly obliges.

A disturbing trend in classical music

It is a sign of the times when classical musicians begin believing that they are God's gift to music. This insidious and disturbing trend becomes especially apparent when the names of artists are placed more prominently and in bigger letters than the composer's.

Take this for example: Lang Lang's latest release on Sony Classical to cash in on the Liszt bicentenary. His name is in big white letterings, while Liszt's is relegated below. And what are those red and orange waves emanating from his hands? The title "Liszt, My Piano Hero" is narcissistic in itself, as if claiming some spiritual or familial connection with the great pianist composer himself. Could you imagine for a second Alfred Brendel or Murray Perahia doing the same thing?

My all time "favourite" CD cover, a seemingly topless Vanessa-Mae in the throes of ecstasy for her recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Again her name towers over the red priest's. And she seems to be saying "Playing Vivaldi gives me multiple orgasms!"