Winds of Japan

Beautiful Sunday is a free monthly concert presented by the Esplanade. It is family-friendly and inclusive, catering to people from different backgrounds and various needs. This afternoon’s performance is by the SparksWinds, conducted by Ms Chan Peck Suan.

SparksWinds was established in 2003 to provide a platform for past and present students of Ms Chan to further their musical hourney. The band aims to bring soulful music to the community through their concert events.

This afternoon’s concert comprises Japanese tunes, much to the delight of J-pop fans. I know next-to-nothing about J-pop music, but I thoroughly enjoyed the one-hour performance.

The band started with a piece of traditional Japanese music that depicts the fun enjoyed at a festival, called Yagibushi. From the moment Ms Chan raised her baton, I felt her hand gestures are much more mature and expressive than when she first started out as a schools’ band instructor (and I had the opportunity to work with her when I was taking charge of the band).

The second piece is a classic work in the genre of traditional Japanese music, but I wasn’t able to catch the name. I doubt I would recognise the tune if I hear it again, but I enjoyed its lively rhythm, the beautiful, soothing and haunting melody that is at times rousing and soaring, and at times uplifting and inspiring.

Following this were two pieces from TV series – Sakano the Anime (which the host translated as Love Above The Hill, originally sung by Sarah Brightman) and a documentary series which opened with a song called Song of Love. The first was a lovely, romantic melody that is light and airy, the kind of music that fills the heart with hope; and I’m sure many in the audience were swaying with delight, just like myself and Ms Chan on the podium. The latter one was very lively and the musicians, especially the percussionists, were obviously enjoying themselves.

More animation and film music by Joe Hisaishi was next, with lots of J-pop soundtracks. Apparently a piece called Spirited Away is very popular. I was charmed by the crystalline notes from the piano; the melody is simple and lovely, and I think it’s something my arthritic fingers can cope. (I shall look for the score in the library on my next trip.) The wonderful tune is reminiscent of happy days gone by.

The final piece is another movie soundtrack; but, again, I did not get the title because I’m unfamiliar with Japanese tunes, though I’m sure the host mentioned something about Summer. In any case, the music reminded me of the sun and its warmth on a breezy afternoon (though it was threatening to rain outside the concert hall).

There was of course an Encore piece (as is expected in all of Ms Chan’s concerts). The opening by the flutes was whistle-like, but then got very lively by the time the percussionists joined in. There were many solo passages – by the trombone and saxaphone. Ms Chan’s body language communicated the relaxed mood, pleasant and delightful. The surprise and well-choreographed movements by the musicians brought this concert to a satisfying and gratifying end.

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Songs From Our Heart

August being the month of Singapore’s National Day, this concert consists of a myriad of Singapore folk tunes. Today’s Beautiful Sunday concert is a performance by Novo Winds, a non-profit community band (from the Toa Payoh South Community Club) formed in July 2010. The Latin term “de novo” is defined as “anew; afresh; from the beginning”. Similarly, Novo Winds seeks to broaden the scope and function of band music by incorporating new performance concepts and musical directions, as well as to reach out to passionate musicians and promote music development to the members with the opportunity to further their ensemble experience.

 

The concert opened with City of Dreams Symphonic Suite for Wind Orchestra commisioned for the Novo Winds. The Suite is in three movements:

  • I. Fanfare – the awakening of dreams; a tribute to the late Leong Yoong Pin;
  • II. Intermezzo – in remembrance of Lee Kuan Yew who initiated the band project in 1966;
  • III. March – riding the rainbow and looking towards the future.

The piece was conducted by a youthful-looking Issac Lim, and I recognised the motif that is made up of the first four notes of the National Anthem (sometimes transposed) no less than a dozen times in the third movement.

This is followed by a never-before-heard rendition of Rasa Sayang (in an interesting twist, with a cha-cha-cha tempo). The vocalised section was a nice touch and the audience joined in the clapping.

A Chinese musical created by Liang Wen Fu (the father of xinyao) called If There Are Seasons, was played to great success in 2007; and this, plus a medley of other compositions by Liang, was next.

Tales of the Sea with Di Tanjong Katong was commisioned by the Co-Curricular Branch (MOE) for the 2003 Singapore Youth Festival. It follows the development of Singapore from a fishing village to a modern city. There is a passage where the winds and drums depict the turbulent times, and other smaller instruments depicting peace and finally a triumphant feeling of progress and prosperity with the full orchestra. From this piece onwards, the Principal Conductor took over the baton.

Dick Lee’s Life Story, specially arranged for wind orchestra by the Principal Conductor, was next. It’s one of my favourite local compositions, and images of the movie Wonder Boy (which I watched recently) kept flashing in my mind. I found myself wishing I still had a cassette player to play my old cassette.

A medley of (about seven) xinyao by Liang, Ng King Kang and Roy Loi got me tapping and humming along. This set the mood for Dick Lee’s  Home, specially arranged by Wong Kah Choon (who won the prestigious international Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition last year and had majored in Composition at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music). It is a beautiful arrangement, with an opening consisting of blue notes and drums, a rousing middle setion with rhythmic percussion which picked up a happy mood and a lovely saxaphone solo with a jazzy feel.

All too soon, the orchesstra played the last piece for the day: a medley of Chinese TV sitcom theme songs. I don’t have the habit of watching such shows, but I recognised some of the songs (such as  Youth 1-2-3, Moonlight in the City and Voices from the Heart) because these are very popular.

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon – listening to music that I enjoy! (The only thing that marred the experiece was occasional loud wailing from toddlers and babies as young as 2 months old.)

 

Best of The “B”s – The Beatles, Bee Gees and The Beach Boys

Thie morning’s Coffee Morning is performed by a group of local musicians called Dimension5, comprising (clockwise from top left) the leader David Ng, drummer Jay, guitarist Lebius and vocal teacher/keyboardist Jocelyn Ong.

They are joined by the String Ensemble from the School of the Arts (SOTA) [two First Violinists – Ronan & Placida, two Second Violinists – Jia Qi & Justine, two Violists – Joshua & Mervyn, and Cellist Rachel], conducted by Mr Sumugu from Japan. This is the first time a string ensemble has played at a Monday Coffee Morning concert. And what a treat it is!

The band today has two backup singers – Rachel (not the cellist) and Hannah, who provide wonderful harmony throughout.

I had a grand time enjoying the unforgettable songs of the iconic artists which helped shape the sound of the ’60s:

  • Things We Said Today (The Beatles)
  • Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles)
  • How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees)
  • Yesterday (The Beatles)
  • Fun, Fun, Fun (The Beach Boys)
  • Surfin’ USA (The Beach Boys)
  • Help Me, Ronda (The Beach Boys)
  • Barbara Ann (The Beach Boys)
  • Massachusettes (Bee Gees)
  • Here, There and Everywhere (The Beatles)
  • If I Trust In You (gospel)
  • To Love Somebody (Bee Gees – Barry Gibb’s personal favourite)
  • Don’t Worry, Baby (The Beach Boys)
  • My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
  • Something (George Harrison/The Beatles)
  • I Can Hear Music (The Beach Boys)
  • Run To Me (Bee Gees)

I hope the String Ensemble from SOTA would make a more regular appearance. With my JOYears membership concession, this concert series is really good value for money!

 

Taste of America

Today’s Beautiful Sunday features the Toa Payoh West Community Club Chinese Orchestra. Established in 2001, the orchestra serves as a platform for young musicians to develop their talents and to explore their passion for music. The orchestra has won many significant accolades in the national Chinese Music Competition organised by the National Arts Council.

 

The first piece they played is a jazzed-up version of a Cantonese classic (from an opera), which represents people’s jubilant cheer when they see dark clouds during a drought. (I do not know the Cantonese dialect, but the title sounds like Han Tin Loi.) I enjoyed the rendition, and was amused when the drummer “lost” his drumstick at one point and, not pleased with the ‘replacement’ offered by a fellow percussionist, signalled another percussionist to exchange it for yet another! The entire percussion section (notably the musicians who played the bongos, the cymbals and the timpani) was most impressive.

The next piece is a medley of Gershwin hits. This time, the cello and the Ruan had the most wonderful dialogue. The western wind instruments also blended well with the Chinese flutes and Suona. I liked the dynamics produceda gentle swell from pianissimo to forte at the coda.

A pleasant surprise was when a few Esplanade crew members came on stage to move the musicians’ chairs, conductor’s rostrum and brought in the Steinway concert grand!

Dr Khoo Hui Ling (above) came on stage, resplendent in a shimmering white gown (very similar to the one above). I’ve watched her progress from the time she was an undergraduate at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and I can still recall vividly the night she won the Concerto Competition in a fiery red gown. (She recently obtained her Doctorate in Piano Performance from the University of Oregon.) This afternoon, she played Variations on Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. I heard her play the original version some years ago, and her playing today is even more polished. The Variations are in seven distict parts: the introduction, the melody, four variations and the finale.

For the next piece, the conductor and the principal erhu player exchanged roles in a Leonard Bernstein medley from West Side Story that includes Tonight and Somewhere. It was a very animated performance.

Yet another surprise guest is flautist Rit Xu.

Rit played the first movement of a flute concerto by Mike Mower with the orchestra, where Western and Eastern instruments came together in a perfect blend. Infused with jazz elements, the piece was delivered with  debonair, like Rit himself.

The next two pieces are selections from Gershwin: Strike Up the Band (from a 1927 movie of the same title) and selections from Porgy and Bess (opera first performed in 1935). Besides the wonderful dialogue between the erhu and the cellos, the xylophone player and the solo cellist were the most impressive. The tutti ending brought this concert to a rousing end.

There was thunderous applause and cat-whistles, and the audience demanded an encore which the orchestra obliged. To my surprise, it was a piece more commonly heard during the Chinese New Year season. However, it was given a new twist, especially the passages with accelerando and ritenuto.

Stories Unfold

This afternoon’s concert featured kids’ philharmonic@sg, the only orchestra in Singapore formed for children aged between five to 16.

 

The orchestra strives to provide a platform for young musicians to come together and make music with their peers.

I arrived at the venue 25 minutes before the concert, and was ushered to level 2 seats; I thought to myself, “Hmm, not bad, as it’s an orchestra.” I did not know I would be proved wrong.

The programme was a good one – with selections from films and musicals such as Schindler’s List, Cinema Paradiso and West Side Story, followed by Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf.

The performers displayed a high standard, with their crisp rhythm, clear articulation and rich tones. I was especially impressed by the string players, particularly the violinists and cellists, at times smooth and soaring. The dramatic dialogue between the different sections and the romanticism and yearning expressed all bellied their youth. The sound they produced was rich and sonorous and the piano added to the magic.

I’ve heard Peter and the Wolf performed many times, and I must say the young narrator today did a fantastic job in telling the story. It’s a pity that there was so much noise from the children, especially the crying and sreaming. I must rememer not to attend Beautiful Sunday concerts during the school holidays! I must also make sure I start queueing up more than 30 minutes before the start so I can get a seat in the stalls.

Rising Star Series

I was one of the dozen or so invited guests to this special concert jointly organised by

and this afternoon.

The partnership of this unique concept is the brainchild of the General Manager of Steinway Gallery Singapore, Ms Celine Goh. At the Oakwood Studios all over the world, guests can choose to stay in a room with a Steinway piano (actually, an Essex upright piano, designed by Steinway) at an addditional S$30 a night.This would be good for pianists who travel round the world for masterclasses and music festivals, like the performers today.

First to perform is 8-year-old Chen Jing, who has won many prizes in International Piano Competitions (from Kota Kinabalu to Paris) since 2015. She has also performed in ChildAid locally, Carnegie Hall in New York and  Opera Bastille Hall in Paris. Her rendition of Grande Valse Brillante Op 18 by Chopin is simply amazing. A few slips notwithstanding, she displays a level of maturity that surpasses many good pianists a decade older than her. Her second piece is Sunflowers by Wang Yu Shi. The nimbleness of her fingers, the fluidity of the music, and the brilliance executed is rare in someone so young.

The second to perform is 8-year-old Tristen Ng, who started playing the piano when he was 6. He has participated and won many awards at several festivals and competitions, and will make his debut at the Byzantine Museum in Athens next month. He also plays the violin. The level of sensivity and maturity in his 6 Romanian Dances SZ. 56 by Bela Bartok is awesome. His touch is wonderful and his fingerwork exudes much confidence. Even Celine, who was seated next to me, was apparently entranced by his performance. His Minute Waltz Op64 No 1 in D Flat by Chopin is perfect, and is of a standard usually only achieved by an adult professional pianist.

My favourite pianist of the day is 9-year-old Toby Tan. He started formal lessons just before turning 7, and was selected to perform the theme song for the movie 7 Letters at the Gala Premiere screening.        He has won piano competitions in Singapore and Japan and more. He also composes, and recently won 1st prize in New York with his Sorrow of Love, which he performs today. He will be performing in Greece, Vienna and New York over the next few months.

Toby’s oufit today is similar to the one above (taken when he was younger) – a bespoke suit and a hat. If his appearance has charmed some in the audience, his playing has won everybody over. The medley of Mozart’s Alla Turca by Fazil Say and Bumble Boogie by Jack Fina based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight Of The Bumble Bee really brought the house down. It is animated and lively, with jived up energy and rhythmic execution. Both Celine and I thoroughly enjoyed this consummate performance. Then, he followed this with another gem – his own composition, Sorrow Of Love. This piece, dedicated to his grandfather, is vivid, colourful and beautiful and paints memories like in a movie. I marvel how such a young boy can come up with such an amazing composition. I feel very privileged to have witnessed a preview perfomance by a prodigy. (He will perform this in New York.)

Next up is 10-year-old Jessie Meng, who also has a long list of accomplishments: winning many piano competitions locally and overseas, performed in ChildAid (twice), President Star Charity, Sing50 50 pianos concert, represented Singapore in an Asian Pacific competition and performed in Paris Opera Bastille. She has also attended masterclasses in Italy, Paris and all over the world. And all these she has achieved with only two hours of practice a day. Her flying fingers in the Sonata in F Op 46 No 3 (1st Mvt) by Kabalevsky must be seen to believe. Her Etude in C Sharp Minor Op 19 No 4 by Chopin is incredible.

The finale is the cutest piano duet in the world that Celine has seen – there’s so much fun in their fourhand performance of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Hight’s Dream : Wedding March. This is a seamless  collaboration between Toby Tan (Primo) and Cheng Jing (Secondo).

I really enjoyed myself  watching and listening to these talented young musicians perform on my favourite instrument. On top of their great gift, they are also very enthusiastic and creative. I’m happy to see that there are parents who are so supportive of their children’s interests and love for music.

I look forward to seeing more such Rising Stars in the series.

The Purple Symphony

Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day and one very special event took place at the University Cultural Centre – The Purple Symphony, a ticketed concert by Singapore’s largest disability-inclusive orchestra (consisting of 90 musicians).

The Purple Symphony made its debut in July 2015 at the Singapore Conference Hall with a mix of musicians (about two-thirds) with and (the rest) without special needs. Besides its inaugural concert at the Drama Centre in July 2016 and the performances at The Purple Parade (in Nov 2015 & Oct 2016), The Purple Symphony also performed at the closing ceremony of the Para ASEAN Games in Dec 2015.

The theme for yesterday’s concert is Around The World In 80 Minutes. The opening number, Heartbeat of the Lion City was performed by the percussion ensemble. The six musicians (including a couple with Down Syndrome) marched on stage and performed without a conductor. It was a rousing start to what would be a very well put-together concert lasting almost two hours.

The Artistic Director and Conductor, Mr Quek Ling Kiong, came on stage and invited the audience to embark on a journey with him as Captain (complete with props), departing from Singapore to China (Walk In The City of Suzhou) to Taiwan (Matchstick Heaven) to Austria (Rondo Alla Turca by Mozart) to Australia (Waltzing Matilda) to America (Homeward Bound) before the intermission.

Special mention must be made of 21-year-old Stephanie Ow, the visually-impaired erhu soloist who has performed in many charitable concerts and is in her third year with The Purple Symphony. Her message to listen with closed eyes and an open heart is loud and clear. Shutting off one sense truly meant full concentration using the ears. Just like how she listened for the conductor’s and orchestra members’ cues (as they drew their breath), I only realised there was a beautiful part for the piano when I heard the ivory keys as my view of the pianist was partially obstructed by a pillar from where I was seated.

Another performer who moved me to tears was visually-impaired Grishm Chandru Mirpuri, 9. The moment he began to sing (solo in Waltzing Matilda with the Lighthouse School choir), I had goose pimples on my arms, and before the end of a verse, I had to dig into my bag for a tissue paper. He should be heard more often. Even Mr Quek declared he was ‘speechless’ at the very, very nice and mesmerizing rendition.

37-year-old hearing-impaired  Lily Goh showed another challenge – to listen without hearing. Her proficiency at the Xylophone was impressive, though the orchestra accompanying her had to accomodate her very quick (sometimes too quick) tempo (for the Rondo). I can only imagine how challenging it was; but her determination is truly inspiring.

After the Intermission, the atmosphere went up a notch, with all the musicans and some of the instructors (Ms Khor Ai Ming, celebrated choral conductor & vocal coach; Mr Grzegorz Markiewicz, an international timpanist & percussionist; Mr Ramlan bin Rasli, an avid percussionist among others) performing together on stage. The pace also picked up as there wasn’t much time to go around the rest of the world.

The journey took the audience from Brazil (Farandole by Bizet) to Africa (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) to Latin America (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) to Jamaica (Banana Boat Song) to Spain and Scotland (Bolero by Ravel /Amazing Grace, a traditional tune) to Japan (Matsuri by Kitaro) and back to Singapore ( Sing Your Way Home, a traditional song, River of Dreams by Clarence Tan & Home by Dick Lee).

After the standing ovation, The Purple Symphony performed I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. The concert ended on a high note.

Music can indeed bring us anywhere and everywhere as long as we ride on the wings of musical notes. To witness the talents of people who are different is touching, encouraging and amazing. Indeed, nothing is impossible for those who try.