ACM Lunchtime Concert

One of the three events I attended today is the lunchtime concert at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM). This is a collaboration between ACM and YSTCM (Yong Siew Toh Connservatory of Music). Today’s performance is purely piano. The performers are mostly Year 1 piano majors (with one in Year 2 of the Bachelor of Music programme and one in the Young Artist Programme, potentially a YST student in the near future).

Performed on the Bosendorfer baby grand piano (pictured above), the pieces range from Baroque to Romantic to Twentieth century music.

The concert opens with the lively and colourful Sonata in B-flat Major, K 545  by Domenico Scarlatti (Italian, 1685-1757). This is followed by Etude in E Major, opus 72 No 2 by Moritz Moszkowski (German, 1854-1925), a piece often played in piano competitions. In fact, the pianist who played this today could have played this very piece in one of the piano competitions she took part in (and she took part in many, winning some of them). It is definitely a good piece to display the nifty fingerwork and solid technique of the performer.

Sonata in B Minor, Hob. XVI:32 by Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1732-1809) is quite a distinctive work. Right from the first mordent (immaculately executed), I was inspired to rush home, dig out my scores and relearn it, although I know I would never be able to play it as beautifully or with enough dexterity. Perhaps I could fumble through it and imagine the delicious sounds in my head.

I have long thought that compositions by Alexander Scriabin (Russian, 1871-1915) are too challenging for me, but the pianist today played the Two Poems, opus 32 with such airy innocence and dreamy harmonies that I’m tempted to give it a try. However, I held that thought for only a couple of minutes. The music becomes so microscosmic and chromatic that I know it demands a transcendental technique that I do not possess. I would never be able to do justice to the texture and I do not have the required touch and immense power to unleash the musical quality of this piece of work.

The second of Franz Liszt’s (Hungarian, 1811-1886) Three Concert Etudes, S. 144 (La Leggierezza) demands a virtuosic technique beyond my ability. At most, I may be able to pick out the deceptively simple melodic lines in each hand separately. The fingers have to be unusually flexible to play the many frentic, difficult and complex patterns/passages like chromatic arpeggios and rapid leggiero chromatic runs with irregular rhythmic groupings. Hence it was such a pleasure to watch another pianist’s fingers flying up and down the keyboard.

The next item is Frederic Chopin’s (Polish, 1810-1849) Etude in C Major, opus 10 No 1 & Etude in C Minor, opus 10 No 12 (“Revolutionary”). These are exercises that are (especially to this listener) dizzling and both have a hypnotic charm to them. There is a lot of chromaticism (even in the left hand octave melody!) and uninterrupted arpeggios, yet has a chorale type of harmony. The length and repetition of rapid passages is relentless and challenging. There is a lot of tension. I won’t even attempt to play any of these Chopin Etudes when my sole attempt at opus 12 no 3 isn’t even up to scratch.

Claude Debussy’s (French, 1862-1918) L’isle Joyeuse is an extended solo piece which is based on the whole-tone scale, the lydian mode and the diatonic scale. It is an extremely profound piece (the technical hurdles, the different rhythmic patterns, the extensive use of pedalling, the colour and layered textures). Perhaps that is one reason that this piece is the finale of the day. I shall stick to playing pieces like Clair de lune and Arabesques Nos 1 & 2.


SSO Lunchtime Concert

This being the last week of Term 1 in the school calendar, I’m not surprised that a few rows of seats at the Victoria Concert Hall are reserved for a group of primary school pupils and their teachers. I’m surprised that they are given the best seats when perhaps it would have been more prudent to have assigned them seats in the upper foyer where the tiny ones would not only have a good view but also cause less distraction with the unwanted sounds (some loud and discordant, others disturbing and interfering).

Today’s programme should have appealed to everybody, so I really am puzzled why the primary school pupils were not as angelic as some other even younger children in the audience. I wonder if they had been briefed before this ‘learning journey’ on etiquette in the concert hall. However, it did not mar my enjoyment of the concert too much.

Conducted by the affable Joshua Tan, Associate Conductor of the SSO (Singapore Symphony Orchestra), the orchestra opened the concert with Rossini’s (1792-1868) Overture to Il Signor Bruschino. It is lighthearted, energetic and irreverent. The most striking feature is when the second violins tap their music stands in seemingly random patterns which brings delight to the audience. The light humour throughout and the sudden interjections are seamlessly brought together by the masterly gestures and directions of Tan. The thrilling crescendos bring the piece to an exhilarating close.

Next on the programme is the iconic 1st Movement from Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Symphony No 5. One of the best-known compositions in classical music, the opening is full of vigour and electrifying energy. This familiar four-note rhythmic figure (da-da-da-DUM; da-da-da-DUM) is ever present throughout the phrases and paragraphs (in different guises, in both major and minor keys) and is actually very complex and multi-layered. At one point, the music suddenly crashes and stops, only to wind up again and go off in another direction.

Erik Satie’s (1866-1925) Gymnopedies Nos 1 & 3 are known staples for all piano students. I paricularly like No 1, because it’s seemingly simple (but is not), gentle and dreamy. The opening chords embed themselves in the head and the music becomes muddy, complex and even spooky later on. Today’s performance is orchestrated by Claude Debussy (French composer, 1862-1918), an older contemporary and a friend. Listening to this is like “we are moving slowly around a piece of sculpture and examining it from a different point of view.” (Constant Lambert, British composer, 1905-1951)

Another iconic classical piece of music is the great Symphony No 40 by Mozart (1756-1791. It is one of three symphonies (nos 39, 40 & 41) Mozart wrote within three months when he was having significant financial difficulties. This movement starts darkly, with breathless energy, played by the lower strings with divided violas. It is catchy and the listener is transported to a world of anguished harmonies and heightened tension, with a contrasting theme providing respite. Regrettably, someone decided to make it one of the most annoying mobile ringtones around, after the Taiwanese girl band S.H.E. came up with a song called “Don’t Wanna Grow Up” in 2005.

Austrian-born Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) is a noted pianist and composer of classical music, but is better known for his Hollywood scores (Captain Blood in 1935, Juarez in 1939, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939, The Sea Hawk in 1940, The Sea Wolf in 1941, King’s Row in 1942; both Anthony Adverse, 1936, and The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938, won Oscars). Today’s performance of Theme and Variarions Op 42 is written on a commission for American school orchestras. It has a simple theme – played “in the manner of an Irish folk tune” – and is followed by a set of seven variations. This is the last of his works.

The finale for the day is Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) Waltz from Divertimento, chosen because it helps promote the SSO concert next month (West Side Story). The stars here are the string players, especially the cellists and violinists. It is exuberant with reminiscences and tributes. The melodic basis is the two-note “germ” B-C (representing Boston Centenary).

Attending this concert is definitely one of the best ways to enjoy my lunchtime, even at the expense of eating a proper lunch.

Rock Around The Clock

I attended the afternoon session of this monthly Esplanade Presents series for the first time in many years yesterday. The one-hour-plus concert featured Hillary Francis whose concerts I’ve attended and enjoyed. The band accompanying him was The Sandboys (all Singaporean talents), which he formed in the 1960s. This means all the performers are from the Pioneer Generation, the youngest at 68 and one of them (the pianist) looks to be an octogenarian.

I remember Francis for the richness of his voice (so mesmerising!) but not that he has aged so much. (I last watched him perform perhaps 3-5 years ago.) In the photograph in the promotional flyer he looks 15-20 years younger:

Anyway, I was there for the music! And Francis delivered! I marvel at his versatility – from sentimental songs like Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By to Elvis Presley’s Rock Around The Clock. In between, there are: Elvis Presley’s Always On My Mind and Blue Suede Shoes, Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy, The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and Honky Tonky, The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There, Can’t Buy Me Love and Let It Be, Bill Haley’s Shake, Rattle and Roll, Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Wanna Talk About It, Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, a couple of Rock-n-Roll songs that I couldn’t identify and – surprise! – a Mandarin number Unforgettable (1961’s Bu Liao Qing by Koo Mei).

The 5-piece band comprise the guitarist/vocalist Ivan (the youngest member), bass guitarist Randy Tan, percussionist Rami, keyboard player Robbi and the pianist Victor Pillay. I am most impressed by the pianist – how I wish I had been allowed to pursue music as a career, so I might still be playing the piano with a band when I’m an octogenarian like him! His solo introduction to Unforgettable is exactly the version I had been playing when I harboured secret ambitions of playing in a band!

I look forward to another session of Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea – this concert is really good value for money.



Our Favorite Things

Feeling none of the festive cheer associated with this day, I decided to re-watch this 2001 DVD just for a feeling of nostalgia.

Tony Bennett is one of my favourite singers; and he did not look very different from when I saw him perform at The Star Performing Arts Theatre in 2013. The same for Placido Domingo, though I’ve not attended any of his concerts live. I’m sure Charlotte Church must look very different; I’m not so familiar with Vanessa Williams.

The songs I enjoyed most were Winter Wonderland, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, The Christmas Song, My Favorite Things, Joy to The World, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, The First Noel, White Christmas and Angels We Have Heard On High.

I am sure it would have been better to be at the Konzerthaus in Vienna, especially for Placido and Bennett. The Ralph Sharon Quintet and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, together with the Gumpoldskirchner Spatzen Children’s Choir added to the feast for the ears.


Jazz at ACM

This afternoon’s jazz concert at the Asian Civilizations Museum is the last collaboration with Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) for this year. As is often in the case of Singapore’s jazz legend Dr Tony Makarome’s classes, the students had no idea that they have to play in public and that it is part of the course requirements. There are two sections of classes on different days and some of today’s performers are playing together for the first time. One more difference in today’s line-ups is that, for the first time, two of them (a pianist and a bass guitarist) are not students from YSTCM but a freelancer and a chemical engineering student who signed up for this elective.

The one-hour concert began with Things Ain’t What They Used To Be by Mercer Ellington & Ted Persons (Americans, 1919-1996; 1909-1988), the song that I’m least familiar with in today’s playlist.

Next comes L-O-V-E by Bert Kaempfert & Milt Gabler (German, 1923-1980; American, 1911-2001), a song made famous by Nat King Cole and one of my favourites. I was a tad disappointed by the vocalist who I felt lacked the vigour for such a dynamic and lusty song. However, the solo passages by the Bassoon and Viola made up for it.

For me, the concert became more enjoyable and animated from the third song. I was as pleased to see Gabriel Hoe taking his place at the piano as I was to see that Dr Makarome would be playing the double bass. I have been impressed by their performances before. It was only the second time I heard the song, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue by Lillian Hardin Armstron& Don Raye (Americans, 1878-1971; 1909-1985) but the first time I heard a Ruan (an instrument from the Chinese orchestra that looks like a banjo) playing it. Two violinists and a violist also took turns to showcase their prowess.

Another vocalist took the mic for the next song, Samba de Verao (Summer Samba) by Marcus Valle, Paulo Sergio Valle & Norman Gimbel (Brazilians, b. 1943; b. 1940; American, b. 1927). I could almost sense her nervousness as she started off in an almost hushed tone. Although I was seated right in front of her, I could barely make out what she was singing. Instead, I was more enthralled by the Ruan which is such a peaceful and meditative instrument.

A different piano major took over the ivories for Moanin’, a jazz standard by Bobby Timmons (American, 1935-1974). The flautist was almost as impressive as the pianist whose deft right hand reminds me of Lang Lang with an injured left arm.

Besides pianist Gabriel, who impressed me with his versatility (his music score had only three lines! & he could improvise while taking whispered instructions from Dr Makarome), I was most impressed with the Ruan player’s dexterity: his fingers just seemed to fly across the ‘frets’ and the clusters of double (&/ triple notes) were exemplary.

A surprise item (because it’s not in the programme) is the song Candy by Alex Kramer, Mack David & Joan Whitney (Canadian,  Americans;  1903-1998, 1912-1993, 1914-1990), a song I’ve loved since I first heard it sung by The Manhanttan Transfer decades ago. The vocalist seemed less nervous but was still hardly audible, as though I was not wearing my hearing aids.

The Spiderman Theme by Paul Francis Webster & Robert Harris (Americans, 1907-1984; 1925-2000) must have appealed to the very young ones in the audience because the male vocalist appeared in a Spiderman sweater. The get-up was definitely more catchy than his karaoke singing! There was no help from the first vocalist who sang today as she was inaudible, her voice mostly drowned by the violin, viola, vibraphone, piano, guitar and drums.

My favourite pianist of the day, Gabriel Hoe, returned to play Moon River by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer (Americans, 1924-1994; 1909-1976) with Dr Makarome and the drummer. The vocalist, singing her third song today, is clearly more confident and her delivery was smooth, though it was the pianist who won me over with his utterly relaxed demeanor. His pristine notes and crystal clear running passages made me want to play my piano the moment I get home!

The finale was The Chicken by Pee Wee Ellis (American, b. 1949), a song I’m totally unfamiliar with. What was interesting for me was that this performance is supposedly unrehearsed, as Dr Makarome just called out the students to the stage impromptu and told them there and then what he expected (eg who was to play solo), and they had to decided on-the-spot who was to take which section. Again, I was awed by Gabriel Hoe, who played with absolute ease (and apprently enjoying himself).

It had been an enjoying concert. As Beethoven once said: Music soothes the savage beast; I was in a much lighter mood than when I first arrived, because of a slightly unpleasant incident earlier.


Love Will Keep Us Together

A series of concerts featuring nostalgic golden hits by local artists every first Monday of the month, Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea is always value-for-money. Today’s concert features Uberjam, comprising band leader and lead guitarist Regi Leo (a music teacher at United World College), Jennie Vie Ng (a versatile powerhouse singer), Alfred Rivera (bass and vocals) and Abduk Razak (drums):


It was the first time I heard Uberjam, and I was looking forward to the evergreen hits stated  in the promotional brochure. Though the band performed songs like You’re So Vain, Talk About It, Rock the Boat, Party On, Won’t You Tell Me That You Love Me, Honky Tonk Blue, Let’s Dance, Let’s Do The Twist and a few others that I couldn’t even identify, I thoroughly enjoyed their rendition of classics like Petula Clark’s  Downtown, Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, The Bee Gee’s If I Can’t Have You and Stayin’ Alive, The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There, Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run, Elvis Presley’s Rock Around The Clock, Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Let’s Rock and Great Balls of Fire, Connie Francis’ Where The Boys Are and medleys that include excerpts from songs by Earth, Wind and Fire, the Beach Boys and even Hawaii Five ‘O’.

I was most impressed by Regi’s mastery at the guitar and Jennie’s great vocals. It’s been some time since I witnessed live a soprano with stamina, breathing and phrasing so controlled,  awesome and impressive. The slow numbers really showcased her prowess!

I really hope Uberjam will return to perform at Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea, this time with more songs that are sentimental and romantic, even jazzy, rather than rock’n’roll.


Love Accents

Once a month, the Esplanade-Theatres On The Bay presents a free family-friendly concert on a Sunday afternoon that caters to audiences of all ages and from all backgrounds and needs. Today’s concert features the Marsiling Chinese Orchestra.


The Marsiling Chinese Orchestra was formed in 2004 to enhance the appreciation and promote the education of Chinese orchestral music to the community. The orchestra also gives youths the opportunity to pursue their interest in music after graduating from their schools’ orchestras.

Led by conductor Low Cher Yong, the orchestra played 11 pieces, most of which (except the first two) are specially arranged by Low himself and a couple of which are premiered at this concert. (The song Twilight, a 2015 JJLin hit, and a ‘red-hot’ song played as an encore.)

The concert opened with a classic, Dream Of The Red Chamber, the 1987 theme from the TV serial of the same name. The music is beautiful and tells a tragic love story. This is followed by Samuel Tai’s ubiquitous 9,999 Roses. I had always thought this to be a romantic love song (as the rose, in the language of flowers, symbolises love), but found out that Tai actually wrote this song for a fan suffering from terminal illness. The suo-na solo really brought out the plaintive quality of the song.

Fairy Tale, one of my beloved songs by Michael Wong, expresses how everyone should have a fairy tale to call his/her own. The er-hu, pipa and suo-na really stood out here. This is immediately followed by Air Air Cinta, a Malay song that could easily have been thought to be a Chinese song if sung to Mandarin lyrics.

Apparently, not too long ago (in 2011), there was a TV serial (a China production) called Scarlett Heart which most in the audience seemed to know. I had not watched a single episode and had never heard its soundtrack, but I could feel the agony and sorrow of the lovers being separated in the end theme called Silver Paradise. Low doubled as the er-hu soloist while conducting. I was quite impressed.

Jay Chou, the Taiwanese superstar singer-sonwriter has been on the music scene for more than a decade a a half, but it was the first time that I heard Coral Sea (2005). The compere said that it is a popular male-female duet originally sung by Chou and Lara Veronin.

The song Way Back Into Love (from the movie Music and Lyrics starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore) is another song that could be sung to Chinese lyrics and becone successful.

Another theme song from a movie (You Are The Apple Of My Eye) called Those Were The Days brought me back to 2011, when I watched it with an old classmate and we relived the nostalgic days way back when.

The Korean television series My Love From The Stars must have been wildly popular. I first heard the theme song, My Destiny, sung by a Korean singer called The One on a China TV show called ‘I Am A Singer’. I was immediately mesmerised.

A Little Happiness (from the movie Our Times) was the theme song sung by Hebe Tien which became wildly popular in 2015 but which I heard for the first time today. I think if someone writes English lyrics for it, the song will become even more popular.

I also heard JJLin’s Twilight (2015) for the first time today, and was immediately drawn to it. Its opening notes reminds me of Bach (or Baroque music, anyway). I don’t know why, but I felt morose and almost teary at the end. Later, the compere mentioned the song is about lost innocence.

I wonder if I was one of the few people who didn’t recognise the encore piece that Low introduced as a “Red Hot song popular with various races and languages”. The zhong-ruan (affectionately nicknamed ‘Chinese guitar’) was showcased for the first time today.

All in all, I enjoyed the concert and also learnt a few new things about the current trend in popular music. Music is indeed a universal language, transcending all borders and barriers.