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.

 

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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.

 

Lang Lang at Royal Albert Hall

I just re-watched this DVD for the umpteenth time (I watched it twice last week alone). Though it was recorded in Nov 2013 (the same month I watched him perform at the Esplanade Concert Hall), I am still awed by Lang Lang’s brilliance. This DVD enables me to relive an unforgettable concert experience that left me feeling exhilarated.

The programme that Lang Lang played at Esplanade was almost identical – except for the encore pieces. He played only two encore pieces here (including Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake, if I remember correctly) and that did not include

Manuel Ponce’s Intermezzo in E Minor

Ernesto Lecuona’s Y la negra bailab al

Wu Zuqiang/Du Mingxin’s Dance of the Seaweed

W A Mozart’s Alla Turca, Allegretto (from Piano Sonata No 11)

Robert Schumann’s Davidsbundllertanz in E flat Major

Frederic Chopin’s Waltz in D flat (the “Minute” Waltz) and Nocturne in E flat Major

Alexander Scriabin’s Etude in D sharp Minor

There are detractors who make all sorts of comments about Lang Lang, but I wonder how many of these people can play the piano with such alarming ease in technically challenging passages as well as those that require exquisite lyricism and tranquility. I find him just such an  unique phenomenom – so dazzling and charamastic!

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.