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.

Audioimage Wind Ensemble

Today’s Beautiful Sunday concert, an Esplanade Presents Programme, was very well-received.  The house was full a quarter of an hour before the concert commenced, and people who arrived only 15 minutes earlier had to be ushered to the gallery seats. As this is a family-friendly concert, and today is the first weekend of the school holidays, there were many children in the audience. I was seated next to a family of six – the four children aged around 3, 8, 12 and 15. Surprisingly, the most well-behaved was the 3-year-old, next to his 15-year-0ld sister. The group of housewives behind me were chattering away in Hokkien/Teochew dialect about their dinner plans and gossiping about other things.

Audioimage Wind Enssemble (AWE) is the resident band of the Siglap South Community Centre, set up in 1992 with help from the government and the People’s Association to facilitate ex-band members who wish to continue making music after they’ve left school. These volunteer musicians rehearse every Saturday evening and perform publicly 4-5 times a year. This year marks the 25th anniversary of community music, an achievement indeed. And this afternoon’s programme was very well thought-out.

The band began with some of the best hits of The Beatles, the most influential band of the rock era. The medley of 12 songs include classics like Something, It’s A Hard Day’s Night, He’s Got A Ticket To Ride, Yesterday, Strawberry Fields, Here, There and Everywhere and Eleanor Rigby.

I was pleasantly surprised that AWE included the symphonies (Nos 40 & 41) by W. A. Mozart! I wonder how many in the audience realised that the Taiwanese girl band S.H.E. pilfered the theme of ‘Jupiter’ into one of their songs.

The solo saxaphonist was outstanding during the Teresa Teng classic, The Moon Represents My Heart. Many in the audience must have enjoyed  the selection of Malay and Japanese music; Geylang Sepaku Geylang, Dayung Sampan & Lengang Kangkong and Japanese tunes made popular by singers who cover them in Cantonese/Mandarin.

The much-awaited groovy Absolute ABBA was next. The medley of the Swedish pop group’s hits include Dancing Queen, Super Duper, Gimme Gimme, Voulez-vouz, Take A Chance On Me, Mamma Mia and Waterloo.

There is also a medley of Earth, Wind and Fire‘s songs, none of which I’m familiar with, except that I recognise a few phrases that remind me of the music for Just For Laugh Gags on TV.

Then came the climax. The band struck up strains of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York without a conductor for a few bars; then the stage door opened, and the conductor (Mohd Rahzul) strutted in with jazzy dance steps to loud cheers. The music continued seamlessly to Frank Valli and The Four Seasons’ Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, an all-time favourite. The piece ended with New York, New York. I really enjoyed this arrangement.

The encore piece was a medley of Queen’s songs, including We Will Rock You and YMCA, Frank Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, a Japanese tune (used in the Gatsby advertisement on TV) and a dozen other iconic tunes from the ’70s.

AWE was given a standing ovation, loud calls and long applause, which they deserved.

 

SSO Lunchtime Concert

The 12th SPH Gift of Music series kicked off yesterday with a performance by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of associate conductor Joshua Tan a the Victoria Concert Hall. I arrived half an hour early and the queue was already very long; it was no surprise that 673 seats were filled up very quickly.

The theme for yesterday’s concert was Hope, consisting of music that inspires us for the pleasant time ahead. This is of essence in today’s society.

The pieces performed include

La Cenerentoia Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868), a version of the Cinderella story which opens with a slow introduction, then moves into a more lively and charming style. The strings section did a marvellous job. The crescendo is elegantly executed and the piece ends with an exuberance that is a hallmarak of Rossini.

Russian Easter Overture by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908), a bright and charming piece that is reminiscent of ancient prophecy, a gospel story and a chorus of heavenly angels. The delivery is so impressive that it is good enough to play the soundtrack of a big-budget (Hollywood) movie. (After all, the SSO does have a number of CD recodings to its credit and it has performed to resounding success overseas.)

Night On The Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky (1839 – 1881), arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov, is about witches, demons and other creatures of the night gathering for a night of dark revelry on an isolated mountain. The earlier parts of the music is somewhat crude and savage, depicting the demonic event but a chorus is added which smooths out the orchestration and the ending is changed to a tranquil and peaceful one as dawn breaks through. This piece is featured in the Disney movie, Fantasia.

The Force Awakens Suite by John Williams (b. 1932); This is music written for the Star Wars/Luke Skywalker saga. The four movements in this suite infuse classical structure into the soundscape. The first, March Of The Resistance, is   Shostakovich-ian and grim-faced, with leaps and soars. The second, Rey’s Theme, is a scintillating and virtuosic fugue. The third, Scherzo for X-Wings, is like an assault and introduces a new theme in the coda, the mysterious fourth movement that is at times menacing, breathless and exhilarating. The conclusion is nothing short of majestic.

All the musicians were exemplary, but I was most impressed with the concertmaster/first violinst and the principal cellist. Jason Tan’s gestures were concise and precise. This was a performance worth skipping lunch for. And I look forward to more.

The Hits of Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck

coffee-morning

peterchua

What a wonderful start to the week! I’ve waited eight years for Peter Chua to perform a solo concert at the Esplanade; and of course I bought tickets to both the morning and afternoon shows! (An evening show was added when those two were sold out quickly; and I would have bought a ticket too if I didn’t have an even more important commitment.)

Call me biased, but I really don’t think there’s a Singaporean male singer in his age group (he’s born in the Year of the Horse, which makes him 63) better than him, not even Dick Lee (who’s 61 this year) whom I greatly admire for his talent.

I first got to know of Peter Chua when he took part in the 1976 Talentime (and again in 1978). I was impressed from the first time I heard him, and after today’s performances, I really wonder why he never won, and who did and what happened to the winner/s.

One reason Peter Chua seldom performed in Singapore is that he was the cultural ambassador to countries like Taiwan, Japan and Philippines. If what he did was anything like today’s performance, he surely did Singapore proud! (Again, I wonder why this is not a publicized fact.)

For the morning show, I chose to sit at the centre right because of the way the piano was positioned, but I decided to sit at the centre left for the afternoon show because I wanted to view the show from a different angle and my atttention (for once) was permanently focused on the singer and not the pianist.

Peter Chua really has very very powerful vocals and his performance is emotionally charged. He’s a consummate performer, and the stage is like his home: he’s so natural and at ease even when he gives a jaw-dropping delivery.

It has often been said that a singer’s vocals open up fully as the day progresses, and this is evident in the two performances. Peter Chua forgot some lyrics in the morning and had to re-start a song becuase of the tempo, though well covered-up, but was word-perfect in the afternoon. He sang with all his heart and passion in both shows.

There’s also the gentle and romantic side to his singing too. His Les Bicyclettes De Belsize is simply lyrical and magical, flawless and extremely to-die-for, as is Till, The Way It Used to Be, Love Me With All of Your Heart (a song he has sung regularly for 40 years) and Tom Jones’ Love Me Tonight.

His Delilah and I Who Have Nothing (who can top this??) is as energetic and enthusiastic as the immaculate and jazzy Danny Boy (really, now, who can top this???)a song he claims he has not sung for 41 years, since the 1976 Talentime. I found myself alternating between swaying from side to side and nodding my head/tapping my feet with the rhythm or being mesmerized/stunned and holding my breath.

The audience members picked to sing with him (both sessions, for Delilah) must have been awed; both were grinning from ear to ear and one of them could really sing!

As though he had just woken up, (and he admitted to having taken a nap between shows), Peter Chua engaged in more banter in the afternoon show (in Teochew most of the time) – what a hoot! – even recounting how he met Veronica Young, who is the special guest for the second and third shows (Make It Through The Night and duet with Chua: Silver Thread and Golden Needles).  Ms Young (who’s not-so-young and met Chua 28 years ago as an older ‘auntie’) definitely sounds better than the one time I heard her performing at a Charity Show on television.

It has been such a great Monday today! I sure hope I don’t have to wait another eight years to attend another solo concert by Peter Chua!

Singapore Char Siew Baos

coffee-morningsecsbbaand

This morning’s performance by Singapore Char Siew Baos (from L to R: Dominic – saxaphone & vocals, Jacob – guitar & vocals, Ruby – drums & vocals, Yung Lun – guitar) is the second time I’ve watched them live. The last time, also at the same venue (Esplanade Recital Studio), they sang English songs. I first got to know this band about nine years ago when they took part in a TV Talent Show (in English).

Called “All About Love”, I expected the concert to be full of love songs by different singers. Hence, I was a bit disappointed that they were not; most were Teresa Teng’s songs and others were in Mandarin (by Zhao Quan, Yu Tian, Zhang Lu & Yu Ya) or Hokkien (including the theme song from local movie 881).

A surprise guest was well-known musician Wu Jia Ming, who played the keyboard throughout. I assume he has a hand in the music arrangement, such as infusing a bossa nova style into a Japanese tune (Teng’s song, I Care Only For You) and arranging Zhao’s rock song I’m Just a Small Little Bird into a funky version.

What I liked best were Dominic’s rich, deep and powerful vocals and his brilliant playing of the saxaphone. I hope they would return in the near future to do covers of English songs.