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Concert review: Luscious sound from young chamber ensemble

Published on Apr 3, 2014 10:54 AM

Making its debut at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Monday evening was Project Strings, the chamber ensemble of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Although it was the brainchild of its director, violinist-conductor Foo Say Ming, the entire concert was a student-led initiative which gave the students a rare opportunity to organise a full-scale concert on their own.

Opening the concert was a world premierè of cultural-medallion recipient Kam Kee Yong's Malaysian Suite for String Orchestra, reworked in 2010 from an award-winning string quartet score composed in 1963. Kam is not only a composer and violinist, but also a renowned painter; this is evident in his compositions, which when brought to life by Project Strings, conjured up colourful scenes of life in a Malay village. The three-movement suite was laden with Middle Eastern-inspired melodies, the jubilant outer movements sandwiching a serenade, which instead of a tranquil night scene, was more reminiscent of an amorous public declaration of love.

It seemed like a family business for a moment when Kam's daughter, Kam Ning, took to the stage to perform the first Violin Concerto in D Minor by Mendelssohn, predecessor of the more famous one in E minor and rediscovered only in the last century by her mentor Yehudi Menuhin. Directing the ensemble and playing from memory, the younger Kam played with impeccable clarity and a focused sound, characterised by wit and humour.

Brimming with infectious energy which also reflected in the ensemble's playing, they offered a fresh and highly imaginative perspective to the composition which would otherwise have looked like an étude on paper. The almost-full recital studio clapped, cheered and wolf-whistled: they wanted more - and were rewarded with her signature encore piece, her own jazzy arrangement of John Newton's Amazing Grace, complete with foot-stomping, multiple stops (playing more than two notes at once), and every other trick in the book of virtuoso violin playing.

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