Concert review: Alternate Worlds by Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra

Esplanade Recital Studio

Last Saturday

Looking through the programme booklet, one gets a sense that largely self-taught composer and jazz pianist Tze Toh was trying to do too much with too little time. He had put together a "genre concert" of his compositions which promised video game music, jazz, funk, world music, choral works, film soundtracks and improvisations; these were to be performed by ensembles of various combinations: a saxophone quartet, a children's choir, a string quartet, a wind quartet, a solo saxophone and the Looking Glass Orchestra (which was really an ensemble of 12 musicians). Throughout the concert, Tze rushed around like a busy host, introducing the performers and the pieces either before or after each item, talking about the works as the crew set the stage.

Tze was at the piano for most of the concert, except for two pieces, Adventures Of The Goggled Giraffe and Prelude To Avalon, which were played by 7-year-old Aone Ozaki. The former was a lively and comical miniature for piano orchestra, and the latter was a sentimental solo piano piece. Ozaki handled these expressively with sensitive pedalling and a varied touch, with no sign of nervousness.

Like the above mentioned pieces, many of the works were written with visuals in mind, evoking a scene, a mood, or a memory. Opening the concert was the two-movement Island Of Spring, inspired by the music of film composer Ennio Morricone. Scored for boy solo, children's choir and orchestra, Tze clearly knew how to exploit the various timbres to conjure up the lush imagery. The contemplative prelude which led into the joyous second movement could have been much better sustained by the visibly nervous choir and boy soloist Timothy Tan, but at the reprise of the opening theme, they seemed to have warmed up and gained confidence, which made all the difference in sound.

Mornings And A Thread Through Time were also poignant, nostalgic works scored for strings. The latter was composed for Royston Tan's short film Popiah, and featured Christina Zhou as a violin soloist. Zhou's tender and heartfelt playing was immediately transformed in the next piece, Passing Morning, a catchy jazz number which required the string quartet to play in a bluesy style.

The other jazz works featured Teo Boon Chye on the saxophone and Wendy Phua on the electric bass. Most were improvisatory passages over a set chord progression. Although Teo was a master at improvising, belting out long complicated lines and sultry tunes, his intonation was less than perfect. Playing without first tuning, he remained annoyingly sharp whenever he played on the soprano saxophone.

Jokingly mentioning that he improvised when he was too lazy to write music, Tze included two improvisations on the programme, which he performed with Teo. The first was more structured and had rhythms reminiscent of Albeniz's Tango, while the second, which ended off the concert, was more fragile and delicate. Tze and Teo bounced ideas and themes off each other, creating music on the spot out of nothing.

Tze has shown that he can take any combination of instruments, any genre of music which he set out to write, and together with the Looking Glass Orchestra, create alternate worlds of sounds that are appealing to all ages.