Concert review: Stones, Sand & Light by Quinnuance

Esplanade Recital Studio

Last Friday

The cause of new music has been well served by the contemporary music ensembles of Singapore's tertiary music educational institutions and several intrepid independent groups. Quinnuance, formed mostly by alumni of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, is one such collective of composers and performers. Their third concert of new local works revealed an interesting mix of diverse and sophisticated musical minds.

Terrence Wong is a name which will be heard rather often for some time to come. The concert began with his (D)evolution, an electro-acoustic number based on a D flat minor scale first heard on a cello and then repeated, transformed and manipulated into an ever-expanding aural wall of sound.

Beginning with a low drone and gradually ascending into a menacing growl, it could have functioned as a piece of installation art. The hall plunged into darkness, all that was visible was a spotlight illuminating an empty chair. Its abrupt ending and the minute of uncertain silence from the audience that followed also had a certain whiff of John Cage about it.

Wong's Morning Dances received its World Premiere by pianist You Yin Fen, oboist Leow Rui Qing and clarinettist Colin Tan Yiliang. Heralded by ostinatos from the piano, both woodwinds engaged in a contest of complex runs and riffs, later accompanied by rhythms foot-stomped by the pianist. Although the gamelan was alluded to in the composer's programme notes, a fired up jazz band could plausibly have been an influence as well.

Alicia de Silva's Stones, Sand And Darkness was the longest and most evocative work on the programme. Conceived in three movements, the titular objects were treated as elemental forces, represented by varying tonal sequences heard on five instruments. Sheila Pietono's piano served as the bass over which Chan Si-Han's cello sang its lament, contrasted by short interjections on Gabriel Lee's violin, while oboe and clarinet added their own narratives.

The music emoted on different levels; nostalgia in long-held lingering plaints, agitation in flittering ephemeral phrases and a sense of danger in the toccata-like finale. A short but languorous drawl with the lights going off served as a fitting epilogue.

Bernard Lee Kah Hong, a state registered nurse by profession, is the group's dyed-in-the wool atonalist. His Let The Eyes Open In The Hour Of Autumn II, however, has roots in China's Jiangnan ensemble music. Using the flute, violin, viola and piano in transcription to substitute for the dizi, erhu, sanxian and pipa, he created a stirring if unsettling piece that deserves a second listen. The title refers to receiving an epiphany in one's advancing years.

Finally, Lu Heng's Fission for solo violin closed the concert like the way it began. Built on the premise of a single D note, the piece was an elaborate play and metamorphosis on a simple tone. Like particle rays emitting from a nuclear source, the unwavering D dominated while torrents of notes flew from Lee's violin to its tumultuous close. This might have been a caprice by Paganini had he known Einstein.