Pop Culture

What will theatre giant Stephen Sondheim at age 86 bring us this year?

The new year is already looking up for me - with new album releases and a living legend's musical on the way

Farewell, 2016, year of loss and upheavals.

Who knows what 2017 will bring, but to start things on a bright note, there are several events I look forward to on the music front, from album releases to a living legend's new musical.

Hong Kong's Eason Chan is a great singer in top form and he has released at least one album or EP a year since 2005. He is adventurous when it comes to his music outings - from his collaboration with Singapore singer-songwriter JJ Lin for Mandarin album Rice & Shine (2014) to a trio of edgy Cantonese EPs released in 2010 and 2011.

Last year was an exception as he did not drop a new disc. There are rumours that he has been working on new material in the recording studio and that the album will be followed by a world tour. Hopefully, this is not just wishful thinking of fans hankering after a record from him.

Here's also hoping that his new gig as a mentor on TV show Sing! China will not suck up too much of his time - as entertaining as his comments on the show could be given his shoot-from-the-hip tendencies, they'd be mere distractions to the kind of music he can produce.

It so happens that Taiwanese dancing diva Jolin Tsai sat out last year as well, after releasing Myself in 2010, Muse in 2012 and Play in 2014. (Did she get the same memo as Chan?)

She has been having fun playing around with Mando-dance-pop, stretching the genre and proving it can be more than throwaway fluff. In the process, The Great Artist from Muse was named Best Song of the Year at the Golden Melody Awards in 2013 and Play won Best Mandarin Album at the same event a year later.

At a concert in China last month, she promised to release a new album this year. The question is whether she will continue in the same musical vein or whether her break-up with model Vivian Dawson after six years will make its way into the music.

If Myself was any indication, Tsai seems unlikely to be baring her soul on disc. Maybe she will just dance away her troubles.

What is bound to be far more personal is 50 Song Memoir from American indie pop group The Magnetic Fields, due out on March 3. The concept here is an autobiographical album with one track for each year of frontman and songwriter Stephin Merritt's life.

The band had previously struck gold with another concept record 69 Love Songs (1999). In one song, he memorably described his heart as "running 'round like a chicken with its head cut off" and on the album, he explored a diverse array of genres from country to jazz to synth pop.

Other idiosyncratic projects of his have included i (2004) - every song title begins with the letter I - and the contrasting pair of albums, noise pop on Distortion (2008), followed by the acoustic folk of Realism (2010).

In each case, Merritt's droll lyrics and musical versatility made for a winning combination.

When it comes to penning words set to music, theatre giant Stephen Sondheim is in a class of his own. Producer Cameron Mackintosh once hailed him as "possibly the greatest lyricist ever". From dissecting relationships in Company (1970) in contemporary New York to limning a murderous barber in Sweeney Todd (1979) in Victorian-era London, Sondheim has vividly brought to life diverse worlds and the spectrum of human experience.

Remarkably, he continues to be active at the age of 86 and there is the wonderful prospect of a new musical from him, eight years after Road Show - about a pair of brothers in the freewheeling, get-rich-quick America of the early 1900s - made its off-Broadway premiere.

The new work, tentatively titled Bunuel, is a collaboration with playwright David Ives (All In The Timing, 1993) and could possibly be staged this year. It is inspired by two films by Spanish director Luis Bunuel - The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Exterminating Angel (1962), both involving surreal dinner parties. It sounds deliciously intriguing.

If this list does not excite you, no matter. Do the same exercise yourself and jot down the things that you are looking forward to. Before you know it, the year is already looking up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Promising sounds of 2017'. Print Edition | Subscribe