Outshone by lights

T'ang Quartet's Celestial Remnants.
T'ang Quartet's Celestial Remnants. PHOTO: ALOYSIUS LIM

The 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts came to a close with its final concert, Celestial Remnants.

It was perhaps a fitting summary of the festival, one which is in serious need of more collective artistic direction. While the various aspects of the concert staging would have worked on their own, when pitted together, it swayed wildly from the subliminal to downright bizarre.

As the audience entered the concert hall, they were immediately greeted by the sight of light bulbs hanging low from the ceiling, which mimicked the glowing stars in the night.  However, one would have been left wondering why the performers were lingering and chatting away on a platform set up for a photoshoot.

The multiphonic throat-singing of Gelug monks provided the backdrop for Ix Wong to appear on stage, encased in an embryonic fabric. His struggles to emerge from the womb, signifying the T'ang Quartet's birth as young musicians, were brilliantly portrayed by the young ensemble from Forte Musicademy.

Dressed in animal onesies, Joel Chik, Winston Yang (violins), Ethan Ho (viola) and Derrick Low (cello) stole the show with their youthful exuberance in Benjamin Britten's Playful Pizzicato and Boisterous Bourree from his Simple Symphony.



    Ng Yu-Ying, violin, Ang Chek Meng, violin, Lionel Tan, viola, Leslie Tan, cello Ix  Wong, dancer

    The Ensemble Dimension Players

    Sota Concert Hall/Last Saturday

With every phrase and plucked strings confidently projected and musically shaped, they displayed a chemistry well beyond their years.

 However, one couldn't help but wonder if the focus was on the musicians or the dancer who was, quite honestly, a distraction at this point. 

Between his fleet-footed movements across the stage creating loud noises and him facing his bottom at the audience while bending over, he donned a strange-looking contraption which symbolised the quartet's discovery of sound.

 The older quartet of Orest Smovzh, Liu Minglun (violins), Martin Peh (viola) and Christopher Mui (cello) offered much refinement in Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 but, unfortunately, also sounded more subdued than their younger counterparts. It did not lack for excitement, however, and the Scherzo from the composer's String Octet Op. 11 was scintillating as the T'ang Quartet took their place with their mirrored selves.

 Much of the problem with modern art lies in the understanding of it being a pre-requisite for enjoyment. Instead of creating a work of art, art now seems to be treated as a domain for expressing one's cleverness instead of creativity.  And has creativity degraded to the point where it takes an object which looks like it was bought from a thrift store to symbolise sound awareness?

 Perhaps the most successful component of the production was the lighting design by Mac Chan. Even if one did not understand the significance of the swaying bulbs that accompanied the T'ang Quartet in Marjan Mozetich's Lament In The Trampled Garden, it definitely did not prevent one from being in awe of the visual spectacle which complemented the music being performed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Outshone by lights'. Print Edition | Subscribe