12 composers, a myriad of styles

A chamber concert by the Association of Composers (Singapore) featured 12 composers at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Recital Hall.
A chamber concert by the Association of Composers (Singapore) featured 12 composers at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Recital Hall.PHOTO: ST FILE



Association of Composers (Singapore)

Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Recital Hall

Last Saturday

Exactly how many composers are there in Singapore? The true figure will perhaps never be known.

This chamber concert by the Association of Composers (Singapore) featured 12 of them, with none of the usual suspects patronised by the national orchestras.

All belong to the Chinese-speaking community and many hail from the pioneer generation.

The works heard may be grouped as pieces for piano solo, erhu or violin accompanied by piano and string quartet. These displayed a broad spectrum of influences, inspirations and styles, and one may surmise that there is no singular Singaporean way of composition. At least, not yet.

The concert opened and closed with works for erhu and piano, performed by Ng Rui Jun and Irene Law respectively.

The huqin's voice ensured a Chinese feel about them, while the accompanying piano sounded somewhat incongruent with Western harmonies and timbres. A guzheng or yangqin might have made more sense.

Lee Ngoh Wah's My True Love was a short lyrical romance while Lee Chee Kung's Erhu Capriccio was the most authentically Chinese-sounding work of the evening.

Quek Yong Siu's Garden Under The Morning Sun was an extended fantasy with the mimicry of birdsong, providing the original meaning to tweeting or twittering.

The third movement of Toh Heng Guan's First Erhu Concerto luxuriated in unusual harmonies and a virtuosic cadenza.

For violin and piano, violinist Siew Yi Li performed his brother Xiao Chun Yuan's Homeland, which alternated between major and minor keys while engendering a sense of patriotism and nostalgia.

Chiew Keng Hoon's Little Creature delighted in dissonances and jagged rhythms, simulating some flitting stinging insect, while his Fantasy was a true study in the atonal idiom of the Second Viennese School.

Lian Sek Lin's Moonlight Song had the hint of bel canto, but with offbeat harmonies to unsettle and create tension.

Lin Ah Leck's A Wandering Life was a rhapsodic fantasy in the Chinese idiom culminating in a striding march.

Tan Chan Boon's Ostinatissimo was surprisingly gentle as he employed a slow chordal bass over which the violin fashioned a masterly passacaglia.

Pianist Nicholas Loh, who accompanied Siew, went solo in Xiao's Tensions, built on an obstinate idee fixe, and hammered out Lian's Hibiscus Variations, based ironically on a march theme, played fortissimo throughout with a Satiesque sense of irony.

The violin and piano duo of Mac Chang and Elaine Xu contributed Lee Yuk Chuan's Remembrance and Rondo, contrasting sentimental lyricism with vigorous dance rhythms.

Both works conjured the aroma of Central Asia and the violinist was commended for spicing up the Rondo with Paganinian touches.

Two works played by the Melody String Quartet completed the programme.

Lee Khiok Hua's Autumn Scene was a Chinese-styled dance with alternating fast and slow sections, while Frederick Ng Eng Thong's Dance In Harmony, a heady mix of Malay motifs, minimalism, syncopation and counterpoint.

Reliving a rowdy Chingay procession, this was arguably the most interesting work, a veritable rojak one might consider quintessentially Singaporean.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2018, with the headline '12 composers, a myriad of styles'. Print Edition | Subscribe