Compelling universe of colour

The Bridges Collective (left).
The Bridges Collective (above).ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN



Nafa Lee Foundation Theatre/ Last Saturday

The Bridges Collective describes itself as a "Melbourne-based, Australian-Singaporean fine art music ensemble" which specialises in creating and performing new intercultural, cross-genre music.

Co-founder Brenna Wee recently had another Singapore-born musician Noella Yan join her as co- artistic director this year, so Singapore's Jubilee year and the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Australia and Singapore provided a natural backdrop for this concert, which featured music by composers from the two countries.

All the works performed were Singapore premieres. Chan Yoong Han (violin), Yan (cello), Karen Heath (clarinet) and Wee (piano) formed a polished, spirited ensemble, augmented by three virtuosi on percussion, tabla and erhu.

Dance Music For Concert Halls by Stuart Greenbaum, written for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, echoed the widespread use of dance music in purely instrumental music.

The two movements chosen made for an upbeat opening, the first sounded Copland-like and the second made extensive use of the tapping of instruments, clapping and plucked strings.

Bernard Tan's composition, A Mini SG50 Suite, followed. Its three movements were based on melodies of the folk song Chan Mali Chan, Dick Lee's Home and xinyao favourite Xi Shui Chang Liu, intermingled with new motifs from Tan.

The piece was carefully crafted, made full use of the four instruments and did not lack clever touches such as having the opening melody in a minor modulation. His use of chromatic modulation, though, was excessive at times.

In Paul Stanhope's Morning Star III, the addition of percussion to the quartet opened up a universe of sound and colour. Callum Moncrieff's nuanced touch on glockenspiel and vibraphone in the fast-slow-fast sections was most compelling and the cohesiveness of Stanhope's writing made this the evening's most musically complete work.

John Sharpley's Singapore Dreams, as with other works in the second half, was conducted by Adrian Tan and included Govin Tan on tabla and Eastern percussion and Shunta Goh on erhu. Accompanied by projections of photographs shot by Bridges Collective's co-founder, Singapore- based Alexandra Serrenti, the six short movements each captured snippets of life in Singapore ranging from Bukit Brown to Chek Jawa.

Expressing the widest compass of timbres, rhythms and textures, Sharpley brilliantly encapsulated emotions and ideas thatappeared both familiar and new to a Singapore audience. His ability to blend musical ideas of the East and West, as well as the sounds of erhu, violin and Western percussion, was exceptional. While the tabla did sound like an outsider at times, the work as a whole remained an outstanding success.

Mohamad Rasull modestly lists himself as the arranger of the Singapura Medley, but what he did with the melodies of Dayung Sampan, Munnaeru Vaalibaa and Singapura was much more than an arrangement. His highly imaginative use of harmony and tempo changes lent sophistication to the familiar melodies and he was able to make the tabla sound perfectly at home with the rest of the ensemble. The result was a highly enjoyable medley, complex yet easy to appreciate.

The final piece was an arrangement by Brett Rosenberg of two songs, both called My Island Home - one from Australia and the other from Singapore. It was appropriate, given the title of the concert and a fitting end to the show.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'Compelling universe of colour'. Subscribe