Mixed bag of Singapore premieres

All seven pieces in the 90-minute concert were given their Singapore premieres, while two had been specially commissioned for the occasion.
All seven pieces in the 90-minute concert were given their Singapore premieres, while two had been specially commissioned for the occasion. PHOTO: ESPLANADE.COM

REVIEW / CONCERT

SPECTRUM - SETTS #4

Esplanade Recital Studio/Sunday

All seven pieces in this 90-minute concert were given their Singapore premieres, while two had been specially commissioned for the occasion.

Of those two, Hoh Chung Shih's Secret Music One was a piece of pure theatre.

With four of the 11-member Setts ensemble walking around the room blowing and hitting things in the manner of monks soliciting alms, the rest sat with their backs to the audience improvising while watching images of egg-shaped musical notes projected on a screen.

Periodically, the seated musicians stood up and went on a walkabout, still improvising and studiously ignoring the audience. Most of the musicians kept a straight face.

The other commissioned work was a far more serious affair.

Winton White's Kirishitan Mantra was given a compelling performance by the ensemble's percussionist, Iskandar Rashid.

However, the visual allure of all the hardware lined up on stage as well as Iskandar's virtuoso stick- work and guttural chanting effectively obscured any musical interest the piece may have had.

Of the remaining works, two were for wind trio. Aldi Maulana's Pakuan VI had the twin virtues of being short and jaunty.

Indeed, it was so jaunty that the large party of fidgety schoolboys in the audience collectively set up an in-seat dance. But when bassoonist Christoph Wichert let out a sudden shout - which was probably in the score - the schoolboys were cowed into stillness for the remainder of the piece.

Gatot Danar Sulistiyanto's Trio was a clever exercise in what the composer described as "sharp and gentle dissonances".

The only truly abstract work in the programme, it was also the only one which did not have a picture- postcard image projected behind the musicians. It called for three outstanding players who could work with remarkable tightness as an ensemble - and in Roberto Alvarez, Joost Flach and Colin Tan, it got just that.

Fantasia For String Quartet by Michael Asmara was another extraordinarily complex work, which required the conducting services of Wichert to keep the four string players together.

They all did well, but it was not worth the effort - this was an utterly charmless work.

Almost cloyingly charming, Ananda Sukarlan's Menage A Trois used hackneyed Asian gestures to create saccharine sounds which would have been better served helping sell a diverse range of products on screen commercials.

All credit to Alvarez, violist Janice Tsai and pianist Shane Thio for giving this ghastly piece of kitsch such a committed performance.

Unquestionably, the finest piece in the programme was also the longest and oldest.

Lou Harrison's Varied Trio for violin, piano and percussion included an incredible passage involving tuned rice bowls and chopsticks to evoke the gamelan. So effective and masterly written was this that one can only wonder why Singapore has waited 30 years to hear it performed here live.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Mixed bag of Singapore premieres'. Print Edition | Subscribe