Concert review: Chamber.Sounds presents four operas in two hours



Esplanade Recital Studio/Tuesday

Local contemporary ensemble Chamber.Sounds had its beginnings in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2005 and has been presenting concerts of local and original new music annually since 2011.

In what seemed to be its most ambitious project yet, it premiered four chamber operas specially written for the group in a concert on Wednesday. The line-up was also performed on Tuesday as a preview for children and students.

Chamber operas employ a much smaller ensemble and cast. Hence the musicians share the stage with the singers and are sometimes involved in the action.

In the final opera, Canadian composer Rita Ueda's One Thousand White Paper Cranes For Japan, musicians were dressed in white instead of the usual black, and made to shuffle around the stage at the beginning as though they were wandering souls leaving this world for the next.

A heartwarming story, her work was based on a real-life story of a Canadian boy who began a fund-raising project for the victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Although teeming with newfangled compositional techniques and multimedia (lighting and video) as well as being conceptually strong, most of it was lost in translation. Without a synopsis, explanation or a copy of the music, the audience would not be able to fully grasp the content.

Opening the gig was Australian composer Nicole Murphy's work, The Kamikaze Mind, based on a book of the same title.

The philosophical work was made up of recovered fragments from the mind of an astronaut who launched himself into a black hole. His past comes back to find him, consisting of a He, his younger self, and a She, a former lover. Baritone Daniel Ho's deep voice and clear enunciation was a joy to listen to and he was complemented by the lyrical and lighter voices of tenor Jeremy Koh and Bernadeta Astari.

Also in the same vein but less strange was local composer Chen Zhangyi's Window Shopping. This light-hearted work had a mix of elements such as neo-Baroque and Broadway. The narrative juxtaposed two differing attitudes of a woman shopping for shoes, the more contemplative and mature version of her was contrasted with the younger, feistier self.

Maybe because of the similar vocal ranges of both characters, it was difficult to make out their singing. It might have worked better if a character was an alto instead of both being sopranos.

Japanese composer Naomi Sekiya's Winds Of Summer Fields was the most outstanding, albeit disturbing, work. Sekiya set four Emily Dickinson poems to music, which have central themes of insanity, pain and death.

Besides three gothic-looking singers, there were three other non-singing roles which added to the drama. These took the form of three dancers, dressed in black bottoms and white tops, writhing in a sinuous and sinister form, with creepy facial expressions to boot.

Of the four poems-movements, the first and third were loud and thumping, while the second and fourth were more melancholic in nature.

To present four operas in two hours was not an easy feat, and one can only imagine the sheer amount of work that the musicians, singers and conductor Clarence Tan have put in. So kudos to Chamber.Sounds for yet another successful concert, and in its continuing effort of promoting new local music.