Concert review: Seamless eclecticism from Tze Toh and the Looking Glass Orchestra

Land With No Sun is a continuing series of concerts by local composer-pianist Tze Toh and his Looking Glass Orchestra, inspired by his environmental concerns about the world we live in and its bleak future. He envisages a post-apocalyptic dystopia where the earth becomes unliveable and floating cities are built in the sky which eventually block out the sun's rays. Mankind fights against time to chart memories which are sent back in time as warnings to past generations.

Promemoria, performed at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Monday evening, was the sequel to Tze's first concert and took the form of a solo piano recital aided by prerecorded tracks (referred to as sound design) and two violinists, Christina Zhou and Gabriel Lee. For those unfamiliar with his work, Tze is a largely self-taught and extraordinary musician whose idiom straddles comfortably the genres of classical, jazz, world and film music. His eclecticism is not applied in a haphazard or cut-and-paste manner, but through well thought-out and seamless musical scenarios.

Yet the 13 movements or sequences which make up Promemoria were largely improvised, based on themes and motifs which have been pre-determined. The opening Flight Of The Homo Sapiens owed its schema to Chopin's Etude In C Major (Op.10 No.1), with rippling right hand arpeggios accompanied by left hand octaves as pedal bass. He modulated through different keys and into the minor mode before settling in a C major home.

The Pulse was a slow meditation which began simply on the notes A, G sharp, E and C sharp, a portrait of the void, to which Zhou's violin emerged from the right rear of the hall in counterpoint. The two instruments were beautifully harmonised, with the blues being a recurring feature. Voiceovers by Nadia Wheaton provided the narrative in some of the movements in the absence of visuals, and these were unobtrusive and often atmospheric.

In Dance Of The Earth / A Distant Memory, the raucous sound world of O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana was referenced. The beat was vigorous, earthy and ominous, with bass ostinatos raining over embellished riffs from the piano's treble. Fragments / The Message was far more soothing, as Lee's violin from the left rear sounded J.S.Bach-like figurations to which the piano joined in an euphony which the old master would have thought provocative, and possibly approved.

The sequence of left hand notes that distinguished the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations appeared in Sunset / Memories but was so well-disguised by Tze's clever use of tritones that one marvels at how music is able to refresh itself so spontaneously through the centuries. The Clock Of Heaven And Earth provided moments of tintinnabuli, or bell-like sounds, but instead of channeling the spirituality of Arvo Part or Olivier Messiaen, one thought of the scores of Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Both violinists joined Tze on centrestage in Hyper Loop, a fast number which relived the soloistic prowess of Vivaldi and the baroque concerti grosso. The final movement, The Whale In The Sky, returned to the piano solo, now a minimalist pattern played in a repetitious cycle. That seemed to indicate that as time passed, we should continue to hope and dream, even against seemingly futile odds. By this time, Tze had played continuously for over an hour. Land With No Sun continues to eke out a future on Feb 27 next year. Make that a date to remember.