Impersonator makes all the right Elvis moves

A gyrating bassoon soloist in outsized quiff and 1960s-style white body-suit brings a glorious climax to concert



OpusNovus, Chen Zhangyi (conductor)

Esplanade Recital Studio/Thursday

OpusNovus is not a new ensemble, but the New Music Ensemble under a different name.

What is new is American composer Nick Omiccioli.

He has lived and worked in Singapore for just four months and presented his credentials to the local audience with a work called Grindcore on Thursday. If this is typical of what he has to offer, then give us more.

Omiccioli has powerful ideas and expresses them confidently.

Grindcore has none of the experimental, exploratory feel of most new music by Singapore-based composers.

It was scored for an amplified string sextet, the grinding of bow on metal inspired by the heavy metal bands of Omiccioli's musical youth.

But the youthful OpusNovus players seemed to find heavy metal alien to them and appeared anxious and unsure of themselves in this in-your-face musical idiom.

They were even more visibly anxious in Louis Andriessen's Workers Union. This is a piece of Soviet-style musical realism evoking pounding machinery, incessant repetition of uninspiring tasks and occasional clock-watching. It involved almost 15 minutes of non- stop hard grind from every player on stage.

Conductor Chen Zhangyi did everything he could to inspire them to greater industry, but while they did what he asked, they seemed to do so grudgingly.

It was the music itself which disappointed in the next work. U-Mul, by the 70-year-old Korean-born, German-based Younghi Pagh- paan, was, according to Chen's introduction, intended to evoke water (the title translates as The Well).

A flood of exotic instruments, including cascading bamboo poles, an iron spring and a tiny brass bell, never lived up to the promise of their presence and it all seemed like a series of empty gestures intended to create a vaguely mystic atmosphere.

Written almost 50 years ago, Ligeti's Ramifications was the oldest work here and the one most firmly established in the repertory - although this was claimed as its Singapore premiere.

Despite giving a persistent feeling of restraint, the OpusNovus players under Chen's committed direction conveyed the essence of the work well. It certainly could not have been easy to play on instruments tuned microtones apart.

The ensemble saved the very best for last.

Dead Elvis, by the American composer Michael Daugherty, has become something of a new music classic.

A bassoon soloist masquerading as an Elvis impersonator - complete with outsized quiff, dark glasses and a 1960s-style white body-suit - gyrated while a chamber ensemble provided a backing which ingeniously re-worked the ancient plainchant Dies Irae.

With assistance from the Esplanade's lighting guys and the bassoonist who not only made all the Elvis moves, but also played the solo part brilliantly, this was a glorious climax to a concert which, while it had begun so well, had sagged in the middle.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Impersonator makes all the right Elvis moves'. Subscribe