Striking percussion show



Joachim Theodore Lim (percussion)

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra Hall/Last Saturday

Joachim was the name of a hugely famous 19th-century Hungarian violin virtuoso, but this concert featured someone very different.

Singapore's Joachim Theodore Lim might locally be best known as a member of the classical music- pop fusion quintet Lorong Boys, but is now breaking out on his own as a solo percussionist.

There are quite a few solo percussionists on the circuit these days, but while many have unique selling points involving spectacular presentational antics, Lim's can best be described as an aura of informal intensity.

Under a veneer of muddling uncertainty and of not being quite sure where he is or why he is there, he performs with a razor-sharp edge, utterly involved in the music and turning the potentially ridiculous into the searingly serious.

Take Thierry De Mey's Silence Must Be, a work the composer describes as being conceived for "solo conductor".

It involves much movement of the arms, but virtually no sound. Few performers could have carried this off without raising an embarrassed laugh from a bemused audience, but Lim's obvious absorption in the work turned it into a compelling exercise in soundless musicmaking.

If for most people percussion means drums, it should be noted that drums were few and far between on the very full performing area of this concert.

There was a bottle of aspirin on hand, not to soothe headaches caused by 75 minutes of unaccompanied percussion, but as part of the astonishing battery of instruments lined up for Seeds.

The work of two Brazilian composers, Leonardo Gorosito and Rafael Alberto, this required two players. Lim and his extremely able co-percussionist Marvin Seah gave an amazing object lesson in concentrated ensemble work.

Three solo marimba works, a derivative and unremarkable piece by Takatsugu Muramatsu, a straightforward arrangement of a Bach Allemande and a dazzling showpiece aptly titled Velocities by Joseph Schwantner, showed Lim's sensitivity and innate sense of musical shape, while his stunning virtuosity was best displayed in two undoubted masterpieces of the late 20th-century percussion repertory.

Rebonds B by Xenakis was a compulsive tour de force involving drums and woodblocks and performed here with electrifying brilliance.

James Wood's Rogosanti called on so many different instruments, many of them specially made for the performance by Lim with a bit of help from the ever-resourceful Mike Tan, that one wondered how on earth Lim found his way around them all.

He did so, not so much with physical athleticism as mental agility.

This was the kind of virtuoso- supported musically informed performance which made the 19th century Joachim such a star and deserves to secure a similar place in today's performing world for his 21st-century Singaporean counterpart.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Striking percussion show'. Print Edition | Subscribe