Twins with the key to cheerful tunes

Composers Low Shao Ying (far left) and Low Shao Suan perform unpretentious pieces with feeling.
Composers Low Shao Ying (far left) and Low Shao Suan perform unpretentious pieces with feeling.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LOW SHAO YING AND LOW SHAO SUAN

The famous conductor-composer Andre Previn, who spent the early years of his career in Hollywood, titled his 1991 autobiography No Minor Chords after the pet peeve of a director who insisted that no films were to include minor chords or harmonies in its scores.

The title of Previn's memoir might also apply to this concert of instrumental music by local composers Low Shao Suan and Low Shao Ying, twin sisters better known as the nation's most celebrated piano duo.

Of the 22 short pieces performed, only two were cast in the minor key. Much, if not all of the music that played, was therefore cheerful and optimistic in mood, which pretty much describes the sisters' personalities.

Their musical idiom is tonal, melodious, uncomplicated and completely free of dissonance. This is rare given that most contemporary "serious" composers would rarely condescend to write a melody to save their lives.



    Victoria Concert Hall

    Last Friday

Each sister performed solos as well as accompanied various soloists.

The flute featured prominently and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's principal flautist Jin Ta was busy on hand to put the polish on Shao Suan's Springtime In Munich and By The Fireplace, and Shao Ying's Intermezzo, as well as two other works for flute, oboe (Audi Goh) and piano titled Dancing By The Stream and Sweet Dreams. Flowing lyricism was an abiding constant and it was hard to dislike these sincere, unpretentious pieces performed with feeling.

The work that featured the most musicians was Shao Ying's The Ballet Dancer, a wistful number in G minor scored for piano quintet.

Her scoring for A Jolly Good Time, on the other hand, offered a humorous take on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with two bassoons (Daniel Aw and Yap Pei Ying) opening in whole tone intervals.

Shao Suan's After Midnight was the jazziest piece with David Wong's bass trombone singing the indolent and moody blues.

A string quartet formed by violinists Yew Shan and Yong Kailin, violist Jonathan Lee and cellist Noella Yan performed selected movements from Shao Ying's On Vacation and Shao Suan's Antiques, both suites of four pieces each.

If one were permitted to play a game of "guess the influence", it could be said that Shao Ying's By The Fireplace relived the bittersweet innocence of Ennio Morricone's Cinema Paradiso music while Shao Suan's Rocking Chair was a Dvorak Slavonic Dance dressed in a sarong kebaya.

There were also two piano duets. Shao Suan's Snowscapes, cast in a more reflective A minor, possessed the rhythmic pitter-patter of falling snow.

The other duet, a medley of Singapore songs arranged by the sisters, was the closing work. It included Chan Mali Chan, Di Tanjong Katong and Dick Lee's ubiquitous Home, arranged in the busy contrapuntal manner of Milhaud's Scaramouche.

The 90-minute concert, performed without an interval, closed with an encore, the piano duet Hide And Seek, which is a children's piece with a series of scampering scales. The sisters' charming performance of it, however, was certainly no child's play.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Twins with the key to cheerful tunes'. Print Edition | Subscribe