Monthly Archives: November 2011

The End of a Sem

I’ve failed, and am still failing, to categorise my posts. Least because I tend to cram everything that could be crammed into one posts that even tags fail me.

So on to business.

Thanks to some inspiration from Xaerenh, Edna Millay and Wordsworth I decided to start practising writing sonnets.
Thanks to my idiocy in assuming that only the rhyme scheme was important I ended up with 14 syllables per line instead of iambic pentameter. This makes it follow a limbic bakersdozenmeter.
To rectify my faux pas the last 2 lines were written in (hopefully iambic) pentameter.

The Wit That Writ 1 ( also known as: I need a better title)

The hand follows the mind and the mind follows the heart
Upon the setting of the sun the stars snatch back the reins
Uncertainty dissolves at once on releasing of the dart
Yet hesitates a moment on the sound of distant strains
The end of fear – a human born from ashes, grows apart
Where snow’s a friend – a frigid cousin of tropical rains
Elysium but the carvings of the cunning and the smart
On papyrus and canvas – but a smear of naive stains

So once upon a time the stick, the quill, the fountain pen
Submitted, bent all crooked, to the muses, iron-willed
Who drew all that was fresh and pure from Earth’s most precious fen
Discarding as they went – ruthlessly – ignorance distilled

Yet they know best that every written plea
Will die – all stars must fade eventually


Concert Review: Conservatory Chamber Series – Strings
25 Nov 2011 @ YST Concert Hall

This was actually scrawled down on the pioneering-booklet-form programme after I decided to be an annoying enough prick to scribble out loud in the middle of a (largely empty) concert (hall). Incidentally, it was done not more than an hour of my reading and reciting drugs for diabetes for Pharmacology 2 on the circle line MRT like the mad scientist that I actually am.

Apparently this month’s theme is “love”.

Bolded and individual comments were mostly recorded on the performance night itself.


Smetana – String Quartet No.1 in E minor: I. Allegro vivo Appassionato

Yay my favourite. Hopefully every violist’s favourite.

Charged & energetic take, with a momentum that however left little space for rubato (transition into the development and lyrical sections). In a stream, there a rapids and there are pools. A stream with only rapids is exciting to watch but difficult to ford. (note: I really wrote that, don’t ask me why)

Slight coordination slips may have been due to nerves, being the 1st group of the night.

V1: Lead more, and be able to slow down
V2: Playing the 2nd violin =/= playing 2nd fiddle
Vla: Fiery take on the solo
Cello: Needs to maintain intensity (note: for the only guy in the quartet, being the least manly sounding of the group was amusing hehe)

The performance was exciting, unrelenting, like the flow of the stream-image I associate with this movement, yet there was no abating to the flow. It may have been an intended interpretation, and would have been successful at that, yet in this case the exacerbated difficulty of ensemble reared its ugly head. The opening chord and key changes proved to be tough on the tuning, with the (more technically difficult) running passages doing much better in this aspect.

P.S. The opening chord is actually rather devilish, from what I can hear on youtube and personal experience.

Mendelssohn – String Quartet in D major: III. Andante espressivo ma con moto

Jon Lee’s quartet! I heard the recording a few times at home, but it didn’t really stick in my head. Mendelssohn did the pseudo-basso-continuo thing in this moment as well with a pulse running through the whole piece, like in one of the movements in his 4th symphony “Italian” (of which I’m lazy to check)

Good ensemble and tone with great individual intensity not usually associated with “Mendelssohnian” music. Would have been greatly augmented by greater detail and tempo control in phrasing.

This group apparently played better during rehearsal, and indeed there were some problems in intonation and blending. Accuracy and tone were good otherwise. The players seemed quite upset overall though.

V1: Passionate but needs to know when to slow down – like in the 1st group
V2: Steely and clear articulation, could be slightly more assertive with such a strong sense of the music. Good coordination.
Vla: Apparently had some issues with notes and intonation. Made the most visible effort in shaping the mood, phrasing and ensemble and overall good tone.
Cello: The A string sounded flat, but overall good tone and phrasing.

Again, it seemed that nerves got the better of the  music, restricting the phrases by holding the tempo hostage. The forward drive seemed dangerous at times. Ensemble and tone was overall great if a little overshadowed by nerves and possibly a change in tuning of strings by the temperature difference between the backstage and hall.

Beethoven – Piano Trio in C minor: I. Allegro con brio

The most well blended ensemble however did so at the expense of a certain degree of individuality. Direction and phrasing was clear, and would be well served by assertion of personality.

Looks like I can never be satisfied. Interestingly enough, the V1 was waiting for the pianist and even gave him a “you first” gesture before the pre-performance bowing. Not a very positive image for a concert hall stage scenario – but I look past that. Ironically (and poetically so) the V1 turned out to be a genius at tone production an control in the Beethoven-ian styles, holding the line with a lyrical tone that oldschool types like myself crave.

V1: Entrance more imposing – Great tone control. Keep concentration (slips at random “simple” places)
Cello: Blended very well (this is more of a compliment than it seems)
Piano: Slightly more crisp tone on running notes (would have served the  acoustics of the hall much, much better)

Arensy – Piano Trio in D Minor:
I. Allegro moderato
II. Scherzo – Allegro molto 

Clarity, direction, purity of tone and excellent understanding of the style led to a performace that held the audience rapt at attention for the longer-than-average performance (of the night).

A great curtain closer before the intermission. The visiting quartet were wolf-whistling.

V1: A little tense in his sitting position but it didn’t really matter. Great tone and a superlative performance
Cello: The instrument seemed to be buzzing and may have affected the tone and the dynamic range. Again, it didn’t really matter in the overall presentation of the performance. Some audience members noted her flamboyant dress but were promptly silenced by the music.
Piano:  Clarity of tone travelled all the way to the back of the hall.

There are times when you hear something and stop all that you are doing (in this case, scribbling) and become compelled to watch at full attention for the rest of the duration of the performance. Unfortunately, I resumed writing somewhere in the middle after the 1st movement ended.

Dvorak – String Quartet No.10 in E-flat Major: I. Allegro ma non troppo

I felt this was more impressive than it appeared, due to the incredible blending and shaping (with a tad narrow dynamic range, but I don’t know the piece well anyway).

Excellent ensemble & blending. Could bring out contrapuntal textures. Quartet sounded very organic and understood each other well.

V1: Naturally dark violin needs care on the highest notes. (there were some squeaks on the E string)
V2: Contrapuntal textures can be brought out
Vla: Great tone, some clarity problems due to instrument/strings? (or perhaps articulation?)
Cello: Great control over phrasing and tone

Tchaikovsky – String Quartet No.3 in E-flat minor: II. Allegretto vivo e scherzando

Great synchronicity of articulation and dynamics.

Note: From here on I stopped writing since I just wanted to listen to the great performances.

Ravel – String Quartet in F major (2 groups played 1 movement each)
I. Allegro moderato – Très doux
IV. Vif et agité 

1st mvt: A very smooth rendition, with the 1st violin taking a very coy portamento up to the highest notes that was at once remarkable and apt. The individual lines of each part were also very well maintained and characterised.

4th mvt: The great curtain closer. Fiery, charged and deserving of the last spot in the programme.


Epilogue: I’ll add the update later this week seeing as how long this post already is. So Ciao!


The Fortnight in Passing #1

Let’s get the nitty gritty out of the way. School was supposed to be a killer but I survived it by being mostly uninvolved. DFD SDL and Practical-Theory (oxymoron?) MCQs, Patho CA2, and the final boss Pharmaco CA3. After that very nice finale I went home to rewatch Toradora! It’s awesome and I don’t really care what you say unless it agrees with that sentiment.

Now the meat of it all! First up is a short update on SWF. Assessments were held today, and overall the 2nd and 3rd attempts were not ideal, perhaps it was psychological or otherwise but disappointment shrouded the competitive team. Nonetheless, great progress was made IMHO so jiayou to all in the coming competitions.

My shoulder(s) has(have) finally popped back to relatively normalcy (from the right one hurting to the left and finally now it’s more or less tolerating the crap I’m putting it through.

Lifts now:

Squats   90kg    3×5 (Starting to be able to progress, need to sit back more)
DL          85kg    1×5 (Had to relearn technique)
Press     38kg    3×5 (Weak shoulders)
Bench   58kg    3×5 (going for 60 rawr)
Cleans   40kg             Doing for technique, 40 is quite doable as of today

3 Concerts:

Ashkenazy + SSO, Rach 2 with Andaloro – 4th Nov

Gala concert, due to a twist of fate I acquired one single ticket from K Yong at a discount so thanks again to him. Short concert consisting of Rach 2nd Piano Concerto and Tchaik 4th Symphony.

Andaloro, despite the (otherwise lame) youtube comments which criticised his tendency to rush tempi, was dazzling without being overly showy. His string of competition golds were backed by pure substance, crystal clear notes, and the ability to rise above the orchestra even during tutti sections. My short description of his playing was “Italian, in the best way possible”, which was basically not the traditional “Russian” sound expected of Rachmaninov. It sounded as though Rachmaninov had met Mendelssohn and argued over a cup of tea.

Described as “some of the most lyrical pianism thought possible” by Chang Tou Liang, I personally felt Andaloro nonetheless hit terra firma in the 3rd movement where he unleashed whatever he had restrained (and indeed the 2nd movement was controlled, as luxuriously as allowable) in the first 2 movements for an exciting and rousing finale.

Never had I imagined that Rach 2 could actually sound so jazzy. The very refined rendition of Widmung (unfortunately when he introduced the piece I heard “teacher”, “transcribed” and “dedication”) was the icing on the cake, and anyone foolish enough to dismiss his playing should procure a new pair of ears –

The Tchaik 4 was thoroughly exciting, despite Ashkenazy’s strokes being sometimes overzealous and hard to read (personally). CTL’s point about the tempo extremes was helped by the fact that Ashkenazy did demand the extremes from very clear body language, and was close to dancing in certain dramatic sections (author’s note: =P). When the audience failed to cease their applause, he got the orchestra to bow, probably twice, just to make us stop.

Mixed Metaphors: Modern Music by YST – 9th Nov

Jon Lee played the solo viola for Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, which reminded me of Arvo Part and Fratres. The dissonances were made palatable (even softened) by the ethereal texture and the viola blended into the ensemble much better than a violin or cello would have. After a while, the brain’s natural tendency to phase out and filter unchanging stimuli gave the aural universe a slightly hallucinatory feel that was finally broken by the short and once-repeated melody on the viola, immediately before the end. Perhaps a tribute to his childhood friend Mark Rothko, who did paintings in the chapel, CTL’s description that ”its contemplative thirty minutes passed for a seemingly far shorter duration of time” might have reflected the serenity and the gentleness of letting go, embodied in the sole written direction “very, very simply” for the viola melody.

Frankly, this author felt that the other 2 pieces did not really strike a chord (no pun intended) with him. Nonetheless, the Concerto Concioso by Thomas Ades seemed like the composer couldn’t wait to put in rests and thus made all the instruments’ entries all in a lump. When I was enquiring of Jon Lee I went somewhere along the lines of “it could be… longer” when I meant “not so squashed” but was misinterpreted as being someone who relished in the torture of little animals. Despite the weirdness of it all the images it evoked were that of the modern, urban world, with everything in a frenzy and the beauty of tone being drowned out by excessive busyness.

P.S. The instrumentalists could have responded better to the pre-performance tuning or skipped it in the first place. Having the A being repeated on the piano with no one seeming to care was quite a turn-off.

Varese’s Deserts was accompanied by Bill Viola’s (hurhur) film which contained interesting nature shots and an inexplicable slow motion of a man having his breakfast and then knocking the cutlery and vessels to the floor, finally plunging into a hitherto undistinguished pool of water. The music was film-worthy, combining both live and recorded parts, but generally fit in a horror-movie atmosphere. Apparently the burning house scene synched well with the music. I liked the lightning scenes though. /weirdness bias

P.P.S Dinner (Supper/Dessert for the rest) at Thai Express outperformed my expectations, thanks to the soft-shell crab rice recommendation from Jon Lee again. There were a bunch of girls celebrating a birthday, and it was an amusing experience when the waitress delivered 4 sets of cutlery and 3 serviettes when Jon Lee’s dessert came with a dessert spoon.

Elegaiac Elgar: Urbanski + SSO, Elgar Violin Concerto with Tasmin Little – 11th Nov

My favourite Violin Concerto! Next to Sibelius’. The Threnody “to the victims of Hiroshima” was slightly less frightening live, due to the less intense and softer opening that the recorded version I heard amped indiscriminately but to great effect. The resultant sound provoked a more introspective response rather than that of abject horror, equal parts of “why”, “oh no” and “what next” with smatterings of curious techniques like instrument hitting and tailpiece-bowing (which is largely inaudible, frankly, but visually interesting).

Tasmin Little’s rendition. How should I start… after being mentally prepared for the possibility of technical slips, my apprehension was immediately dispelled by her entrance, replete with the most indulgent tone and control thereof. She takes the idea of the “note”, shapes it like a fine handicraft, and presents each and every one like gifts to the audience, each transition in between like a ribbon – but each unique. I was almost sorry to hear the fiendish double stop runs disappearing somewhere in the middle, and amidst the minimal and forgivable technical slips (which elucidated the un-disposable nature of the virtuosic runs unlike in certain other concertos) I was keenly aware of myself hoping that the runs were note perfect while acknowledging that I couldn’t possibly be lucky enough to have my cake and eat it.

P.S. There was an accelerando towards the end of the 1st movement (I believed), the exact section of which I can’t quite remember, which was one of the most exciting and emotionally charged moments I’ve had in a concert.

Having vented that complaint, Little’s prowess on the lower strings and on the “line” came into full glory in the 2nd movement, during which the high notes elicited physiologically spontaneous shivers, and the high positions on the G string made me reflect on my lack of practice due to the sheer beauty (and further possibilities) associated with it. This time I realised just how long the movements were and how ignorant I was of the structure since I kept getting lost in the interludes that are probably the crux of the work, which is sometimes interpreted as a gift of love from Elgar or a vessel which he poured his soul into (the latter he actually declared). Seeing as to how daydreams are made of stuff that also makes up the soul, the wanderings BEYOND the structure were probably the messages which were in the medium.

The 3rd movement (yep I devoted several more paragraphs to this, not least because its ~50 minutes long and immensely liked by me) came out more brilliant than I imagined. It was during this movement that I realised just how difficult the writing made the solo part – the key, register, flow of passages, shifting etc. I’ve seen the score and was taken aback at the sheer number of accidentals, on the double stops, runs etc. It reads like a terror to the soloist but sounds like, well, a romantic plot, the tumultuous part being this movement. The extended cadenzas and interludes reminiscing themes from the 1st 2 movements were treated with utmost care from Little, who was supposedly using her Strad instead of the Guadagnini, while the programme booklet stated otherwise. She ended with great drive worthy of the applause, and after the concerto was drained but pleased, and rightfully so.

Personally I thought the violin solo got drowned out and initially blamed it on her choice of instrument, an argument which didn’t really hold water if she really was using the Strad. Her tone was full but a little subdued, perhaps due to technique, or the place we were sitting at, or due to the orch smothering her at tutti sections. Perhaps I was conditioned to Andaloro’s pianistic dominance over the SSO and failed to realise that Elgar’s Vln Conc was really not so kind to the solo in so many ways that projection was one of the quicksand quagmires that unfortunately bogged down this performance in places.

Moving on the Mendelssohn’s 4th and final Symphony, the “Italian”, the tempo and shaping was brilliant and brilliantly Mendelssohnian was the sound evinced by the orch. This performance reminded me just how simple Mendelssohn sounds and how difficult it is to play, from contrapuntal and dialogue-based running note passages to rich unadulterated lyricism, my short description on Facebook seems to encapsulate the un-capture-able nature of Mendelssohn’s writing –

“sounds like a fairy and plays like a demon”

From the majestic first movement with the impossibly simple-sounding but hellish to play repeated notes from the winds, to sections that evoke the Overture and crazy Scherzo of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Basso Continuo-like line that ran through the whole 2nd movement, theWedding March like fanfares of the 3rd, and the last movement that sounds like an impossible chase through the woods of central Europe, the entire work was “canned whoopass”, to quote a forgotten but amusing description of the Flashbang grenade in a long-forgottend guide to Counterstrike. Compact, small, and deadly, it was nonetheless as brilliant as a chilli padi, and Urbanski’s beat-with-right and shape-with-left left little to be desired apart from an encore.

The Pilgrimage of the Mind

Monday was a day within, and the last one of, the long weekend (which one prof told us to “enjoy”); it was also meant as the day of the Hajj.

Many commented that the weather that day was exceptionally fair, as though the rain monster had decided to take a few days off and travel elsewhere in search of more flood-worthy areas (Thailand was of course not included under this category). As I gazed outside, there seemed no reason not to agree with that observation.

Yet it seemed to be mocking (us).

It was clear to me that I was not the only one slaving away, either at the completion of a project or discourse or thesis, or at memorising or practising or preparing cheat sheets for an upcoming assessment (or two or seven). It was at that moment where a sharp sense of lucidity came over me.

Would we, in our youth, foolishly (or otherwise) use all our time on our narrow-minded pursuits, chasing what we deem to be important or pleasurable when there lies amazing venues and vistas right next to us – except that we have to look out the window and walk out the door to experience them.

However I was not one to heed my own niggling inner monologue, which was frankly much wiser that what I was trying to cram into my brain (read: Pharmacology II – Antibiotics). My little inner voice, which was to be repeatedly asphyxiated by the notes in my face, kept telling me to go out, if just to get lunch or dinner or something from the NTUC. Instead, the great superego that for some represents homophobia or anti-modernism managed to keep me in until the sun had set.

Now, this sunset was not the worst I’ve seen – alternatively, it was one of the most picturesque sunsets in weeks (the rest were flat gray, indigo, or some weird shade of shiny-brown from the storms). So I took my recently re-acquired camera, proceeded to load the SD card and the battery in, and to my horror my battery was empty.

Classic wtf moment.

Shouldn’t have happened to anyone who remotely regards a camera as a vital tool of expression (like a musical instrument).

But there I was cursing out of parents’ earshot at my idiocy, and ended up using my handphone camera on that little red-and-silver lining in an otherwise dreary (not the weather) day.

Which neatly, if not ironically, summed up the metaphor of the day.

The morning till afternoon was an exceptional blessing, on a very significant day for some, and simply a public holiday for the rest (in this country at least). Yet, in our haste, we have conveniently lost sight of the blessing for the sake of what we deem valuable and worthy of our cravings (read: CAP). In the last moments, I tried to capture what was left behind, upon which I found that I had, literally and figuratively, run out of battery.

I realised that I reiterated myself several times in this discourse, if only to bring attention to the fact that, I, if not many of us, also repeat our own mantras, which contains a checklist of what we want to achieve and our means to those ends, repeatedly, ad nauseam. We also repeatedly hear lecturers and seniors trying to drill home ludicrous ideas such as “Uni is not about exams” and “grades aren’t that important”, and take it as words from those not in our situation and are therefore misdirected.

The evaluation of the experience left me hanging between desire for duty and guilt for justifying my hate of studying, yet I found the lesson poignant, for I could not have hoped for a better illustration of “youth is wasted on the young” than Hari Raya Haji 2011.

Perhaps sometimes we need reminders as to why doing something that you are not told to or demanded of can actually still be meaningful. Before that happens, however, fair days will pass with stormy, dry, hot and mediocre ones and none will be the wiser.