Category Archives: Life
Amidst the waves of new ensembles interspersing with projects and performances by old stalwarts, much has been (and is to be) said of conventionally titled Western Classical music in Singapore.
(Source: Re:sound Collective’s facebook event page)
Re:SOUND – The Journey Begins!
Conductor: Jason Lai
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (1788)
Igor Stravinsky: Concerto in D for Strings (1946)
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D. 485 (1816)
Writer, lecturer, critic, blogger, (and per my first point-of-acquaintance, programme-note veteran) Marc Rochester noted the questionable emphases on the provenance and timing, also outlining the (mis)fortunes of this endeavour and the unique local environment of finding a proverbial water source in this Dead Sea.
In the spirit of not saying the same thing twice (in the same manner), I hope my personal experiences will suffice. If (fallible) memory serves me well I last encountered the Mozart 40 in my secondary school days (a decade ago), the Stravinsky in concert in 2011, and the Schubert in the NUS medical library during closing time.
Re:SOUND gave no clue of Classicism’s lack of representation locally, nor did it proclaim it this concert’s core theme. Despite these, the presentation was clean, sweet, technically and dynamically sound and pleasing.
Their original authors being long-dead though, like memory and editing, the music has been much played around with, reconceptualised, and re-realised. Mozart’s 40th has been theorised to be part of a trilogy arc of his last symphonies – a tragic second-act passing-character possessing no (ostensible) substantial introduction nor grand finale. Finding safety in, well, safety, the ensemble established clear, middling tempi – yet occasional but inexplicable attempts to push the tempi (unevenly across instrumental sections and sometimes, individuals) resulted in more uneasiness than excitement. Dynamic and colouration were immediately apparent, but fell prey to two problems – a more self-contained than contextual treatment, and (mostly) a mighty reverberating acoustic that ruined most of the phrase ends with the extended aural decay. Enjoyable and near-spotless, but leaving this listener wanting.
In curious order, Stravinsky’s retort followed. Having struggled through the entire work (on the viola part, no more), there was never a doubt of its essential difficulty. re:Sound was clearly made of sterner stuff – rhythms were crisp, tempi stable and coherent. The soli presented dialogues convincingly, a dynamic that could mature as fine wine does, given time and care.
The wit and irony seemed to go over the heads of many in the hall, however – though the programme noted Stravinsky’s “neoclassical” and “serialism” period, I felt unconvinced by the perceived “lightness” and similar early criticism of this work. A thorough search on Wikipedia elucidated Stravinsky’s preceding period as one of great personal turmoil – losing his eldest daughter, wife, and mother (while himself being in hospital), then relocating to the USA and then getting married. This period saw the Symphony in C and the Elegy for solo viola, and it is beyond me that simple “light writing” would have illuminated the darkness of sardonic Fate within less than a decade of American life.
Granted the sheer basic demands of the work were titanic to begin with, and the youth of both the ensemble and it’s surrounding culture, it was an excellently maneuvered take (apart from the last chord) on a work that should be more-oft explored and studied hereabouts.
Master of Song Schubert’s most well-played work (homage?) rounded off the owl’s hour, showing that some stories are better sung than told. In 21st century (and pre-stickbanger) tradition the Collective fielded only sound-producing musicians. Either by design or coincidence, the lyricism and harmonic flow immediately gained presence as the repartee and ensemble gained attention by necessity. Minor lapses of indulgence and virtuosic celerity aside, it proved the most satisfying instalment of the night.
The niche being unfilled aside, the core purpose of new ensembles has always been a sticking point for me, even more so when ensembles immediately establish concert performance as an end-all like tutors/parents send students for board examinations because achievement trumps substance – (that laudable achievement trumps any other seems to be the flavour of the season).
I sincerely hope the evolution of a crack team of musicians with centuries of cumulative instrumental, musicological, compositional, ensemble and human understanding between them becomes less a pipe-dream and more a solid force in both the progression of music and national culture here.
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Allow me, dear reader, to indulge in a section of self-reflection and wanton criticism of a very privileged group of humans, of which I (believe I do) have the luck to be part of. There are many who learn music as part of their parents’ will, as a secondary to the expanding middle class, as a consequence to school activities and other “requirements”, or for the most fortunate – out of their own impetus, resources allowing. There are a select few who stick to their guns, either by choice, circumstance, or force. Then amongst this miniscule sand-grain in a seaside of normal beach lies the awkward few who keep going despite the muscular waves of modern society, money, et cetera.
Of those that do not opt for a music-major first qualification, some do a “professional” or “useful” degree, (some then work to save cash), then embark on their second music degree afterwards. Out of these precious few crystals, one has taken the long, scenic, and scholarly path that has led him to pursuing a post-grad Doctorate at the University of Maryland.
Out of his busy schedule, Ryan Chow, a (literal) contemporary of mine (also, classmate for a few days), has taken the time to sow the soils of his homeground, performing a full-length recital centred on a theme worthy of its title: neo-baroque music, neoclassicism, retrospectivism.
IN RETROSPECT: THE ROAD TO NEOCLASSICISM
Pianoforte Ryan Chow
2 January 2016 . Sat
Esplanade Recital Studio
Bach-Busoni Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
Edvard Grieg Holberg Suite, Op. 40
Alfred Roussel Trois Pieces Pour Piano, Op. 49
Dmitri Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue in A minor Op. 87 No. 2
Felix Mendelssohn Prelude & Fugue in E minor Op. 35 No. 1
Paul Hindemith Sonata No. 3 (1936)
Encore: Bach-Busoni Organ Toccata in C major BWV 564
Opening to a full-house with the towering Chaconne, a stalwart crafted from a repeating foundation of chords, Ryan set off detailing a wide range of characters in avenues not accessible by stringed instruments. Despite some runs being muddled by the acoustics of the hall and an occasional slip, the stylistic choices and soundscapes created more than justified the transcription, as though the pianoforte made the work its own.
The Holberg Suite – what can this string player of a writer say? It is traditionally a work first encountered in student ensemble days, its neo-classical/neo-baroque underpinnings blissfully ignored, and the Norwegian flavour buried in adolescent worries. Upon observing a live performance of the work in its entirety, this writer was finally enlightened and convinced of Grieg’s stature. This time, in its original form, the Praeludium and Rigaudon sparkled with arpeggiaic and contrapuntal efferversence.
A caveat about the sandwiched slow movements (and a plea towards instilling carefully considered rubato), namely the Sarabande and Aria – I would credit the string arrangement with injecting depth and heart into their lines, and thus strongly urge any keyboard player to thoroughly study the string version (and vice versa) and thus add much more gut to their ivories.
Out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire, this writer exited his comfort zone only to be dispensed a torrent of apparent frivolity in Roussel’s Trois Pieces, at once fantastically enjoyable and beguilingly indecipherable. A mash of styles and its apparent (local) paucity of performances lent itself to its position as the first curtain closer for the night.
The intermission was barely time enough to catch one’s breath, as the second opener was a bold, and very (serious) Mendelssohnian Mendelssohn (think Violin Concerto, String Octet, Capriccio and Quartet op.44/2). Unsettling in its undercurrents, at once yearning and self-despising in its lines, it was more cause of introspection given the oft-used modern lens that images Mendelssohn commonly in frivolity and sardonically fleeting passions. Ostensibly inspired by Bach, it is poignant to note that its history of creation is in itself a meta-description of its neo-baroque origins, its different segments possibly being crafted across over a decade, yet sounding quintessentially Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and almost Jazz-like/20th-century in its exploratory moments. Acoustic- and pedal-problems aside, its heart-rending, timely ascension to E major might have near done justice to the sense of triumph such an undertaking truly was.
Juxtaposed against a juggernaut, Shostakovich’s ingeniuty afforded both performer and audience barely three minutes, but left all in serious shortage. This writer can only provide an online resource to one of the greatest Shostakovich performers as penance to you, dear reader.
Finally, bringing to full circle amidst the accented academic slant of the entire programme, Hindemith’s big and clear work was settled on as the fat lady of the night. Stately, robust, cheeky, overarching – Ryan ran the gauntlet and (later humbly declared) Hindemith gave him a good run for his money. This writer doesn’t have better ears, for better or worse, and it was wunderbar as far as he was concerned.
– and if taking it full circle from Baroque to 20th century wasn’t enough; and if this writer breaks more than one cardinal rule per sentence, Ryan brought on a Bach-Busoni finisher in C, originally written for the organ. This writer will avoid commenting on this instrument for fear of looking the fool, but a hearkening to the grand dame of the Western keyboard truly and inevitably nailed the endpoint home.
See seasons pass with every year while
people seem to stay, once or twice they
seem to fade away, but if you pay
attention their voices may appear (as songs drawn in a binder)
(Selamat pagi, auntie)
“开窗係 ‘bang’ 个一声“
(and I laugh – puns become my defining factor)
“ah, Pharmacy!” with a grin round the face
(and I grin back, without lack of irony)
(Auntie, what happened to you? Did you see a doctor?”
I, of course, sometimes remember March,
and sometimes others do when they see me:
congratulations, cake, and sweets, warm my
heart like tea, on a parched, dry, Winter
In birth we think of nothing but
the day that comes tomorrow –
in Life we think of even less the more we do
(time borrowed) thoughts deemed luxurious are cut (like ties)
but do remember each lies equal when dear Death accepts our legal
application – as do stars return to stardust,
so do we.
As the plane emerged from the sightless fog, the light of three spheres greeted me. It was a salutation of children too busy with their own amusement, of titans too great to forsake their labour, of celestial beings too distant to be discernible.
The lights of men glittered below whilst the stormy hammerwork went on, striking without warning. Indifferent to the miniscule energies of artificial light and planetary discharges, the stars above blazed silently, their point-like aloofness belying their Einsteinian prowess.
That would be Christmas – and who is to say that it may be, ultimately, a celebration of light? But of course, of light it was, and it was to be; the light at the end of the tunnel that many seemed to have traversed. The light at the end of the tunnel, which was but a sightless fog that none could peer through prior; and when we finally left it behind, only the the glory of what lay ahead was apparent.
Perhaps all that lay ahead was all that mattered.
It’s said, like wine, that poets grow best with age
The freshest bud of spring we pass on by
We think its promise, nay its purity
Is one – unto itself has formed its cage
Like thorns upon a rosy vine, surround
the fruit that man before our hallowed times
have trod; the leaves he leaves till autumn chimes
forgotten, strewn asunder, sunk to ground
How earthly fragrances may touch our tongue
How much has time worn on this glory year
However long our bodies fill with cheer
One toast, après, our end becomes unstrung
For auld acquaintance all alone, alas,
forgotten, missed; a pint, a moment passed.
Also titled: Love, Lust, Loss, Lachrymae
Twilight was my
favourite, I would
love the wind in the
streaks of red
flashing orange and violet when
my planetary gaze
wandered off in search of sights planes above my
Earthly pavement, my shell, my dust that was my
Stardust, all of it,
held together by sand, as sand goes
to sand and dust –
a speck finds my eye and thin lashes flutter
while time stands still. I blink
The darkness slams shut all that lights the land and the crush of night swells swiftly from the edges of the gloam and swallows indiscriminate
The dawn breaks screaming to the cry of the Sun
no feeling of life
In the short span of a few days I finished reading over a thousand pages’ worth of Gunnerkrigg Court. Full of laughs and capable of sating my appetite for juvenile romance, it is nonetheless well researched and rich in mythological parodies and references. Definitely worth a read for those with overflowing time or just a lack of cares.
At the risk of sounding trite and derivative, xkcd’s recent comic is phenomenal. How phenomenal, do you ask? Let’s just say, after a few minutes of perusal, I only discovered 2-3 of these notable easter eggs.
After 3 months’ of hard work, rescheduled lessons and rehearsals, sectionals, hiccups, and a disappearing holding room and risers later, NUSSO’s September Concert finally manifested:
Scenes from the rehearsal/soundcheck:
All in all, a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, if demanding and tiring. A very hearty congratulations to the V1s, Exco and the rest of NUSSO, and a big thank you . Here’s to the post-concert celebration, and to Miniatures and March Concert next year.
If death is an eternal sleep, then is suicide for the eternally weak?
I could say more, but that would just be preemptively putting my other foot in my mouth
Here are some quotes that I found particularly poignant:
Widowed female, age 52 (Her husband died three months before.)
Please tell Ron’s folks I love them very much but my heart breaks when I see or hear from them. Also all our friends especially Irene and Charles and Ella I love them also. Forgive me for not seeing them.
Everyone seems so happy and I am so alone. Amy. I wanted to visit you but I am going around in a dream. Alice I wanted to help you paint but how could I with a broken heart. And my head aches so much any more my nerves are ready to break and what would happen if they did.
You will say I am crazy and I can’t go on this way just half living.
I loved this house once but now it is so full of memories I can’t stay here. I have tried to think of some way to go on but can’t. Am so nervous all the time — I loved Ron too much but is that a sin, with him gone I have nothing. Oh I have the girls and family but they don’t fill the vacant spot left in my heart …
Xmas is coming I can’t go on I’m afraid I would break down. I’ve thought of this so many times. I love every one but I can’t be one of you any more. Please think kindly of me and forgive me. I only hope this is fatal then I can rest and no more trouble to any one. Do with Lisa whats best I know she has been a lot of worry to mama and I’m sorry. I tried to keep the yard up that seemed to be the only comfort I had. I loved it but that wasn’t anything. I’ve lost every thing so why go on. I worshipped Ron and when he went I lost my whole world and everything.
I’m so tired and lonely.
There goes a siren. Oh how can I stand being left. I need to go to a Dr. but I am afraid. I’m so cold.
Mother Love, Louise
Married male, age 45
You win, I can’t take it any longer, I know you have been waiting for this to happen. I hope it makes you very happy, this is not an easy thing to do, but I’ve got to the point where there is nothing to live for, a little bit of kindness from you would of made everything so different, but all that ever interested you was the dollar.
It is pretty hard for me to do anything when you are so greedy even with this house you couldn’t even be fair with that, well it’s all yours now and you won’t have to see the Lawyer anymore.
I wish you would you give my personal things to Danny, you couldn’t get much from selling them anyway, you still have my insurance, it isn’t much but it will be enough to take care of my debts and still have a few bucks left.
You always told me that I was the one that made Sharon take her life, in fact you said I killed her, but you know down deep in your heart it was you that made her do what she did, and now you have two deaths to your credit, it should make you feel very proud.
Good By Kid
P.S. Disregard all the mean things I’ve said in this letter, I have said a lot of things to you I didn’t really mean and I hope you get well and wish you the best of everything.
Cathy — don’t come in.
Call your mother, she will know what to do.
Cathy don’t go in the bedroom.
Some of the stories are tragic. A friend of a friend jumped from a high building and hit a parked car several stories below. She broke most of her bones and punctured several of her inner organs, but didn’t die. Instead she was wheeled, conscious, to the local emergency rom, her most privately conceived act announced to the world by the ambulance siren. She spent the next year in bed, much of it in a hospital ward allocated to critically ill victims of violence, her still suicidal mind the only functioning part of her body.
“Anyway, I suspect suicidal people are automatically rescued not for their own sakes, but for the rest of us. A suicide death, unless it is rationally prepared for, devastates. The message of a suicide attempt is often: Death is better than the pain you’ve caused me. And the message doesn’t have to come from someone you know. David Gruder, who directed crisis hotlines, told me about a woman who called up and raved: “I’ve had it. I’m pissed off. I’m killing myself and damned if I’m not to take someone else with me and you, you bastard, are coming. BANG!” She shot herself. And, as it happened, it was the hotline worker’s first call. She went right into a nervous breakdown.
But I believe the main reason a suicide attempt devastates and fascinates us is it reminds us how fragile our own hold on life is. “Here I am struggling along with my problems,” Michael Simpson said, “and here’s a guy who’s given up. Is it possible I’m wrong in bothering so hard to try to live? Once you start discussing suicide you’re asking what the grounds are for killing ourselves. The other side of that question is, ‘What am I living for?’ That’s an ugly question for most of us because we don’t usually know.””