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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I remember December – sombre slumber, amber thunder, limber Sarabande timbre
solemn, an omen, a moratorium, in memoriam, si vis pacem, para bellum,
silence, an abscence, scents of incense, pretense of license, reminiscence – but extravagance immense,
feminism, fanatical schism, imperial dogmatism, solipsism, prism metaphysical, procreationism, blind criticism
the mind rescinds, rewinds, per truisms unwind, resigns over procrastination, chance opportunism,
swim, pine, dance
spin, turn, remind, sigh, play, push, tinker, cheer, joy, sheer, fall and call,
storm and dry, cats and drang, hung out to dream, gone to the disco,
a dog’s deluge, death’s demise – December’s door
Pianoforte Lim Yan
Violin Lee Shi Mei
Cello Lin Juan
30 Sep 2015 . Sat
Esplanade Recital Studio
Beethoven “Kakadu” Variations
Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2
Schubert’s B-Flat Piano Trio
In a preview (if you will) of their 9 Oct performance as part of the inaugural 2015 Singapore International Festival of Music, this combination featuring local stalwarts and an expansive program was embraced by a conservative turnout on this Wednesday evening. Despite the modest, albeit loyal, audience, the trio shone in their debut(?) collaboration and crafted several magical moments within these two short hours.
First up would be the variations on a then-popular theme “Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu” (Eng: “I am Mr Cockatoo”). A fairly lightweight and now-forgotten tune, it was likely composed much earlier in Beethoven’s career then subsequently revised into a much more robust set. A critic noted it’s lack of unity, but what it lacks in cohesiveness it makes up in breadth of scope. From the gravity of the slow introduction, to the classical levity of the main body of variations, to the fugal retrospection of the later sections, the trio took all challenges in their stride, with only the slightest hint of a disagreement of momentum with the cello opting to push the pulse and the violin preferring giving the phrases full value of lyricism. Apart from a sprinkling of clearly tricky sections (that other ensembles also appear to have trouble with), there was little left wanting from the trio’s experienced prowess moving from molten sound to articulate aristocracy.
The anchor work of the evening would not be the titular one, intriguingly enough. Dedicated to his good friend Ivan Sollertinsky, Shostakovich’s second attempt at the medium would a devastating portrait of both statistical and individual tragedy; in comparison, the first was a student work of romanticism and relative lyrical beauty. A haunting and deceptively (read: terrifyingly) difficult cello solo of harmonics set the opening otherworldly atmosphere, within which an endless, fruitless search ending in dissonant dead-ends seems to take place throughout the first movement. An exuberant, almost manic Scherzo, played to nail-biting intensity without any sacrifice in line-building, swung bipolar from consonance to dissonance in both major and minor modes. Following trudgingly, the semi-fugal Largo began to display the trio’s uncanny blended ensemble soundscape, leading attaca to the blazing finale reminiscent of the famous movement in his 8th string quartet.
As dessert to cleanse the palate of the gravitas, the Schubert was certainly the sunny finale of the evening to look forward to. Semi-repetitive but not yet to a fault, the sweet melodies were distributed simply (not finely woven) through the three musicians, and were executed to an exquisite precision of rhythm and musicianship. The coalescence of magic arrived in the Andante, when that legendary moment when that every ensemble seeks manifested, and the trio sounded as one organism, one pulse, one multi-threaded line. A dainty Scherzo-Trio and a devilishly-dotted Rondo later, the trio wrapped up this neat package of brilliance and dulcitude.
Looking forward to yet another successful concert on the 9th of October, and to many more successful and creative collaboration from this promising group in the future.
June was a time of me, myself, and I
remember June for all the joy it brought to you and me
for all that comes before is hopes of holiday,
hopes of freedom, flight, rejuvenation
We remember June now that we remember nature –
she who giveth us life taketh it like the
heavens taketh water, and giveth us ice;
as the sun gives us gold and the moon silver –
and only silver may man wield over another’s tomb
and only earth (from whence we came) may take us once again.
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.
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.””