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
The winter in my bones has left
the ship has sailed for warmer shores
and scattered far aloft the foams
are stories dear and whispers soft
My city has a lot of different faces
but some say only two-strong seasons’ graces.
we paint glass, wood, steel, ebony facades
and toy so with quartets of visages
I remember why the august said so then
sweet August harks gruff spectres wreathed o’er snow
that what you see may not be what you get
and what you hear can further not be trusted
How do you ascertain whilst you entertain that
song makes you strong – when harmonies are built from the bass and
voices can only wax (not wane)!
How shall I explain how
(do frosts of ages past speak so of fossils?)
music lives within me
when times pass strained an aural invasion – the
March of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth fills rapt perception
or when quietest of days-filled moments brings
the sudden sunbreak of Nessun Dorma
when drizzily petrichor raindrops jazz beats high hat psst clomp
the mind thinks it knows more but it does not what comes of it is
improvisation~ unreachable consciously light-years
away, pretending, one can only hope of the quiet of 4′ 33”
or is that the soundtrack of most, not he [who] is
How do you prove the
eternal undying random jukebox exists now that a child’s
handheld device contains greater volumes oozing aural delights,
decadence – do we,
do I have something left to prove?
The Sky – a shade of sickly grey
the (Crescent) sliver crimson,
the nose of peat and breath of ley
from Mother Earth arisen
Her day-old hatchlings drawn to sea,
Her silver moths to slaughter; flame
consumes Her Primaries angrily –
our silent sinking Grand Old Dame
She screams a crackling frequency
but soft, so i remember
last time in April, May, or June,
this time, (damn me), September
and what lies dank beneath the burnt,
repeated, carbon, chemistry,
and what, indeed, has mankind learnt
from this rekindling history?
A decade and a half, a younger me,
One so naive and silly,
Thought hard of voting for my chairman
from a candidate pool of one
chosen by my instructor-in-charge –
I thought it was great fun.
A decade, a teenager me,
finding my place in JC
Told to vote for my chairman
by my deskmate, (a desk has two)
One year hence another asked (the air)
“why did I vote for you?”
Then half a decade hence, and I
remember May nights chocolate skies
Torn between the exams of the day
and sentiments of night.
Why did I have to decide
against something that was my right?
Now there lays just half a day
till, for Parliament, I’ll have a say
Taken to task for choosing fair
for jobs, for roads, for covered walkways new.
Do I have the answer now,
to my forebears, fellows – to my heirs?
I remember the weather like I remember
April – the arid,
stagnation of warm,
steaming, summer. Not that we have seasons.
Not that we have much to mark our calendars with in April, (April Fool’s perhaps?)
or maybe this year’s seasonal Friday – after all, it Was Good.
Sometimes the skies take to storm, and the two-minute rainbow that follows after the
distant thunder-anvil mirrors the oily, imperceptible, impenetrable sheen that one can barely call
Sometimes the lands take to flame, and when there is fire
there is smoke, not always visible smoke, but sometimes as visible as a sunset that arrives unannounced,
touching the tip of the senses just as a scent does upon half-waking.
Sleep is all that is interrupted in summer, slow-cooking in the evening, searing in the noon, the Sun
rules over the dainty Earth and all she does is bow,
ever so slightly, and in so acquainting with her Sun, intimacy of the spheres,
such does our terrestrial days blur into routine
suddenness of temperament.
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.””