Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NAFA's Partnership with Royal College of Music

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at an event hosted by NAFA's music faculty to commemorate a new partnership with the Royal College of Music of our former colonial master. Its so nice to see young aspiring musicians get opportunities that I never had at the time, even nicer than ingesting radioactive sushi!!! But school fees without subsidy now cost almost four times of what I'm paying at my private university in Taipei, so they can suck it. 

A "Black Swan" Moment

 It was about 2a.m. in the morning yesterday probably, and there I was in my dorm of eight, fast asleep which is unusual for an incurable insomniac. All of a sudden I had this dream that lasted all of two seconds, not something that I saw but heard in my sleep: my own voice singing an upward chromatic scale starting from my lowest chest note all the way up to the very highest end of my head voice, ending with a whopping top note worthy of Lucia! All of a sudden I woke up in a shock and found myself sitting upright, with arms outstretched as if I just gave a virtuoso performance. What the heck was that!?!

Thankfully my roommates found it all rather bemusing than shocking since young people don't really need much sleep. The next day I kind of likened it to the final scene of La Sonnambula but on closer thought, it does kind of bring to mind Natalie Portman's haunting performance in Black Swan, about how a talented, innocent and virginal young ballerina drove herself crazy trying to play the Black Swan in Swan Lake. Now I've been neither innocent nor virginal for a long time (nor young for that matter, and 'talented' is really subjective...) but then I wonder if this Freudian slip is in anyway similar to what was so vividly described in the movie? Perhaps I just need a short break, but let's see what happens next. Hopefully nothing!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

LANXESS / SNYO Classic "A Musical Chemistry" in Review

Hawk Liu attends the LANXESS SNYO Classics concert with Lara St. John and tells us everything about it:

Thursday 21st April 2011
Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore
Singapore National Youth Orchestra
conductor: Alexander Polishchuk
guest soloist: Lara St. John

Richard Wagner - overture to "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg"
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto D major
Darrell Ang - Fanfare for a Frazzled Earth (world premiere)
Cesar Franck - Symphony D minor

written by Hawk Liu

The concert commenced with a short video introduction of the collaboration between LANXESS and the SNYO. In brief, LANXESS is a Germany-based chemicals company that has chosen to support the arts by running a mentorship and cultural exchange programme for musicians of SNYO. The video showcased Lara St. John's masterclasses during orchestral sessions with the SNYO. There was also the recent trip to Italy by 3 flautists of the orchestra to learn from master flautist Andrea Griminelli.

The pompous fantare of the Meistersinger overture started the concert proper. I was immediately greeted by the lush sounds of the string section, and I knew it was going to be a good evening - and it was. As I knew the overture quite well, I was looking out for all the nuances of the piece and almost everything I was hoping for was there. All the pomp, fanfare and lyricism were there. My only complaint for the piece was that the articulation in fast legato sections were less clear where single bowing was used.

Next came the violin concerto. Lara St. John literally jiggled throughout the piece, dancing to the notes of the music. In her green flowing gown, she did look like a nymph dancing for Gaia, the green earth. The first movement was one where there could be a good variety of interpretation and the soloist did give her own to it, notably with the variations in dynamics. To be specific, there was a great range of dynamics used within single phrases and sometimes alternate notes were so soft I couldn't make them out. This occurred quite a number of times throughout the first movement. I did not enjoy missing the notes I didn't get to hear - I must qualify that I am still a fan of St. John's as I own a few of her albums, nonetheless she did give all the necessary oomph to the piece. It was an unusual first movement for me because of the play on dynamics but the 2nd and 3rd movements were the regular Tchaikovsky  and I was smiling through to the end. Although the orchestra played a supporting role in the work, I was keen to listen to how they handled it. The first test for me was the first orchestral tutti in the first movement. When it came on, I was beaming! Everything was there! Tchaikovsky music features woodwinds prominently and the 2nd movement gave opporturnites for the principal flautist, clarinetist and oboist. Boy, did they shine! I was excited by what I heard. In fact, the whole woodwind section was good. At the end of the concerto, the conductor pointed out the woodwind soloists to the audience.

After the intermission, we heard Darrell Ang's premiere of his short piece, commisioned by LANXESS to exhort human beings to care for the environment. Ang was asked to compose an encore piece with oriental elements and so it included a Chinese folk tune. The piece was also influenced by Stravinsky, Bartok and Berg. It's a typical 21st century piece with lots of dissonance and difficult notes to play. Now I finally get to see the percussion section put to work, and they were really really busy! There was so much to see. It was a busy piece, with the entire orchestra was on a roll and not letting up. The Chinese folk melody came in the middle of the piece, played by the lower strings amidst the bustle. I did understand the relevance of the dissonance in probably depicting the industrial elements of the earth while the melody was playing but I did struggle to hear the melody with all that gong ringing at the same time. Perhaps, the 'industrial noise' could do more to not overpower the folk song, dynamically speaking.

The symphony in D minor was generally strong throughout, and quite French. French music has a habit of building prolonged climaxes that don't quite happen.... compared to Italian music.... but I digress. The horn soloist is featured extensively and performed quite well in the work. The horn is a notorious instrument to pitch and I think the soloist did a good job all round. The woodwind soloists were well featured again here, particularly the English horn. Good tone quality in all the soloists. The harp player got to play solo in the symphony too; although she played well, I swore the harp was not tuned to the orchestra's pitch! It was a good conclusion to the concert, although I did wish it was a work that contained more catchy motives as it was the concluding piece of the concert.

So my first encounter with the SNYO was more than satisfying. I was literally smiling through much of the Wagner and Tchaikovsky because, musically, I got what I wanted out of them. The orchestral sound was generally lush and I must add that their entries were spot on. The horn section was a joy to hear because I know how notorious the instrument is. Much good has been said about the woodwinds and they were given their dues during the applause. I do like the balance in the strings. The large ensemble in the 2nd violins and violas was good in supporting the 1st violins. I think getting a few more cellists might complete the string sound, but this is just an opinion.

I should also mention the conductor who, at least in my opinion, chose the most satisfying interpretations for the evening's pieces. He brought out the 'romantic' sounds in the orchestra quite well. The tempi were great, not a dull moment. Thanks for doing such a great job with our musicians.

Nonetheless there were a few hiccups here and there, and I reiterate that the articulation passages which require single bowing for the strings were not clear much of the time, strangely, more so in Wagner and Tchaikovsly than in Franck. I observed that only the middle third of the bow was used much of the time. I did wish they would use more of the entire length of the bow for stronger articulation and tone (even for soft passages). Horn players created the occasional 'noise' (putting down of mutes) in their quick switching of mutes and there were bows of the string players knocking on the stands on a number of occasions. Alright, nothing too dramatic to mar the evening but something that members should be more aware of in future concerts. It was a most enjoyable evening and I thought the orchestra played to a very good standard. I was hearing a very good romantic sound in the orchestra. Good command of the late romantic style! I shall be curious to see how they might handle Baroque music - hopefully soon!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interview with Martin Ng

Fans of SLO productions would be familiar with the face and voice of Martin Ng Hon Wai, the bass-baritone who has sung numerous supporting roles with the company since winning their only competition many years ago. Come 28 April 2011 Martin will finally take centrestage at YMS's After 8 series (but held at the Esplanade Recital Studio so don't get the locations mixed-up!), in a recital titled From Monteverdi to Mascagni. This is a comprehensive survey of Italian songs from the Baroque to Romantic periods (more info here). Here, Martin tells us what we can look forward to and what he has been up to since last appearing at the SLO's Magic Flute:

The Mad Scene: Tell us, what have you been up to since the SLO’s Magic Flute?

Martin: After SLO's Magic Flute I returned to Italy and auditioned for Bach's Magnificat and sang the Bass soloist under Alberto Rasi, an early music exponent in Verona. I've also been involved in a series of contemporary music dedicated to Jewish music and composers who died in the concentration camp, it was my first experience with modern music and I have to say that the experience was wonderful. And finally, I won 2nd prize in an international competition singing Rossini and Haydn.

The Mad Scene: Describe your recital From Monteverdi to Mascagni in your own words. What can music lovers look forward to at the event?

Martin: It is a representation Italian music from the early baroque to the verismo period. From the early music of Caccini and Monteverdi to middle and late Baroque of Alessandro Scarlatti and Vivaldi. And then to the bel canto period of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini and then to the Romanticism of Verdi and Ponchielli and concluding with the verismo of Puccini, Leoncavallo and Mascagni. In a few words a kaleidescope of Italian vocal chamber music (musica da camera) from 1600 to 1900.

The Mad Scene: Shane Thio will be accompanying you on harpsichord and piano. What differences are there when performing with these two instruments?

Martin: Well for a start , we all know the sound of the pianoforte... for the harpsichord...mmmm as Thomas Beecham puts it so well...The sound of a harpsichord - two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof in a thunderstorm. It just has to be that sound that accompanies you when you're singing anything before 1800.

The Mad Scene: Verdi and Puccini wrote art songs? You’d never have guessed from the thousands of recordings and concerts of their arias! Given the popularity of these composers why do you think their chamber art songs are so seldom featured in performance?

Martin: Well I guess its because they didn't write art songs as well as they wrote their operas. Their real genius's was in writing music for the theatre, I.e. dramatic music. Just as Schubert's operas aren't as well known as his lieder. But on the other hand, studying the art songs of these masters helps us understand better their style. In their songs, we can often identify pieces of which, are similar or identical to the famous arias or duets we hear in their operatic masterpieces.

The Mad Scene: What’s engagements do you have after your homecoming gig?

Martin: I'm singing the First Nazarene in Strauss' Salome for the SLO and bass soloist for Bach's Saint John's Passion at Santa Maria under Alberto Rassi, and Faure's Requiem in Villafranca, Verona.

The Mad Scene: Lastly, who do you prefer, Callas or Tebaldi?

Martin: Mmmmmmmm how about Siepi?

Yes Cesare Siepi to Martin is just like champagne while Callas and Tebaldi are both like Coca-Cola. Check out Martin Ng in From Monteverdi to Mascagni on 28 April 2011. Ticketing information at the Events Page.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Farewell to Mr. Leong Yoon Pin (1931-2011)

The Mad Scene is saddened to report the passing of composer Mr. Leong Yoon Pin, one of the pioneers of Singapore's music scene. Nonetheless we are grateful for all the work he has done to educate and inspired many younger and not-so-young musicians, professional and amateur. Go to Pianomania for a full report.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

SLO Children's Choir to Premiere 4 Pieces by Singaporean Composers

Now that I'm a full-time music student I can finally appreciate what a pain contemporary music is. A score with no key signatures used to mean the key of C major which of many things is simply easier to sight-read. Now it means that the composer will be adding lots of sharps and flats as we go along and changing keys where ever and whenever possible with no discernible melodic lines.  So kudos to the kids at the SLO Children's Choir for performing no  less than 4 world-premieres by local composers. Read more to find out:

18 March 2011 – The concert on 15 July 2011 marks the 5th year of the founding of SLO Children’s Choir. To commemorate its success, Singapore Lyric Opera, the parent organisation of the SLO’s Children’s Choir, commissioned four of Singapore’s most promising composers Mr Chen Zhangyi, Mr Lim Yi Benjamin, Miss Liong Kit Yeng and Miss Emily Koh.

Audiences will also be enchanted by favourites from opera composers such as Mozart, Bizet and Puccini. The conductors are Khor Ai Ming and Cherylene Liew.

Ms Ng Siew Eng, GM of Singapore Lyric Opera says: “Singapore Lyric Opera encourages the nurturing of talents whether it is vocalists, musicians, conductors or composers. We have to put in place a repertoire of songs that Singaporeans can identify as their own. There is a limited list of songs that we can call our own. SLO takes upon itself to nurture the writing of these songs which can also be used as our true blue Singaporean export when we perform overseas as well.”

With a growing career as a composer based in Baltimore, Chen Zhangyi, composed a piece entitled Dao, based on a poem of the same name by Cultural Medallion recipient Dr. Liang Wern Fook. Also translated as Island, it poetically depicts a heartwarming relationship between father and son. Zhangyi is also currently a master’s candidate for composition and music theory pedagogy at the Peabody Institute of Music, Johns Hopkins University. Besides a composer, Lim Yi Benjamin is also a sheng (Chinese reed pipe mouth organ)
performer, guitarist and educator whose works have been commissioned and performed by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, and re:mix String Orchestra, just to name a few. He will be contributing his piece “If You Were Coming”.

Liong Kit Yeng who has had prior experience in composing music for choirs, music ensembles, dance, and theatre productions, went on to pursue her music education with Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, under the tutelage of Dr Zechariah Goh Toh Chai. His piece for the performance will be “After the Rain”.

Currently pursuing her Master of Music degree in composition and music theory pedagogy at the Peabody Conservatory, Emily Koh is a valedictorian who has studied composition with Ho Chee Kong and double bass with Guennadi Mouzyka. Emily will be composing her very own piece, “There is Painted Bus.”In addition to these four songs, SLO Children’s choir will also sing Dr Kelly Tan’s The Daffodils based on the poem by William Wordsworth. Other performances to look forward to are Over the Rainbow by H Arlen arr. A Snyder, Chorus of the Street Boys (from Carmen) by G Bizet, and a refreshing take of Don’t Stop Believin’ (arr. from R Emerson) from hit television series, Glee.

These talented composers mark the next generation of maestros who will be spearheading the opera industry in the next few years to come. Be sure to catch them in their prime and lend your support to the local burgeoning heroes of opera.

Aren't you just brimming with excitement to find out just what the kids will be singing? Get your tickets NOW at the Events Page!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

SNYO and Lara St. John - 5 Pairs of Tickets to Giveaway

OK check out the spiel for this concert, cos LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC is kindly giving away 5 pairs of tickets to readers of  The Mad Scene!

LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC 2011 “A Musical Chemistry”

Thursday, 21 April 2011


The Esplanade Concert Hall

LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC presents A Musical Chemistry, a one-night only concert by the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO). Under the baton of guest conductor, Maestro Alexander Polishchuk from the St Petersburg House of Music, the orchestra will perform Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg and César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Performing as guest soloist will be the critically acclaimed Canadian violin virtuoso Lara St John. She will be performing, together with the SNYO, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. The concert will also feature the world premiere of Darrell Ang’s composition, Fanfare for a Frazzled Earth.

The LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC is a 3-year mentorship and cultural exchange programme created by LANXESS, a leading global specialty chemicals company, in support of Singapore youth’s passion for music and to make classical music accessible to everyone.

Can't wait to attend? All you have to do is send an email to with the following details:

Subject title: LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC Concert

Body text: Your name and telephone number.

First five readers to write in will receive a pair of tickets each. Winners will be notified during the coming week. LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC and The Mad Scene reserves the right to amend the rules and regulations if necessary. So WRITE IN NOW FOR YOUR FREE TICKETS!!!

UPDATE: Congratulations to our five winners! Andrew Xiao, Karen Siah, Faizah Jamal, Ed Cruz and Wiepke van Aaken have each won a pair of tickets to LANXESS SNYO Classic's concert with Lara St. John on 21 April 2011. More details will be emailed to you shortly.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Bloggers' Guide: Busting Classical Music Myths

German chemicals company LANXESS  recently held a talk and music appreciation session with special guests John Sharpley and Darrell Ang. Our contributor Hawk Liu was there to cover the event:

Venue: The Pigeonhole, 52 and 53 Duxton Road
Tuesday, 5th April 2011
Written by Hawk Liu

I entered the cosy 2-unit cafe at Duxton Road and was greeted by smiling people from the PR team from Phish Communications, who made sure I was comfortable for the next 20 minutes - alright it was longer than that - they made sure I was never lonely for more than a few moments. There were sofas and comfortable places to put your lazy bodies down, order a drink from the counter, and just chat. Nice setting for a Q & A session. I caught up with a few friends, including two of the guest speakers - John Sharpley and Darrell Ang.
While more guests were arriving, we helped ourselves to a generous layout of snacks. An introductory video played on a projection screen, showing some clips from an Italian training trip for musicians, organised by LANXESS.

In brief, LANXESS is a Germany-based chemicals company that has chosen to support the arts by running a mentorship and cultural exchange programme for musicians of SNYO (Singapore National Youth Orchestra).

We were each given a goodies bag from LANXESS containing a thumb drive (with information - documents, vidoes, photographs - about SNYO and their collaboration with LANXESS), and an invitation to the next concert of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (details below). This would be their second concert and Lara St John would be playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the orchestra!

The people from LANXESS came to chat with me (and I must add that they were so very welcoming and warm) and that gave me a chance to find out what their company was all about and what role they played in the event. The latest project was taking a team of 3 young flautists to Italy (13 to 18 March 2011) to learn from the master, Andrea Griminelli . The 3 youths (Jasper Goh, Rachel Ho and Tu Siling) said they are now inspired to go all the way to making music their career.

While everyone made themselves comfortable on lazy sofas, Kaye Lim (who chaired the whole meeting) from LANXESS introduced the special guests - Olive Kan (representing the Singapore National Youth Orchestra), Darrell Ang (international conductor), and John Sharpley (composer and lecturer).
Darrell expressed his wish for a general appreciation for classical music in the population, John gave a very good background on Debussy's approach to music which involved integration of elements from various genres and cultures of his time, Olive talked about her own music journey. She also gave us more insight into the LANXESS-SNYO collaboration.

The panel gave their wisdom and knowledge on a number of issues - could musicians make their dreams come true even if they were financially disadvantaged, how the appearance of new media infrastructure like Youtube promote easier access to classical music, how the performance scene today is more vibrant compared to the rare visits to Singapore by world class international musicians 20 years ago, how nurturing creativity in music education can enhance appreciation, and where could bloggers start their adventure in seeking out classical music for enjoyment.

In the middle of all that, John conducted a game of musical trivia and that drew a lot of laughter and giggles. And lastly, what is an event on music with no music? And so the 3 young flautists who recently returned from their Italian training trip each gave a solo rendition on their instruments.

I am glad that LANXESS is doing this for classical music. In fact, I am glad anyone is doing something for classical music - there is so much wealth of music to be discovered by our youths! This is an evening well spent! So bloggers - let's look forward to the next session!

Do read about LANXESS on this link, and the SNYO on

LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC 2011 “A Musical Chemistry”
Thursday, 21 April 2011
The Esplanade Concert Hall
Tickets are priced at $9 (excluding booking fee)
Available at all SISTIC outlets

Gosh! I feel so inspired as I'm typing this in between my (self-funded) music conservatory courses. Isn't wonderful that our young budding musicians get these wonderful breaks? I wonder what is being planned to help slightly more mature artists who have contributed many more years to the arts scene in Singapore, or to independently run e-zines that help promote these fantastic concerts?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Belleepoque for Japan

Every now and then I can't help but wonder, just what place does the arts have in society. And then something like this comes along and reminds us what the arts can do to help:

Dear Friends,

Bellepoque and the Arts House will present a special music night in support of Japan's victims.

Friday 15th April, 8pm, the Arts House/Living Room.

Tickets at 28SGD (plus 2 SGD charges)
tickets sale starts on 6 April 2011 hotline : 6332 6919

If you can't make it, please help us spreading the word around
We hope to see you there

Please visit the Events Page for ticketing information.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nanyang Polytechnic Chinese Orchestra in Taipei

Its tempting to get all smaltzy with this story but I should add a disclaimer that I attend just about every concert held in my school auditorium anyway. Still it was at least a lovely treat to have a such a big group from home come all the way here and perform literally right at your doorstep. The evening was hosted by the university's Chinese Orchestra Society but the guys and gals from the Nanyang Polytechnic Chinese Orchestra performed the bulk of the programme.

As such cultural exchange concerts go, programming typically consist of works from both the visitors' and hosts' countries, and the orchestra did not disappoint with a varied repertoire ranging from Stephanie Sun to S.H.E. Of course, serious works were also presented and they delivered with enthusiastic, virtuosic flair. The team has obviously worked hard together as every cue and dynamic change was done with well-tuned precision and milked for theatrical effect.

Sorry for poor picture quality and lopsidedness

The orchestra moves on to Miaoli for a region-wide competition. I wish them all the best of luck and hope they will have a great time in Taiwan.