Monday, January 27, 2014

Interview with Steven Ang (ME!!!)

I guess that after interviewing so many local and foreign acts in this blog, its finally time for me to take the hot seat now that I have my own stuff to plug. So I enlisted Hawk Liu's help in the interrogation. Here is the transcript:

Hawk: Good afternoon, Steven, would you like to tell us the repertoire you will be singing? and who else would be singing in the concert?

Steven: Hi Hawk! For this concert I will be singing Vaughan William's Songs of Travel, which I will attempt to sing it entirely from memory, in addition to a local and foreign art song in Chinese. My Basso Canaries partner Andrew Xiao Chunyuan will be presenting a number of works by local composers, including those by Quek Yong Siew, Phoon Yew Tien and his own. Our guest Alvin Koh is also singing three English numbers. In addition we have Beatrice Lin back on the piano and Cheryl Lim on flute.

Hawk: tell us how you guys went about choosing this repertoire?

Steven: well Andrew and I decided that for our next concert we would like to perform songs in languages that we actually speak, hence the title of The Bilingual Policy. I was exploring the Songs of Travel during my last months in Taipei and absolutely fell in love with it. It is so beautifully written and fits the baritone voice so well, bringing out all kinds of colours and interpretive ideas.

Hawk: I like the idea of the Bilingual Policy - it's a little bit of the tongue in cheek about a national policy that still lingers.

Steven: Yes, it is meant to be a tribute of sorts to this cornerstone of our education. Having been in Taiwan all these years has made me feel very fortunate that most of us can speak at least one Asian and one European language with some degree of fluency. I see how my classmates struggle to pass their English classes, yet they look on in amazement whenever I have a simple conversation with an ang moh. So while bilingualism is a skill that we in Singapore often take for granted, I have come to appreciate it through my journey overseas.

Hawk: You may want to tell us what an 'ang moh' is for the international readers?

Steven: Caucasians loh, so you can see how The Mad Scene is still very much a Singaporean portal, hehe...

Hawk: I believe Andrew writes some songs as well.

Steven: Yes, Andrew is quite into the composing scene, actively collaborating with prize winning writers and cultivated personal and working relationships with established local composers. This is a great opportunity for him to present his music to the public.

Hawk: The Songs of Travel are quite haunting. Do they speak to you in a personal way?

Performing scenes of Marcello in KL
Steven: Yes they certainly do; the protagonist's self-imposed isolation is somehow very relevant to me. How he shunned societal norms including marital love for a life of wondering is perhaps relevant to the outsider in me. While I am hardly an outdoor person, I somehow identify with the joy and sadness that he receives from his loneliness.

Hawk: hmmm.. I didn't know you are a wanderer? In the literal sense?

Steven: No not really, but I guess its about not conforming to societal norms. While I don't really want to leave modern society, I often feel as though I never quite fit in, and hence resigned to a life of being on the outside looking in.

Hawk: I see. I think many people of the younger generations are feeling the same way in Singapore too, 'fighting' the rigid attitudes of the establishments.

Steven: Yes, and wondering if we really fit into the larger scheme of things, and if its really all worth it.

Hawk: I see this is the third series of the Basso Canaries concerts. What kind of direction do you intend to take with it?

As Alcindoro in Taipei
Steven: We started in Feb 2012 with a programme of Mahler, Barber and Chinese songs, then with a Handel concert in Aug 2012. We took a one year hiatus while Andrew finished his music degree in London, and then we're returning with this one. Both Andrew and I have known each other for a long time, having been in the same choir for many years. When he first approached me to do a concert with him, I thought that its a good idea as we get to share the administrative burdens of production while giving us a low profile stage to perform and learn.

The first concert was a surprising box office success, even though I felt that there are areas which we could have done better artistically. And so we have continued with this journey, and are arriving at our third concert while polishing our art all this time. We will probably continue for as long as people are willing to hear us.

Hawk: I am sure they'll keep coming. Tell us more about Andrew's repertoire, as well as that of Alvin’s.

Steven: For Andrew's repertoire, he has been working as a composer for many years in addition to his work as a singer, and so this is a great opportunity for him to explore the works of his predecessors and mentors as well as present his own works. His voice has grown a lot after spending a year in London, it is much bigger and richer than before.

As for Alvin, he will be singing three songs by Vaughan Williams and Quilter. Silent Noon, Linden Lea and (one more that I can't remember now), all popular English songs that vividly describe the English countryside in music.

Hawk: I do think the repertoire of your concerts are interesting and stuff that other people don't do much of - especially Handel!

Steven: Yeah, that was quite an adventure. We were surprised and encouraged that the concert completely sold out! So perhaps we may continue along this vein, presenting more baroque and classical works in future presentations.

I for one had a great time performing Handel. While he does not demand superhuman feats in terms of high notes or volume, he takes you on quite a ride and stretches all your existing resources to the limits. It is a thorough vocal acrobatic workout! Plus its not just mere virtuosity, as he is quite adept at word setting for dramatic effect, and engages your imagination as an actor.

Hawk: now, your series being one that focuses on music for lower voices, it's a surprise you got Alvin, a high voice, in your concert.

Steven: yeah we decided that an evening featuring two baritones is quite enough, so its a nice contrast to have a higher voice bring in some variety. Alvin is a great addition to our act, he is a wonderful singer with a great technique and sings with sensitivity. I'm sure audiences will fall in love with his voice.

Hawk: Lastly, tell us why we should come see the concert?

Steven: Firstly, come and hear our collective repertoire, as we are presenting the best works of England, Singapore and China: it is so wonderful to be singing in languages that we actually speak. It brings out such nuances and detail that we might overlook while singing in German, French or Italian. Isn't it wonderful to attend a classical vocal recital that doesn't require you to read translations, guess the plot or leave wondering what all those songs were about?

Also, by attending this concert you will be showing support for three local singers who are coming of age and hoping to establish a career in the arts here. These days with The Mad Scene, I see a lot of resources going into grooming young artists, lots of scholarships and funding for performances, masterclasses and so on. These avenues weren't available when the three of us were students, but we have nonetheless hung in there, paid our dues and shaped the arts scene in big and small ways for many years. We hope that the public will come and celebrate our work, while encouraging us to keep going.

Hawk: nice, I will certainly come to see the concert. At least the songs will be tuneful ones!!

Steven: Thanks Hawk, see you there!

The Bilingual Policy by The Basso Canaries is on 10 February 2014. Tickets are available at The Arts House's box office. Email if you wish to book in advance. More information available at The Arts House's website.

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