Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Basso Canaries Presents: 'The Billingual Policy' - 10 Feb 2014

In case you don't already know, the Basso Canaries are Andrew Xiao Chunyuan and myself, Steven Ang. This will be our third concert at The Arts House under the Living With series. It will be a programme of English and Chinese songs, two languages that we have been taught to speak from young. Pianist Beatrice Lin will be helping us play again. Singer Alvin Koh and flautist Cheryl Lim will also be making guest appearances.

The show's title, The Bilingual Policy, is really inspired by my 4 year study trip in Taiwan. Apparently the movie I Not Stupid is very popular there, and folks are always asking me if its true that we speak so many languages in one conversation (which of course is true and not so unusual among us Singaporeans). It soon occurred to me that my comfort with both the English and Chinese languages (the latter which is admittedly not as good but has improved significantly over the years) is something akin to having X-Men-like superpowers; friends look on in envy as I chat away with Caucasian visitors, usually an esteemed musician from the US or Europe. Not a day goes by when I'm not called upon to translate one thing or another as a favour, either orally or in writing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

BHSO 'Sing-Messiah!' in Review

The audience sang! and not just a few individuals either. the chorus in the audience was just as strong as the one on stage, even if not so organised.

And really this just about sums up the success of this do-it-yourself concert: the applause and standing ovation at the end was as much a reward for the performers as it was for ourselves for joining in. Suffice to say that I had a blast. 

The atmosphere was generally relaxed, starting off with a humorous spoken introduction by conductor Adrian Tan, the music that followed also had a generally relaxed tempo, easier for audiences to follow in the choruses perhaps, but also for the overture and arias as well. Only 90 minutes of the piece was featured, with much of Act 2 and repeats of arias left out. 

All in all, the sum of this event is greater than its parts. Sure there were many flaws in the performance; the brasses could have better intonation, and much of the first part dragged a little, lacking that baroque rhythmic 'bounce', a soloist had difficulty with high notes, and the chorus could really sing out more. But really all that mattered was that the crowd got to take part in the action, and that everyone had fun doing it (and to be fair I was really too busy sight-singing to listen properly).

The four local soloists, all trained in the UK, had a distinctly commonwealth style in their singing, had good understanding of the British oratorio tradition and appropriate baroque style. this is the best singing I've heard from Ee-Ping, the voice was bright and clear while still retaining its unique creamy colours, the coloratura passages of Rejoice Greatly were tossed off with ease. It's been years since I last heard Rebecca Chellappah; she sang the mezzo parts with much charisma and grace.

In all I would rank this as still an amateur level concert, but a first rate attempt at interactive concerts. As an encore, a medley of popular Christmas carols gave us another fun-filled session before sending us on our way. If this is meant to be the start of an annual Messiah-Singalong tradition and Maestro Tan promised, I say bring it on!

(P.S I totally nailed the runs in For Unto Us a Child is Born!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

'The Mad Scene' Quoted in The Straits Times

Click to enlarge
I must say that I feel quite pleased to see my name and writing quoted in Lightseeker's ad on The Straits Times. The quote was taken from the media preview where a scene was performed for us press people. Apparently the ad had been running for the past month but I only found out this last Friday! So glad to see that The Mad Scene is taken seriously by big name producers in Singapore. My best wishes to everyone involved in the production.

Recruitment for 2nd Steinway Youth Competition

Click to enlarge
Registration for the 2nd Steinway Youth Piano Competition is still open till 20 January 2014. If you are or know someone 17 and below who knows his or her way around a keyboard, here's your chance to take your playing to an international level. Click on the link below to sign-up:

Here's a trailer for the competition:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Any Resemblance?

That's Chinese evergreen singer Tsai Qin on the right; you can see that pop music wise I have the taste of a middle-age woman. Yeah Anna Netrebko has really matured from her sex kitten days...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Notre Dame de Paris' in Review

The cast and creative team describe this musical as having 'no recitative, with the story told entirely in song'. What this means is that the show is essentially an endless succession of lovelorn ballads, occasionally interspersed by an uptempo rock number, usually to represent crowd scenes. Each song has its own melody and style, never to be repeated for the rest of the show. And so the storytelling is rather stodgy, no plot development in the (lack of) script nor usage of traditional musical storytelling devices: no overture, no repeated musical themes to give a sense of musical entirety, nor instrumental passages to heighten dramatic moments. The cast sings a lot about how they are feeling, not so much about what happened to get them in these heightened situations. With a lack of dialogue (musical or spoken), the cast resort to briefly miming parts in between songs to help connect one song to the other. Plot points are rushed over even in very dramatic moments, so it takes some guessing and imagination for audiences to understand what's going on. Songs Inspired by the Hunchback of Notre Dame would have been a more appropriate title, rather than calling it a musical per se.

Interviews with Cast of MBS's 'Hunchback of Notre Dame'

So like Hawk and I attended Notre Dame's press conference today and came away with quite a few pictures and face-to-face chats with the cast. Italian Alessandra Ferrari and French-Canadian Matt Laurent in the first video, fellow French-Canadians Richard Charest and Robert Marian in the second. Check out our interviews here. You can also view performance photos on our Facebook Group. Review coming soon!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Shenyang, Yu Guanqun, Zhu Huiling Recital at Huayi 2014

World-class opera singers from China gather in Singapore for one recital. Shenyang won the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the Year when he was plucked from obscurity by Renee Fleming during a masterclass in Shanghai, who offered him access to the Met's coaches. He can be seen in the diva's DVD of Handel's Rodelinda at the Metropolitan Opera.

Yu Guanqun, too, has to thank the Met for reaching her to a public much wider than any theatre can hold, namely the readers of Parterre Box, that most fabulous NYC-based website for gay opera fans. How's that for reaching international stardom?

Here's Shenyang's prize-winning performance at Cardiff. Despite his young age, it shows great potential as a dramatic bass baritone when the voice reaches maturity:

Here's a pre-fame clip of Yu Guanqun performing an excerpt of her calling card Il Trovatore:

Shenyang and Yu Guanqun will perform with mezzo Zhu Huiling on 8 February 2014. Check out the Events Page for details.

Four Last Songs with Swedish soprano Annalena Persson - 25 Jan 2014

This is one concert that I'm really looking forward to: having heard her sing Britten's War Requiem in Taipei, I would love to hear this Swedish dramatic soprano in more lyrical pieces. In addition to the Four Last Songs, she will also perform the Liebestod after the interval. Totally worth the ticket price IMHO. Check out the Events Page for tickets!

'Crazy Christmas – Ting Tong Belles' in Review

It was a laugh out loud sketch comedy variety show that includes a dazzling display of song-and-dance. The show ran on a tight ship with segments nicely syncing into each other, topical topics explored first with a comedic monologue and then with a song.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vox Camerata's 'A Ceremony of Carols' in Review

December is the time for Christmas themed concerts; Vox Camerata with guest conductor Reuben Lai got the ball rolling with a beautiful presentation of A Ceremony of Carols among other works.

The concert literally started off with a bang, as a singer banging on a hand-held drum led the choir members down the walkway, starting the show at close distance with the audience before filing in two rows onto the stage.

Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra's 'Sing Messiah!' on Time Out Singapore

I speak to Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra conductor Adrian Tan to discuss the orchestra's upcoming 'Sing Messiah', a performance of Handel's great oratorio where audiences get to bring scores and sing along. Concert also features Ee Ping, Reuben Lai, Rebecca Chellappah and William Lim. Check out the story here:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hi-5 @ MBS - 20 to 22 December 2013

Chidren's act Hi-5 returns to MBS from 20 to 22 December 2013. Here's more information:

Hi-5 Returns to Singapore with a House Party Extravaganza this December

Fans of Hi-5 are in for a treat this holidays when the gang debut their new cast line-up with the “Hi-5 House Party” from 20-22 December at the MasterCard Theatres. The newly created show features Stevie, Lauren, and Dayen as they welcome their newest Hi-5 friends Mary and Ainsley, to the stage to transport audiences to the most fun filled place in the world – their fabulous new “Hi-5 House”. Young audiences will experience a dance party extravaganza with lots of music and party games and non-stop dancing. Tickets for this show will be on sale from 9 October 2013.

The Hi-5 House Party is set in the backyard, where boogie fever lives on together with fun games and non-stop songs with dance moves that everyone can bop to. Hi-5’s favourite friend DJ Chats will be the “party meister” spinning music and keeping everyone on their toes! Audiences can look forward to all the familiar party games kids can ask for, with a Hi-5 twist of course , including hide-and-seek, ‘Chat Says’, musical statues, guessing games and even a limbo competition!

Charlie Rose Interviewing James Levine

I just spent an hour on this lazy Sunday morning watching an interview of Maestro James Levine with Charlie Rose, originally aired on 18 October 2013. He discusses among many other topics his return to the Met after spending two years recovering from a back injury, his formative years learning from the best musicians in the world (check out the picture of the prodigy at 5 years old lounging at on a sofa reading a score of Faust), and the state of opera performance today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Resorts World Sentosa's 'LightSeeker' in Review

This original local production with a cast of 38 ang mohs (and one Jap) is a fine masterclass in stage technology. It also helps that the production is built around the RWS Theatre, making full use of its space and trappings including audience spaces in order to overwhelm the senses. A floor to ceiling projection screen provide moving backdrops in 3D quality. The futuristic sets and costumes are incredibly detailed and opulent. Every time the scrim is brought down for video clips, you can be sure that it will eventually open to reveal another eye-popping set. Performers swing from ropes and bungee cords in between songs, sometimes for no apparent reason other than to impress.

But rather than being just empty spectacle, it has a cohesive plot that, while having some loopholes, is substantial enough to be more than just an excuse for song and dance (especially in comparison with the jukebox musicals that are making the rounds in productions and in movie form). A sci-fi fantasy with a semi-moralistic story, it brings to mind recent 3D movie blockbusters such as Avatar, with its otherworldly universe, good vs evil morality and apocalyptic premise. (though I have to say that I did not quite understand what happened at the ending, and that it seemed rather abrupt and forced.) Lim Kay-Siu makes a filmed appearance as The Emperor, a character not so different in look and function from the similarly named character of the Star Wars movies.

Bellepoque's 'Viva Verdi' in Review

it was a pleasant, chamber style presentation of Verdi's music. Two chairs, a coffee table, champagne bottles and glasses served as a simple set that nonetheless went a long way to allow the performers to act out their characters in addition to singing. The intimate setting of the Esplanade Recital Studio with its warm acoustics allowed the singers to perform naturally while letting listeners feel the natural resonance of their voices. Time flew by all of its intermission-less 70 minutes.

On the programme is a healthy dose of excerpts from La Traviata, as well as arias from Un ballo in maschera, Aida and Falstaff. Italian actress Alessandra Fel hosted with scripted mologues, drawing laughter by focusing on the high death count of Verdi's operas (firstly, here is an opera where the woman dies, next is another opera where the man dies. This will be followed by another opera where both man and woman dies.) One has to pay close attention to get past her accent, but her participation was fun and livened up the evening.

Of the cast, I thought that Shaun Lee essayed Alfredo's aria and act 1 det (Un di felice) really well. His sound is rich and full if a tad nasal, and allowed him the freedom to inhabit his character. Angela Cortez, a competition winning student at NAFA, sang Violetta's Act 1 duets (Brindisi and Un di felice). She has a pleasant, sweet voice with steady high notes. Sabrina Zuber, suffering (or perhaps aided) by a cold, sang Addio del passato in a fragile, childlike manner with unforced vulnerability. While legato was sacrificed for extra breaths, she was otherwise vocally sound, with pitch perfect soft high notes at the end (the second phrase was presented, something which I appreciate very much).

 I was most impressed with Satsuki Nagatome and William Lim's performances. Singing arias from Ballo and Aida, Satsuki's voice was firm with blazing high notes. More impressive was the genuine pathos that she summoned, whether pleading for forgiveness or seeking divine intervention. The more speech-like parts of her arias could use a little more resonance, but it was a fully committed performance that won

William matched her in the theatrical and musical stakes; the voice flowed with chocolaty smoothness with no hint of difficulty on high, and in arias from Traviata and Ballo, gave personal and sympathetic portrayals of his characters. Performing the aria of the lovelorn Fenton from Falstaff (apparently Verdi's most boring as nobody dies), Brendan Keefe Au sang beautifully with a lovely head resonance, charming the audience over with his winsome smile.

Throughout the evening, pianist Vincent Chen (apparently a last minute replacement for an ill-stricken colleague) played with lively colours and still sensitively supported the singers. I'm guessing that the cast of singers must feel assured and inspired with his playing.

The final number, a full-cast rendition of Va Pensiero, seemed like a last minute addition as it wasn't in the programme and some singers were holding scores. A conductor's hand would have helped to better shape the proceedings, as most of the composer's detailed dynamic markings went largely ignored. Still it was a slight blimp on an otherwise intimate evening, a new way to hear these favorite arias in chamber music form.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

An Interview with Reuben Lai and Vox Camerata Members

So I was planning to do an interview with Reuben Lai, known mostly as a professional tenor but also works as a choral conductor. He will be guest-conducting Vox Camerata's Christmas concert this coming Saturday 7 December (Saturday), featuring Poulenc's Four Christmas Motets followed by Britten's A Ceremony of Carols.

A true democratic leader, he wanted to have a few choral members chip in their thoughts too, so we included committee members Henry Lim and April Tan as well. Here's what we talked about:

LANXESS- SNYO Classic - 'Musical Inspirations' in Review

My friend and Basso Canaries colleague Andrew Xiao Chun-yuan attended the recent SNYO concert on 26 November 2013. Here are his thoughts:

The Singapore National Youth Orchestra did another spectacular concert under the Laxness SNYO Classic concert again.

This time round, it showcased Carl Maria Von Webber's operatic overture from Oberon, Carl Philipp Stamata's Viola Concerto and Johannes Brahms's Symphony No 1 in c minor. The conductor is guest conductor David Commanday from America and guest soloist Max Mandel from Canada.

The name Oberon, also spelled as Auberon is actually the King of Fairies. His origin dates back as far as the medieval era and he is made famous under the pen of William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In this SNYO concert, the orchestra gave a commanding performance. In the Weber's operatic overture, the orchestra gave out wonderful colours and texture of the work especially the beautiful sound of the French horn when the music started.

The viola as a concerto instrument is rarely heard and the instrument started to gain its seat in the orchestra during the 18th century. Compared to the violin which is higher pitched and smaller in size and which has a brighter tone, it is no wonder the violin has more composers writing concertos for. Nevertheless, one can be awed by the viola too if you get the right person to play it. The guest soloist Max Mandel did an excellent job, showing what the viola really can do. The work consistts of three movements, the first in major key, the second in minor key and the last back to major key. In this work, the most interesting part came from the third movement where Max giving a cheeky note in his cadenza.

After the interval, came Brahms's Symphony No 1 in c minor. Regarding the story behind this great symphonic work, Brahms took a very long time to compose this symphony as he personally thought Beethoven as his idol in terms of symphonic work and he feared if he wrote one, it may become a failure or be compared with the great Beethoven himself.

Of my favourite symphonic works, this Brahms's Symphony No 1 is one of my favourites. On the note of how the orchestra fared, I must say the orchestra did a wonderful job especially the leader, Kow Xiu-Yi who played the principal violin solo in the last movement.

In short, it is two thumbs up for me and I must say that the SNYO lived up to the evening's premise of inspiring people through music.

Interview with LANXESS-SNYO Guest Conductor David Commanday

I had a short chat with Singapore National Youth Orchestra guest mentor and conductor David Commanday, discussing the growing influence of classical music in Asia, leading students vs full-timers and their concert on 26 November 2013 (yeah its over...)