4Strings did not start with melodious music flowing off stage and into the audience; it started with supportive screaming from the audience, who yelled their friends’ names as they filed onstage with their instruments. It was clear that many members of the audience had come to support their friends or family, displaying a sense of camaraderie that filled the hall with a clear enthusiasm, adding to the energy of the performers. (Though admittedly, they did continuously display it by the semi-inappropriate means of yelling their friends’ names, betraying the concert etiquette reminders).
Still, Estee Ng (16S49) commented that one of the most satisfying parts of the concert was “hearing the crowd cheer and shout ‘encore’ after our final piece”, as she “felt that all [their] hard work had paid off”. Jonathan Ng (15S65), the president, also expressed his appreciation for his members, who all “lent moral support to each other, and….sincerely cared for each other”, making his VJSE journey a “cherished and unforgettable one”. This tightly-knit collaboration is perhaps what enabled them to deliver each piece with such impeccable coordination.
Set List: The Strings Ensemble performed a good mix of pieces that elicited a range of emotions in the audience, immersing them in various places in time and space.
They began with “Heart of Fire” by Lauren Bernofsky, a piece written for people who have accomplished something in their lifetimes, and hence changed the course of human history. This piece was excellent to begin the concert with, with its stirring melody.
After that, they played two pieces from their SYF repertoire, which were both skilfully executed. They were String Quartet no. 8 Movement II: allegro molto and Dance of the Furies. Their conductor (Mr Lester Kong) explained that it had seemed like a risk to take, as these pieces were usually only performed at professional level. Nevertheless, VJSE rose to the challenge and performed with an awe-striking mix of skill, emotion and intensity. What stood out was Shostakovich’s haunting piece. The music escalating in intensity as the piece progressed accurately captured the harrowing terror and fear of the victims of war, enduring the tumultuous bombings and torture at the hands of the antagonists. The abrupt ending heightened the disquieting 5 seconds of silence immediately after the piece, reflecting the sudden severing of a life and the horror at Man’s capacity to perform such deeds. We truly respect and admire the emotional intensity the ensemble put into their piece.
Following that, they performed an audience favourite — Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The piece was proposed by the section leaders, with the aim of allowing members to “showcase their virtuosic skill and challenge themselves in the process.” The soloists [Aaron Tan (15S55) , Yap Jia Ying (15S30), Madeleine Tandu (15S42) and Jonathan Ng (15S65)] stunned with their smooth, fluid performances. This was a particularly triumphant moment for Jonathan, as he managed to conquer the stage fright that had often affected his public performances. He mentioned how “insane” it felt that he had agreed to be a soloist, especially when he had previously “froze and almost broke down” during his PW OP, a nightmare situation for many of us.
In the second half of the performance, they began with Crisantemi, an emotional piece that eased us back into the swing of things. It was written as an elegy for a close friend of the composer, and the muted, dignified sorrow could be felt in the complementary keening of the various strings, striking deep into the hearts of the listeners. This was followed by the more cheerful Blue-Fire Fiddler, a Western-style piece by Soon Hee Newbold. Here, clearly, the performers were enjoying themselves, playing with an energy that carried over to the audience who found themselves tapping their toes to the beat.
Then there came the movie soundtracks, which several people had been eagerly anticipating. Iman (15A12) was “extremely elated” when she read about them in the programme, as they are both her “favourite movies”. The ensemble played two arrangements — “Howl’s Moving Castle”, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. These were both accompanied by scenes from the respective movies, which added to the fantastical feel of the former and the thrilling dips and swirls of the latter. Both pieces were pulled off with the same skill and panache that had accompanied all the pieces so far.
The ensemble then played a sultry piece titled “Libertango”, a portmanteau of “libertad”, the Spanish word for freedom, and “tango”. This was another piece that got the audience swept up in its swirling melody. As an audience member put it, she would “dance to it if [she] could” — it was that infectious.
After that, they played what became another popular piece — Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-Minor: Farewell. It began as a normal piece. However, it soon became slightly peculiar as small groups of players, clutching pillows and instrument cases, and even at one point clinking glasses, left the stage during the piece itself, to the amusement of the audience. The piece concluded with these two players (both donning matching flower crowns) playing as they walked offstage. This cleverly explained the title of the piece, and “why it allowed Haydn’s orchestra to return home”, which was part of an anecdote recounted at the beginning.
The pieces prudently chosen by their music director, while having to meet the requirement of being musically challenging, also had to have the “ability to ignite the senses”, and to be located online. Their Encore piece was proof of that. “Intermezzo Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni is from an old Italian Opera Cavalleria rusticana. Its gorgeous lilting tune certainly satisfied everyone that night.
However, what mystified our reporters was the absence of small group performances (duets/trios/quartets) throughout the concert. Interestingly, all 10 pieces were played with the entire ensemble. While this made for a richer sound with intricate melodies weaving together to form a cohesive piece, it denied a number of the members a chance to showcase their talents. Another drawback of the concert was the use of multimedia during the performances. While some of the slides complemented the music, others simply served as a distraction. The fleeting slides accompanying Vivaldi’s Four Seasons hampered the audience from immersing themselves in the music; instead, this reporter found herself focusing more on the hasty slide transitions.
Nevertheless, their commitment to providing the ideal concert should be recognised as they went to the extent of “[setting] up a committee” just to source for footage for the slides. For the ensemble, it was a logistical nightmare and took almost 2 whole weeks to complete. For example, the video for “Winter” had 15 sources, while the entire multimedia file for the concert was 2 GB in size. This, combined with their struggle with timing it right, is indeed a praiseworthy effort.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed the concert put up by VJSE and as the president stated, they’d changed people’s impression of classical music that night. Indeed, the quality of music played that night lived up to and beyond their motto: “The Best Never Rest”.
Fiona Lee Yi-Fan (15A11)
Yeong Su Ann (15A12)