“Whenever we said in our emcee script on how amazing they sounded, we meant it!” voiced Yeo Shi Tan (16S31), one of the emcees of Thursday’s Conchord Concert.
The notion of a fusion between Victoria Junior College’s Chinese Orchestra and Strings Ensemble may seem like a foreign concept to many. Howbeit, the unique collaboration proved to be an astounding success with the Eastern and Western music blending harmoniously, producing melodious music that reached out to everyone present that night. The union unveiled a beautiful amalgamation of notes, allowing the crowd to revel in immense delight.
As explained by Dr Wu Jiang, the teacher-in-charge of VJCO, the collaboration not only allowed the audience to experience a “hybrid of music”, but had also helped the performers from both CCAs to prepare extensively for Conchord.
Have you ever wondered how the name conchord came to be? It is actually a word play of the name Concord – which basically means to be in harmony and agreement with people or groups. The ‘h’ was added in as a bit of a musical pun from the word ‘chord’.
Evidently, Conchord received much love and support from its wonderful audience. Even before the start of the Conchord, as the performers streamed onto the stage towards their respective seats, the crowd showed their anticipation through mighty cheers and words of encouragement for their peers. Right after the orchestral tuning, Conchord commenced to a start with an exhilarating first piece, Colorful Dragon Boat.
The very first piece of the night was played fluidly by the performers dawning smiles on their faces. The beats of the percussion drums and tambourine reinvigorated the spirit of the Dragon boat watersport. The talented students whisked the audience away with the fast and strong upbeat tempo of the delightful song. The catchy rhythms had both the performers and audience moving their bodies to the beat.
VJCO took the opportunity to showcase to the audience their SYF pieces, Journey II and Harvest Festival. The two songs, practiced arduously by the VJCO members, had allowed VJCO to attain the Certificate of Distinction at the biannual SYF. The audience were brought on an exquisite journey to the East.
Journey 2 was a contemporary piece, traversing Singapore’s rich history. The moving composition told of an arduous journey to the pinnacle, hindered by obstacles that heralded the need for courage and perseverance. Despite the hardships however, the soothing and serene end to the piece portrayed the fruits of labour to be worth every challenge encountered. Certainly, this is an accurate reflection of Singapore’s own struggles to maintain its relevance in a world far larger than itself post-independence. A tiny dot it may be, it proved to be able to carry its weight globally and has now become a popular port and place of industry and trade.
One of the many highlights of the concert would have been the performance of Victoria Chinese Orchestra (VACO), initially formed by alumni of Victoria Junior College, but which has now become an independent, non-profit organisation aimed at providing musical productions and workshops. Low Heok Hong, the Erhu soloist of VACO, expressed, “It’s a special memory for us to be able to come back to VJC to perform again and also to be able to perform alongside our friends in the CCA and to be able to get together again… It’s an honour to play for VJC again.”
The Guzheng Ensemble displayed their SYF pieces, Dance of the Yi Tribe and Days of Joy. The members cladded in aegean blue tops and flowy black skirts exhibited their prowess as an ensemble, playing in sync with one another to produce mellifluous music. Dance of the Yi Tribe is one of the most popularized Pipa composition. The piece combines the spirit of folk tradition and the best usage of techniques which was wonderfully executed by the Guzheng ensemble members.
During the intermission, the audience rushed out excitedly in a flood to take photos with their friends and shower them with gifts. Laughter and chatter flooded the area outside the auditorium as people milled around in a sea of faces.
The second half of the performance showcased more of VJSE. As the buzz settled down, the audience returned with their seats, awaiting the next performance with baited breath. They were certainly not disappointed by Hoedown, a piece with a willy name which sent the entire auditorium on a wild gallop across the Western Country. Composed by Aaron Copland in 1942, Hoedown is an exciting and sophisticated classical piece derived from folk tunes such as cowboy songs. Launching off with a fast beat, the violins produced the sharp, clear click-cluck of horse hooves. We were thoroughly mesmerized by the string’s ability to transport us back into the 1940s. They were able to encompass many dance forms and styles, and recreate the movements of hoeing corn and potatoes.
According to Music Director Mr Lester Kong, the next piece, Lion City, was a “special piece that features the different races in Singapore”. We were given a short demonstration of the playing of each instrument, which produced much oohing and ahing from the audience.The unique, tender sounds of instruments such as the viola and “something more traditional, like the Chinese orchestra”, like the violin was certainly a treat for the senses. To Mr Kong, being able to identify the different instruments behind a piece shows that “Strings itself is very flexible, [it] can mimic different voices, which is what strings is all about”.
Opening the song dramatically with a low, echoing effect done by the strings, the next piece, the Suit for String Orchestra, further immersed the audience into the atmosphere its mellow, swelling melody. Although the piece was one of Janacek’s earlier pieces, there were many difficult portions of the piece, such as the big jump in playing range of the cellos. According to Music Director Mr Lester Kong, one of the greatest feats of this piece was the achievement of the echoing effect at the opening without the use of technology. As a contrast to its name, which one would expect as being calm and composed, the next song, Serenade for String Orchestra delighted the audience with a buzzing, lively composition. Although darkness had already befallen, and the evening was getting late, the mood of the auditorium was lifted up to an even higher level.
A piece with “repeated notes and heavy baseline, making you feel like you are at a heavy metal concert” was Yeo Shi’s introduction to the next piece, Urban Concerto Grosso. There was a sense of great anticipation and excitement in the air. Evidently, it did not disappoint, and its rapid, fast-paced beat took on the audience on a wild spin through the bustling heartbeat of urban life. Many audience members found themselves involuntarily tapping their feet and grooving along to the catchy, jazzy tune. The piece also featured four soloists: two violins, one viola and one cello.
Next up, the audience was treated to Langsamer Satz, by Anton Webern. This piece was inspired by a hiking holiday in the mountains outside of Vienna, with the woman who eventually became his wife. It expresses a plethora of emotions from dramatic turmoil to a tranquil peacefulness. Following this was Flight of the Bumblebee, a familiar and greatly loved piece by many. Its composition is intended to musically evoke seemingly chaotic and rapidly changing flying pattern of a bumblebee. As mentioned by Yeo Shi, Flight of the Bumblebee is used by the Guinness world record to determine the time of the world’s fastest violin player! The strings did a remarkable job in breaking down the highly complex notes and and serenading us with the exaggerated swells and chromatic harmony typical of Romantic music around the turn of the 1900s. In contrast to the 6 minutes long piece, Flight of the Bumblebee lasted no more than a minute or so. The players seemed to effortless weave through the song, despite the immense difficulty of this piece. The rapidness in which the strings were played brilliantly conveyed images of a buzzling busy bee racing about. Although this piece was incredibly advanced, the players remained unfazed and delivered a truly spectacular piece.
The final piece of the night was another joint performance by the VJCO and VJSE. Radetsky March was first performed on 31 August 1848 in Vienna to commemorate Radetzky’s victory at Battle of Custoza, it soon became quite popular among regimented marching soldiers. During the piece, feisty music director Mr Kong brandished his baton in the air and got the crowd to clap along to the catchy beat. His cheerful hand gestures and animated expressions brought the crowd cheering along in delight, and was given to tumultuous applause at the end of the piece.
The deep sense of reluctance to accept that the performance has to come to a close was demonstrated by the audience’s repeated calls of ‘Encore! Encore!’ Perhaps, above all, this was a testament to just how captivating and absolutely riveting the performance was. Finally, the combined orchestras played ‘Senbonzakura’, an upbeat and Oriental track, and blew away the audience one last time that night.
At the end of the concert, our principal, Miss Ek was utterly delighted to have been treated to what she described as a “great performance”. Like many of the audience members, she too felt that the “combination of the orchestra coming together made it so much richer”. Omega Li, a non-VJC student, who had attended the concert based on the recommendation of his VJC peers, commented that the performance was ‘Awesome!’. He loved the overall vibe of Conchord and certainly hoped to relive the experience.
The success of the concert was achieved only through months of hard work and cooperation between the two CCAs. Reanne Tang (16S39), Vice-President of VJCO, shed some light into how Conchord became possible: The Exco from both CCAs regularly met up to discuss about repertoire, poster design, backdrop, emcees, script and publicity video. “We discussed about how we wanted things to be, and how the concert segment was to be split equally between both CCAs!” The two CCAs were resilient in their efforts to make Conchord more than just a success, but a performance that would be long etched on the audience’s mind. Julie Liu (16S53), gave also us greater insight into how the workload was split up. “What we did was dividing the whole ensemble into a few teams to be in charge of different tasks, such as publicity video, programme booklet”.
The fruits of their labour was seen not only by the audience’s positive feedback, but also their own performers satisfaction and the fulfillment they found throughout the course of the preparation. Erin Tan (17S32), a spectator enthusiastically feedbacked that the performance ‘was great! The performers were very well-rehearsed and presented an excellent show.’ She felt that the collaboration between the two CCAs was ‘unexpected at first’, because the instruments each played sounded completely different, but the ‘deep, rich sound of the strings complemented the soothing music the Chinese instruments produced’.
Sharmaine Low (17A11), who played the Gaohu, was pleased to have left the stage with no regrets. When asked about what she enjoyed most about performing, her response encapsulated each performer’s’ satisfaction of the actualization of such a successful performance : “Everyone putting in their 100% effort to play a piece together. I’m proud of what VJCO achieved collectively!’. She added that their constant encouragement of each other had motivated them to put in their all and they managed to pull through the hectic weeks.
Conchord 2018 certainly has large shoes to fill, what with this year’s spectacular performance. Conchord 2017 was certainly a rousing success – its music was carefully curated between notable works as well as unique individual pieces, and evoked a whole range of emotions from the cheerfulness of Hoedown to the nostalgic tunes of Langsamer Satz. Well-done performers! We will certainly be back next year for more exciting renditions and fantastic pieces.
Djulian B Naval, 17A11
Davene Lye, 17A11
Megan Mah, 17A11
Crystal Teo, 17S31