The performance started off with Pas de Deux “ballet for two” from Souvenirs Op.28 by Samuel Barber, a slow and serious yet richly-toned piece depicting a scene that Barber associated with New York. The mood of the piece ranged from brooding to passionate, conveying a sense of drama within the piece, setting the perfect atmosphere to start off the concert.
While Pas de Deux ended on a bittersweet note, the next piece was rather upbeat and had a calm character. Composed by the Japanese composer Aoshima Hiroshi, Valse from Mon Pere l’oie “Mother Goose Suite” presented an interesting juxtaposition of French and Japanese music, describing the story of Cinderella but in a Japanese folktale’s form. Familial love was the theme in this piece, as suggested by the fluid articulation which put the audience at ease.
Next up came a composer from the classical period, Franz Schubert. The piece was Rondo in A major, D.951. As with all other rondos, this piece started off with a theme or a motif which sets the overall mood of the piece. As the piece progressed, Schubert’s characteristic composing style was reflected in sudden changes of key while maintaining the soothing and serene mood of the piece. However, wherever the piece strays, the motif will always return, as if being a reminder to “come home” to the beginning and move on from there. Similar to the previous piece, this rondo came off as being warm and song-like, and left the motif playing in listeners’ ears even after the piece had ended.
It was a surprise to the audience when the next set of performers are not from the Piano Ensemble, but were. Claudia Choong and Amanda Lee are both alumni of the Piano Ensemble and the concert was graced by their presence, as they performed Armenian Rhapsody by Arno Babajanian and Alexander Arutiunian. This piece brought the audience from 19th century Germany to Middle Eastern music in 1950. This piece was inspired by numerous Armenian folk songs, and featured exotic non-Western keys and rhythms which presented a treat to listeners. The piece started off at a moderate pace in the form of a dance but then evolved into an energetic theme that radiated energy and passion. Not only that, the audience marvelled at the virtuoso pianists who performed impressive glissandos and a dramatic finale, which ended the delightful musical tour in Armenia.
In sharp contrast to the jaunty Rhapsody, Menuet from Petite Suite by the French Claude Debussy was expressive and calm. This piece had an ‘Asian’ atmosphere to it, being soft and graceful, as though depicting water with ripples running over its surface. Indeed, Debussy was a known composer of impressionist or “watercolour” music, and this piece evokes a resemblance to the more popular piece, “Claire de lune”, also by Debussy.
The next piece was Valse triste “Sad Waltz” from 6 Pieces for 2 Pianos by Reinhold Gliere and was sentimental, as its name suggests and expresses sorrow. The piece was hypnotising and its poignance seemed to permeate in the room, captivating the audience and ending off with a wistful sigh.
What performance would be complete without a contemporary piece? Scherzo and Mambo from the celebrated musical West Side Story entertained with fast runs and unexpected accents. This was a great switch in mood compared to the previous piece, and the music brought to the audience’s attention American composer Leonard Bernstein’s quirks and character in his compositions.
Following the intermission, the twins of the ensemble, Koh Jia Jun and Koh Jia Xian wooed the audience with a composition from one of history’s most famous composers, Mozart! Specifically, they performed the last two movements from Sonata in C major, K. 521 which was composed for two players on one piano. The two pieces reflected the classical style which defined much of the music of the classical period of music, and were a welcome addition to the ensemble’s repertoire.
Valse and Romance by Sergei Rachmaninoff surprised the audience as it was performed by not two but three pianists! The two pieces express Rachmaninoff’s youthful energy and hope, and each pianist successfully conveyed the overall atmosphere by perfectly complementing each other. Both pieces were played in sharp contrast with different tempos, but both showcase intertwining melodies that can only be played by three pianists.
William Bolcom’s The Garden of Eden from The Eternal Feminine provided a pleasant contrast, as its jazzy and light-hearted melodies charmed the crowd. Being a piece composed in the “ragtime” style, this piece seemed to enchant the audience, inviting them to tap their feet or bob their heads along with the rhythm!
The next feature was Las Niñas de Santa Fe or “The girls of Santa Fe” from Tres Romances Argentinos, composed by Carlos Guastavino. This brought the audience around the world, once again this time to Latin America as the local folk music influence is present in this piece. A dance-like atmosphere is conveyed by the distinctive hemiolas, circle of 5ths and chromaticism in this piece. This romance starts off with a spirited opening and gradually develops into a dramatic climax and end.
Following that was la semaine grasse “The Shrove-Tide Fair” from Petrushka by the famous Russian composer Igor Stravinsky which depicts a play in which characters enter “the Petersky Road”, then the murder of Petrushka (a puppet) by Moor, and ends off with Petrushka’s ghost haunting the theatre. This mix of scenes is expressed in the guest pianists’ emotional performance, coupled by impressive leaps of hands and virtuoso glissandos.
The next piece was Rondo, Op. 87a composed by Alexander Tcherepnin. This piece started off with a simple main theme that develops the piece with increasing complexity, featuring a pentatonic scale which is characteristic of Eastern folk music. As a whole, the rondo expresses the composer’s love for humanity and his feelings in the city.
The last piece of the night ended the concert on a dramatic high. Allegro Non Troppo composed by Johannes Brahms was performed by two pianists who, in fact, memorised the scores to this dramatic piece. In this composition, Brahms seamlessly worked the technical aspects of German composition with traits of Romantic composition. This piece combined a more mysterious sound with a more powerful sound into the melodies. The music carried the audience through a series of emotional
Overall, the night’s performances not only showcased the fruits of the labour the performers put into concert preparation, but the diversity in the pieces chosen also demonstrated the versatility of the pianists. “Every performance of the night showcased the talent, skill and hard work that the pianists had during the concert. Good job!” congratulates Clarisa Gladys Laksono (17S34), a member of the audience. In an interview with the vice-chairperson of the piano ensemble, Wang Anfu, he said that “our pianists put in their heart and soul to practice their pieces” and that all exco members “worked very hard in putting everything together as well as getting the ensemble to work collectively for the common goal of putting up a successful performance”. The passion and intensity with which the pianists performed with were a clear indication of all the hard work and dedication that was put into making the night’s performances a success. It was also mentioned that when choosing the pieces, they aimed to create “a repertoire that was as exciting as possible”. This was definitely reflected in the concert’s mix of dynamic and slower pieces that captivated the audience.
An exclusive interview with Wang Anfu (16S36) (Vice-chairperson of Piano Ensemble)
How did you go about choosing the pieces for the concert?
We chose the pieces based on our pianists’ indicated interest and musical style. In the meantime, we also tried to come out with a repertoire that is as exciting as possible.
How did the CCA go about preparing for the concert?
Our chairperson Azure had been tirelessly leading the excos to plan and organise for the concert since the start of the year. The other exco members also worked very hard in putting everything together as well as gathering the ensemble to work collectively for the common goal of putting up a successful performance. The musical directors also spent most of their free time to coach our pianists and provide them help and guidance during breaks and after school. Our pianists also put in their heart and soul to practise their pieces, and really cooperated with the excos in organising the concert. I’m very glad to see that each pair/trio of pianists can grow and improve together, and foster good partnerships between each other.
What was your favourite piece of the night?
I really liked all the pieces in the concert but among all the pieces I think Armenian Rhapsody attracted me the most.
Why was it your favourite piece?
It started gently, conveying a lyrical and soothing mood. But the intensity of the music built up progressively. The climax at the end of the piece just sounded extremely grand and exciting. The occasional off-beats in the piece also made it sound very exotic, as if I was on a journey to the mysterious land of middle east.
Were there any setbacks faced along the way?
Yep. We had limited time to rehearse and to practise on the grand pianos in the PT, due to tight booking slots of the PT as well as the special arrangements last Friday.
If so, how did you overcome them?
We managed to maximise the practice time in PT for each individual pair/trio and encouraged other pianists to fully utilise the pianos in the piano room and the concourse when their peers are practising in the PT. But more importantly, it was the continuous effort our pianists had put in that made them quickly accustomed to the grand pianos and the setting in the PT.
Ng Jia Yeong, 17S64
Ong Yong En, 17A14
Chong E-Lyn, 16A14