It was 7.38, and the clock struck thirteen. For a performance slated to begin at 7.30, the performance theatre looked surprisingly bare that night.
7.45, and large throngs of students filed into the performance theatre intermittently, weary from cheering their hearts out in the Football Girls’ finals just an hour ago, yet eager to proceed on into the ensuing night. The night was beginning to look alive, as the familiar din of raucous chatter and cheerful giggles rebounded off the walls of the vast theatre. Even from afar, the concertgoers shuffling towards their seats couldn’t help but steal glances at the two grand pianos, resplendent and gleaming under the stage lights. This was going to be exciting.
“Welcome to VJC Piano Ensemble’s annual concert, Eighty-Eight!” Upon a brief introduction and a run-up on the upcoming pieces. the first performers stepped onstage, amidst a generous round of applause from a very eager audience.
The concert proceeded smoothly onto its first song, The Show Must Go On. The pianists, Cherie and Yifei – attired in elaborate garments of matching black and white, reminiscent of the piano keys – delivered the contemporary rock piece with great feeling and emotion, rousing the audience with the contemplative mood of the music. To add on to the effect, hypnotic lights were projected onto the background. As their dexterous fingers danced off the keys of the piano the melody, clear and crisp, resonated throughout the performance theatre, met with warm cheers and applause. Indeed, such a beautiful show, must definitely go on!
Next up, Valse, by Russian composer Rachmaninoff, was performed in style by Jovan, Nandi and Xichen, standing out as the only three-player piece for the night. Jovan, Nandi and Xichen demonstrated excellent coordination skills as the melody bounced off in succession from one pianist to another. The serene and almost mystical quality of the piano notes wafted across the performance theatre, and although I was no piano aficionado, I could say for sure that the three of them had successfully captured the rich texture that all of Rachmaninoff’s pieces demanded.
Summer Dreams Op.41 No.1, as played by Brigitte and Yixin, kicked off with a rather intriguing scale which spoke of mythical creatures who carried out household chores for their masters. Soon, the direction of the piece became more peaceful and fantastical as the imagery of a domestic house-elf sweeping up dusty rooms came to mind. Such an evocative piece could only be presented with great skill and delicateness, cultivated from hours of meticulous practice.
Tierra Del Sol followed suit, featuring a striking ‘yin-yang’ quality, as the piece juxtaposed the raw, unbridled opening of the blazing sun with a smooth, singing style cantabile verse, reminiscent of a warm wood. The piece ends with a fusion of both worlds: harsh overtones and smooth arpeggios, leaving the audience in the warm afterglow of this land of the sun.
Libertango (coined from “liberty” and “tango”) burst into life onstage next. Thrilling, dissonant and discordant, Piazzolla’s characteristic flair was clearly evident in their playing, as the song blooms the rebellious spark of the fiery spanish rose.
The lighthearted jingle of Scaramouche delighted us next. This rendering of the theatrical clown, with comedic effect from the simplistic tune brought a smile to my face. Between movements, the mood suddenly took off as the Brasileira of Scaramouche raced towards a crisp, bright finish.
Next, Kayan and Shane bring the audience Jeux d’enfants (I. L’escarpolette), ‘The Swing’, which rocked back and forth between octaves, with smooth arpeggios and short melodic riffs captured the simple, carefree nature of childhood.
Dolly suite (I. Berceuse), this beautifully elegant piece brought us straight into a world of dolls, entrancing us with its simple charm. The astoundingly clear and unassuming harmony practically roped the listener in, each note contributing to a haunting, beautiful melody, at times exuberant and at times creepy. Performed effortlessly by Jia Qi and Pei Li, this song was to me amongst the most memorable ones of the night.
And who could forget the performance by the experts, the former music directors of VJC Piano Ensemble, graced the stage with their masterful performance of “The Crown Of His Chamber Music”, Sonata In F Minor op.34b by Johannes Brahms, surprisingly, without a piano score! This Brahms baroque recognisable by its dramatic shifts in key, octaves and flowing semitones were skillfully delivered by the pianists whilst they bobbed along to the rhythm, unconsciously leading the entire theatre to intuitively tap to the beat as well! Ere the performance, their eyes twinkled with the excitement of returning to this familiar stage, which conveyed in their splendid performance, every flowing melody echoing the majesty, tragedy and power of a rolling thunderstorm. Truly spectacular!
After the intermission, the audience were treated to Piano Battle, a Jay Chou composition which featured a piece from each era: Classical, Romantic and Baroque. The two pianists, Gwendolyn and Ma Yue, were followed on stage by their “gangs” (as seen in the PV), and a fiery battle of music thus ensued, the fusion of modern style into classical adding to the flavour and heat of the performance. I could sense the intensity and tension radiating off the two pianos, and soon it became evident that the two on stage were no longer Gwendolyn and Ma Yue, but Jay Chou and Yu Hao engaged in fierce competition to emerge as the victor, The Prince of Piano. Rajes and Qiu Tong made their debut on stage with Jay and Rain’s Piano Duet from the 2007 Taiwanese film Secret. Although a relatively short piece, both of them depicted the intimacy between Jay and Rain most beautifully, with the two melodies ringing in unison. This smoothly transitioned to My Favourite Things, as bodies swayed and heads bopped in accordance to the famous tune. Despite having no musical background, I was undeniably moved by the music.
The next piece introduced a change in the direction of the music, from the usual classics to contemporary Japanese Anime music. Kono Namida Wo Kimi No Sasagu, or “I Offer These Tears To You”.
This was followed by the Studio Ghibli Medley, by Timothy and Zhi Le, which saw the audience dance to the familiar tune of Ponyo In The Sea, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle theme. All three fantastical pieces captured the zeitgeist of Joe Hisaishi’s award-winning pictures, teeming with emotion and the nostalgia of childhood. For comic relief, the spirit from Spirited Away waltzed onstage, evoking both surprise and laughter from the audience. The mood was so lighthearted and whimsical, that for a moment there, I thought I saw Howl’s Moving Castle floating off stage on a sea of alabaster clouds. To quote my friend, “It was the best performance in this concert.”
The next piece however, Danse Macabre, “The Death Song”, plunged deep as the twelve “clock strikes” of the D note took us into dead of the night. As the piece progressed, the measured, yet supernatural quality of the piece evoked an atmosphere that is truly…macabre, almost as if we were dancing with Death, alone but for the ominous screech of the piano, each note dripping into darkness. Jun Yi and Zong De struck fear into the hearts of the audience tonight.
Guest performer, Michael Huang from SOTA surprised the audience with two exquisite, world-class performances that virtually lit the theatre up! Miniature Suite for the Pianoforte (II. Nocturne) is a stunning contemporary which ran up and down the piano keys in commanding thrills, where every note was a tug at the audience’s heartstrings, and every suspenseful gesture by his arms simply took our breath away. The leaping Boogie-Woogie that followed was not less stunning as the former, uplifting us in old-school dance fever as Huang twisted and turned the very air we breathed. Truly magnificent!
Finally, we had the Four Piece Suite, the grand finale, the cherry on the top, delivered by none other than the chairperson of Piano Ensemble, Levona, and a return performance by Xichen. As the two of them jammed away on the piano in Samba Triste, I felt as though I was swaggering through the jazzy streets of Paris. And what more fitting for the finale than Finale? This rock and roll piece certainly took all of us onto the edge of our seats as we celebrated the entirety of the concert with one final song. At the last notefall, the theatre exploded with applause and cheers, as we celebrated the ensemble in their defining moment, for one last time.
After the performance, excited and inspired, I went onstage to get a go at the piano. I had half expected the tunes to roll off the tips of my fingers, but no such luck. Indeed, as the Chinese saying goes, “Three minutes of glory onstage takes ten years of hard work offstage.” Mind-blowing concerts like this certainly do not come by easy; I was truly blessed to witness the manifestation of such fiery passion, exceptional talent and sheer determination. Bravo to all the pianists who stole our hearts that night!
Yong Shao En Ernest, 18S43
Yeo Chang Zhen Jasper, 18S47