“In Emily Koh’s implodex!!, the musicians surrounded the audience members on all sides of the performance space. Unorthodox spatial designs often come off as gimmicky, but Koh’s setup was effective: By necessity, the players conducted each other, mirroring the system of the sculpture, in which each piece is equally important to the whole. Oboist Thomas Nugent, in particular, played with beautiful tone on his virtuoso flourishes and multiphonics.”
“Both Ahn and Koh were more abstract in their approaches. Koh responded to the fragmented structure of Parker’s piece with “implodex!!,” which she called a study in implosion and explosion… Both of these pieces took far too much time to present and elaborate on their basic content, and neither seemed to get what had motivated Parker to make her piece in the first place.”
“Young composer Emily Koh’s compositions may come across as inaccessible to the general audience, with her unorthodox and atonal writing often leading to confusion. Yet her latest work, Jia[K], could very well be one of the masterpieces of the 21st century.
Aiming to depict the chaos sand sensory overload one experiences in our famed hawker centres, her scoring calls for inventive ways to create layers of sound by pushing the boundaries of traditional technique on the various instruments.
The opening muted trumpets created a buzzing effect which produced a disturbingly nervous energy when paird with the pizzicato violins.
Her audacity in writing an entire passage featuring just the double bass section stems from her training as a bass player, but who would have thought it was capable of such virtuosic and clearly sustained solos?
Principal conductor Okko Kamu is the antithesis of the modern conductor, who seems more interested in being watched than heard.
This consummate artist does not need fancy baton technique to get his point across and on this night the orchestra responded with aplomb.”
Although Singaporean contemporary composer Emily Koh (right) describes her work, Jia[k], as incorporating ‘the interweaving of different sonic fragments that portray the ordered chaos at a hawker centre, and the garbled noises of one’s mouth chewing on a delicious plate of char kuay’, one would search in vain for anything resembling the everyday cacophony of hawkers plying their trade.
“Scored for piccolo, flute, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons (the second doubling on contrabassoon), 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Bass Trombone, 2 Percussions (Vibraphone, Xylophone, Tam tam, Triangle, Whip, Crotales, Glock, Bass drum, cymbals) and Strings, the musical language does not adhere to tonality but comes across as fragmented and somewhat reminiscent of impressionism in its often sparse orchestration, despite the instruments used. Strings were sometimes used atypically, with more pizzicato and col legno than bowed. Twice, the contrabassoon was asked to play in its lowest regions, to reliably great effect.
There were several obligato parts, including horn and one for double bass (Emily Koh’s own instrument) played mainly pizzicato, making it sound like something right out of the Second Viennese School. Perhaps more listening is needed to fully appreciate this ten-minute piece. Okko Kamu led the orchestra in his trademark effective, undemonstrative way, but perhaps in this piece more drama and confidence would have helped better realised its potential.”
“Food is important to Singaporeans. Hawker centers serve up local fare such as prawn noodles, char kway tiao, chicken rice, laksa, mee goreng and other dishes. It never fails to surprise me that if I make mention of the Redhill hawker center near where I live to a Singaporean colleague or friend, he or she will have been there and will know that one particular stall renowned for its carrot cake (not what you might expect). So if you were a Singaporean living in Boston working on a commission for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, where would you turn for inspiration? In Emily Koh’s own words, ‘I found myself thinking of home and all the delicious foods I miss that are unique to Singapore…. All I wanted in the months I spent writing this work was to stuff myself silly on all these delicacies at a local hawker fest.’
The result was Jia[k]. Just ten minutes in length, it is a concerto grosso of sorts with different sections of the orchestra – progressing from brass to strings to woodwinds – conjuring up the smells, sights, sounds and, yes, tastes of a Singapore hawker center. There is a great passage for the double basses, which comes as no surprise since it’s Koh instrument. The jaunty pizzicato solo line played by Guennadi Mouzyka, Principal Double Bass, was heard over the growl of the rest of the section, and evolved into a duet with Karen Yeo, the section’s Fixed Chair. Jia[k] ended abruptly with a snap. A jolt to the ear, just like the fiery chilies in Southeast Asian food can be to the tongue.”