I visit Singapore every year during the summer holidays to visit my family and friends. Of course, there is also the amazing food in that region that is almost impossible to find elsewhere. Here in the Boston area, the most acceptable Singaporean delicacies can only be found at one location – in my kitchen. Anyway, when I’m back in Singapore, I try to thoroughly immerse myself in the food, friends and family. Sometimes, I’ll be lucky and be back in time to play an orchestra or pit gig, where I get to reconnect with the friends and colleagues I grew up playing in orchestras with. However, I got really lucky this year and did a fair amount of impromptu musickings on my sunny island!
TPO’s Beethoven Concerti Cycle with Lim Yan
By far, the most exciting thing I did in Singapore this summer was performing with The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) [again] for their Beethoven Concerti Cycle – all five piano concertos and the triple concerto, performed by Lim Yan (arguably the best Singaporean pianist of this day). This is the orchestra I played my first paid gig with (Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in 2004), and learned so much from (I don’t even know where to begin, but Mr Lim is just awesome.) I dare say that I definitely wouldn’t be a musician if I never played in TPO. TPO even commissioned me (I don’t think they commissioned anyone before me, but I might be wrong about this) to write a piece for them, a concert opener for Stravinsky’s Firebird for the Firebird centenary – After Igor. What an honor!
Back when I actively played with TPO (2004-2008), we played so much music – it was awesome. There were the Schumann Symphonies Cycle in 2004, Schubert Symphonies Cycle in 2005, Mozart and Shostakovich Symphonies in 2006 and the Sibelius Symphonies Cycle in 2007/2008.
Cycles are the best way to learn about a particular composer’s symphonic output, and this is what makes TPO different from other performing ensembles. We not only perform music, we study music by examining a composer’s entire output of a genre. That’s also why we’re also called The Philharmonic Orchestra Society.
Although I didn’t partake in all three concerts of the Beethoven Concerti Cycle this year, playing for one concert was enough for me to revisit the fun old times I had playing with this orchestra. Sure, half a decade went by, and I have graduated multiple times since then, but everything about TPO just feels the same. Half of the orchestra musicians that I played with were no longer there and a newer younger generation of musicians have taken their places, but the camaraderie, community spirit and musical inquiry lived on. I can’t wait to play with TPO again!
Ding Yi Music Company’s Composium
Apart from playing with TPO, I also performed with Ding Yi Music Company for their Composium 2012. Ding Yi Music Company is a Chinese instrumental ensemble that I had the good fortune to be acquainted with since 2007 (or so), and have been very supportive of me as a young composer. Their huqin quartet performed a really early piece of mine that no longer exists (burned it!) , and although I did not submit a piece for their call-for-scores for Composium 2012, I did plan my trip back to Singapore partly to attend Composium 2012 as an auditor.
When the opportunity to play with Ding Yi came about, I was more than thrilled! Firstly, I’d be re-acquainting myself with Chinese instrumental music (and the scene), something I’ve spent almost a decade of my live being involved with (1999-2009) that I missed after moving to the US. Secondly, I’d be playing new music, which I absolutely love, and meeting composers! Thirdly, I wouldn’t need to pay to attend Composium 2012! (I sound so cheap, but hey, unemployed student composer here.) I couldn’t have asked for a better gig!
Over the two-day symposium, I attended seminars about traditional instruments, the future of Chinese chamber music, current currents in the region and others. We also performed pieces that were chosen as finalists of the Composition Competition and performed them in a judging, then a public performance. It was an inspiring and educational experience for me, and I am so glad that I made time to go to this. Now, I can’t wait to get started on a piece for Chinese chamber ensemble too! (Well, this piece will have to stand in line with all the other pieces that I have to write that’s all lined up for the next year!)
Prokofiev’s Quintet Op.39 with NUSSO Vets
Actually, the first musical activity I did when I got back to Singapore was to meet up with the old NUSSO (National University of Singapore Symphony Orchestra) vets, and did an afternoon reading of Prokofiev’s Quintet Op.39. That quintet has a really interesting instrumentation of oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass. [I love how Prokofiev just decides that there is no need for a cello here. It’s so obvious, it’s hilarious!] For that, I got to borrow my old bass, the one that the orchestra bought when I joined, and the same bass that I used for 90% of the concerts I performed in from 2005-2009. It’s a fantastic instrument, and it was the one instrument that stuck the longest with me! I cannot imagine life if I didn’t have that instrument with me throughout college. Without it, I probably would have played much less gigs, practiced less, learned less, and may not even be a musician! *gasp*
After rehearsal, we met up with more NUSSO vets and our conductor Mr Lim. It was just so nice to see everyone again, andmusic some music together, even if it were only for a while.
It is the first time I’ve been back in Singapore when school is still in season since leaving for the US in 2009, and I was very fortunate to be asked back to Temasek Junior College to teach. I have taught at Temasek Junior College before, back in 2005, where I taught Music Theory and Appreciation for a whole semester. This time, however, I was a clinician, not a teacher, meaning I actually did not have to go for department meetings, parent-teacher meetings and stuff like that. I was also working with J2s and not TA1s, and teaching composition, not music appreciation. All in all, it was that much closer to what my ideal teaching gig is.
Over four days, I looked over the composition portfolios of 18 students, all at different stages of completion, and shareI my experiences and some insight with them. It feels great being on the other side of the table, and it makes me miss the times where I taught in school. (Thankfully, I start teaching again next semester at Brandeis!) Hopefully the kids learned as much from me as I did from them. They made me realize how much I had gained from my teachers when I was a younger and greener composer than I am now. Somehow, it felt so much like going home that I didn’t even take picture there!
On the day before I left Singapore, I presented some of my music at Artists’ Academy’s Hausmusik Series. Artists’ Academy is a music school started by two enterprising college colleagues of mine at the Conservatory, and they had invited me to share my music at their monthly Hausmusik concert. I’m very thankful for this opportunity as I got to reconnect with old friends, share my music, ideas and influences, and meet a whole room of young musicians who were a very eager audience.
There is something about sharing music with others. It’s just such a humbling experience! This summer in Singapore has been the busiest summer I’ve had since 2009, and for the first time, I’ve actually felt like Singapore maybe likes me a teeny bit. I’m really thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given this summer and I hope my next summer in Singapore will be equally exciting!