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.”