MPO review: Sonic feasts and gorgeous lyricism

The second part of the MPO’s Malaysian composers chamber series, which saw nine works premiered throughout the month of November 2021, was a sonic feast that has some pretty unusual sounds put together in various ways by the individual styles of the composers here.

The series starts with Caeleb Tee’s work for strings, Hymn of the Remnants. The piece is a beautiful, somber hymn full of aching and longing, with its long arching lyricism and strange harmonies that are at once familiar yet estranged and full of unresolved yearning.

Tee explains, “When all things are coming to an end, the remnants stand under the sun, and sing a hymn praising the beauty of the earth. Their voices ring through the desolate land, and for a moment, they are in peace.”

Gerard Salonga leads the MPO strings in a passionate reading of this somewhat Mahlerian adagio that builds from a tentative, questioning opening to a searching hymn centred on a descending scale, that ends in a lonely cello solo followed by pained sighs high on the strings, gorgeously played by the MPO ensemble both in the more soloistic passages, which were truly heartfelt, and the stunning chorales.

Raja Alif’s Tanjak is a bold and modern canvass of a rich palette of sounds from the piano and flute duo, taking the traditional into the contemporary through a poetic sonic feast.

Inspired by the traditional Malay male headgear worn daily by the warriors, royal families and common people during the Malacca Sultanate, the composer sought to  “give sound to a soundless object through the various possible colours produced by the flute and piano.”

The composer achieves this with extended techniques for the instruments, unconventional musical notations and graphic score to realise his interpretation of what he views as a piece of “artwork” rather than just a simple piece of clothing.

Plucked piano strings emulate gongs and percussive sounds, while the flute alternate between short melodic fragments and splashes of colour and rhythm.

The pianist Akiko Danis and flautist Ignacio de Nicolas Gaya give an exciting, vivid reading of the score that is full of mystery and joyous colour.

The final piece in the second installment is Samuel Cho’s rhythmically exciting Threadsafe for flute, double bass and percussion. 

“The title Threadsafe is inspired by several metaphors; one of which is the computer programming concept of thread safety which is about manipulating data in parallel without causing crashes. 

“It is also inspired by the image of threading a needle, cross-stitching and knitting. The common ground for these two disparate ideas is the weaving in and out of ideas over time, and the imminent danger of a slight mistake. 

“This is the main idea of Threadsafe, with the music beginning with the three instruments synchronized, finessing over each other before splitting into separate independent threads,” writes the composer.

Cho’s piece is theatrical and full of interesting gestures for the musicians, starting with a bang with all three instruments competing for attention, before settling down into a more mysterious section, building into an explosion of sound and ending in quiet sighs on the flute, punctuated by indignant percussion. 

Once again, Nicolas Gaya gives a highly spirited performance on the flute against Matthew Prendergrast’s brilliant percussive gestures and Naoshisa Furusawa’s energetic bass rhythms in a thoroughly enjoyable ensemble piece. 

In all, a fascinating and very enjoyable set of works from the wonderful MPO musicians.


Reviewed by C H Loh, Dec 2021

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