Preview: A Very Singaporean Celebration – A Bicentennial Tribute by re:Sound + An Interview with Ike See and Jonathan Shin
This October, in celebration of the Bicentennial, local music collective re:Sound is organising A Very Singaporean Celebration in the form of a concert at Victoria Concert Hall. The programme will feature up and coming young Singaporean musicians from the likes of violinist Ike See to pianist Jonathan Shin.
Ike See is making waves down under in the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and will return to lead re:Sound in this concert of firsts! This Bicentennial celebration of home-grown talent features their first commission and two first symphonies by Mozart and Beethoven.
Meanwhile, brilliant young pianist and composer Jonathan Shin’s 1819 Suite for Small Orchestra will receive its world premiere, which brings listeners through a musical journey spanning two centuries of Singapore’s history.
Foremost Singaporean pianist Lim Yan shares the stage with Koh Jia Hwei in Saint-Saëns’ brilliantly witty The Carnival of the Animals, performed in its original chamber orchestration. The concert will be topped off by Mozart’s first symphony, written when he was just eight(!), and Beethoven’s first symphony, published when he was over thirty, and well-established as a composer.
We spoke to performers Ike See and Jonathan Shin and found out a little more about their work before the concert. Read the interviews in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: How did you come on board this concert? Can we learn about the process behind it?
Ike: I had my first outing with re:Sound last year playing an eclectic program of Grieg, Prokofiev, Bartok, and Mozart. I guess the orchestra must have been fairly satisfied with the experience, so I was fortunate enough to be asked to direct another program this year!
Bakchormeeboy:It’s always exciting to know that a musician whom is based overseas is coming back to perform. Is it daunting to come back to Singapore to play?
Ike: It definitely can be, but that’s part of the joy of playing to a home crowd. On the one hand it’s helpful sharing common ground with the audience, but there is also the added pressure of wanting to put out the best in front of a familiar crowd, playing on a stage I grew up on.
Bakchormeeboy:You’re currently playing with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, can you share how the experiences are different between Australia and Singapore?
Ike: With the ACO, we’re in a unique position of being able to play each program 10 or more times in quick succession. This is simply due to us bringing the music to audiences all across the country, which would take much less time in Singapore! As a result, we have the opportunity to take things away from each performance and tweak the next concert accordingly. With regards to audiences, every hall seems to have a different vibe! Generally both audiences seem discerning and appreciative, for which I am very grateful.
Ike: The amazing thing about what we do is that things are always evolving. The notes and markings on the page may not vary, but there is always new research and new ideas being floated and discussed. My view absolutely changes with my travels and, more importantly, with the various amazing people that I get to play with.
Bakchormeeboy:Can you share one piece that you’d be playing in Singapore that excites you? and why?
Ike: That’s a tough one. Every piece in this program brings something unique to the table. I’m looking forward to the challenge of juxtaposing the first symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven, two pieces written in a similar era and style but so starkly contrasting. I’m equally excited to explore Jonathan’s 1819 Suite, as it’s a real delight and responsibility bringing a new piece to life!
Bakchormeeboy: What drives you to carry on playing the violin each and every day? Are there any points you’ve wondered what life would have been like doing something else?
Ike: The timelessness of the music that we play, the incredible people I get to play it with, and the power of music to transcend barriers and speak to every individual – these things keep me going.
Bakchormeeboy: Singapore’s Bicentennial is an occasion but seeing how it’s been overused. I would like to understand how you hope to bring across the notion of Singapore’s Bicentennial with your new composition. What are the feelings and emotions you hope to evoke with it?
Jonathan: I’m not sure how it’s being overused, but maybe it’s because I have been away from all the hoo-hah! Instrumental music is wonderfully abstract, so before we dive into the philosophy of aesthetics or musical semiotics (because I know too little to comment!), I’ll say if I can inspire a “wow, I can see/feel it!” moment with any one audience member, I’ll leave the hall a happy guy.
Bakchormeeboy:I’m sure you get these questions a lot. But with all the accolades you’ve achieved, has it changed you? What keeps you grounded?
Jonathan: I think being a short person keeps me very grounded, haha! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’m grateful for the recognition from institutions, but all that matters to me is that I’m uplifting my community, my audience, my friends. Whether it’s through my music, or a little dinner I’ve made, or making them laugh, or just listening to them. It’s a little morbid, but I always think about how I’m going to be remembered at my funeral. Who’s going to care about the achievements and accolades? It’s so much more important to be a good and kind person.
Thinking about one’s funeral can keep one grounded very quickly. I guess a burial is a different kind of grounded. I should stop.
Bakchormeeboy: As a 2019 recipient of the St. Botolph Club Emerging Artist Award, is it an affirmation on what you’ve been doing? Your mantra?
Jonathan: It was a pleasant surprise for sure! I submitted one of my orchestral works and didn’t think much of it until I received the news. So yes, I was going to keep doing what I’ve always been doing—whether I won it or not!
Bakchormeeboy: Can you share with me what was the process of composing this piece like for you, where did you take your inspiration from, and what was the impetus for being a part of this project?
Jonathan: I usually start with a few months of walking and writing and planning and doing generally nothing compositionally while I trust my brain is working on some subconscious level. For the Suite I had to do some research: I flew back home for the summer, bought and read Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore, borrowed some books on old Singaporean architecture and Raffles and Farquhar, talked to friends, drank lots of teh… basically steeped myself in the culture of home. The actual composition part of the process took place back in the States. I followed my usual orchestral composition routine: I compose a short-score (a reduction of work for many instruments to a few staves) at the piano, then I start orchestrating.
It was Mr. Mervin Beng who commissioned me for the Suite, so I’m really thankful to him and the ridiculously excellent musicians for re:Sound Collective for this opportunity to show some love for my country through my music!
Bakchormeeboy: Being a composer, keeping fresh and updated is very important. What do you do to keep your mind fresh and open? Do you have a genre you generally lean towards? Having primarily seen a lot already in the music world, what would excite you/what excites Jonathan?
Jonathan: Everything still excites me very much, frankly. I’m very catholic in my tastes and the genres I compose, which I think isn’t necessarily the best thing for marketing… I also make it a rule to learn a new thing everyday, and I love listening to any kind of performance or human expression, and being taught new stuff. Never a boring hour for me!
Bakchormeeboy:What compositions are you working on at the moment? Do you have any preference for types of compositions?
Jonathan: I’m working on a New York-based commission for violin and piano, a spicy little chamber operetta in Boston for a March ‘20 premiere, and a few other long-term projects. For leisure I’m always working on songs, whatever their genre, classical, jazz, pop, musical theatre, anything I’m fancying that day. I don’t want to say I have a preference for a particular type of composition, but I will say I’m naturally inclined to making up songs on the spot!
A Very Singaporean Celebration plays on 16th October 2019 at the Victoria Concert Hall. Tickets available from SISTIC