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16 Oct 2018

Concert Report: Artistry: Glitch by Christoven Tan & Bertram Wee

The Music Circle
13 Oct 2018 (Sa)
4:30 PM – 5:30 PM

  • Bertram Wee – Lionheart
  • Dai Fujikura – Prism Spectra
  • Emily Koh – {plithe
  • Siting Jiang – Au Depart

Contributed by Ding Jian Han

The Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) would like to thank our member Ding Jian Han for contributing his review to CSS’ website. All views belong purely to the author.

It was a somewhat typical Saturday afternoon (13 Oct 2018), but yet much creativity and youthful energy emerged from an unexpected venue for a New Music concert – a tiny space called The Music Circle. Singaporean violist Christoven Tan, a passionate performer of contemporary music, along with Singaporean pianist-composer Bertram Wee, presented us with a concert titled Glitch, which sought to explore new music with out-of-this-world notation. It is interesting that this concert focused the notion of tension and release/resolution. Despite their undeniable contemporary sound, one could feel this principle of tonality as an underlying quality in them.

The first piece Lionheart is for solo viola, composed by Bertram Wee. The music had a distinct “fluttering” quality to it throughout, yet there was a stark feeling of tension versus release, controlled wonderfully by the composer. The former was caused by the main material of constant string glissandi, but as the interval of these glissandi expanded over time, tension was built up. The energy was dissipated as the wide glissandi finally broke down into wide vibrato at the low register. Yet within this slow and wide vibrato, one can feel the tension still present, waiting to slowly build up once again. The final build up of tension in the piece was the most beautiful for me, with slowly increasing pitch presented in the form of tremolo at the fingerboard (tasto).

The second piece Prism Spectra started with a strange kind of polyphony between the viola and the electronics. This was perhaps due to the electronics being quite reactionary to the viola’s sound output. It was as though a spectrum of sound was created, with the electronics extending the low registers of the viola, and later on doing the same for the higher registers. The piece then went into a slower section of somewhat free atonality. The idea of spectrum seemed to be very significant as a pizzicati-filled section emerged, creating a spectrum of possible dynamics. Remember the strange polyphony from the start? One could also feel that the voices from the beginning kept gradually slowing down towards this pizzicati section. Towards the end contained a lot of crossing string motions played near the bridge of the viola, which increased dramatically in tempo. It was as though the composer wanted to increase the speed of the voices in the string crossing until it was completely blurred out.

The third piece, {plithe for viola and toy piano, was composed by another Singaporean composer, Emily Koh. Bertram was the toy pianist for this performance. The piece was so much about  ‘struggle’, albeit in a good way: a struggle between harmonics and pure tones, and a struggle between viola and toy piano, creating this cause-and-effect relationship. Once again, there was the idea of tension and release present in this piece. One could hear a slow but increasing tension as the pitches slide chromatically. There was a beautiful exchange of sound colours between toy piano glissandi and harsh ‘molto sul ponticello’ (very near to the bridge of the viola) playing. Tension was also built up as these two sound colours started to combine. It was finally released beautifully, and surprisingly, with humming by the performers.

The final piece of the concert, Au Depart, was described by Christoven Tan the violist as a “work of beastly emotions”. He met and started to work with the composer, Siting Jiang, at a festival after Tan’s teacher recommended that he play a piece by a composer from IRCAM. A work of beastly emotions indeed, as the piece was highly aggressive with a lot of distortions by the electronics. Unlike Prism Spectra, the electronics was not reactionary but rather mixed together with the acoustic sound (maybe tape playback?). At one point though, the aggressive sound suddenly stopped, and beautiful harmonic tremolos emerged, before quickly reverting to its aggressive nature. Towards the end of piece, the electronics began to produce very classic Frequency Modulation (FM) tones. The aggressive sounds would build up and create a lot of tension before resolving to a single sine tone which underwent Frequency Modulation.

There were some technical difficulties in the electronics, but Tan played it off humorously by joking that the concert was titled ‘Glitch’ for a reason! It was also very nice to see that the concert was very welcoming to children. Although the children got restless at times, it was a good platform to introduce contemporary music to a younger audience. Christoven Tan and Bertram Wee had organised such an interesting and thought-provoking concert. Do look forward to upcoming ventures by the both of them!