Piano is Their Forte: Around the World on 88 Keys

By Alex Tan (16S03B), Huang Jiawen (16S06G) and Stella Soon (16A01C)

Photographs by Tuen Young Ji (16S03A) of Raffles Photographic Society

Emcees Yi Fen and Cayson
Emcees Yi Fen and Cayson

“I wish I could go travelling around the world!” So opened the highly-anticipated Piano Ensemble concert, with emcees Low Yi Fen and Cayson Chong expressing their wanderlust. Premised on the theme of exploring new territories and discovering new peoples, the pianists transported the audience from land to land, not unlike a magic carpet, giving them a brief but magical taste of each country’s atmosphere and culture.

Stepping into the concert venue, we were amazed by the vast changes in physical appearance. The drabness of the lecture theatre had been brightened with strings of blinking fairy lights, silhouette cut-outs of landmarks around the world, strung-up paper planes of pastel hues, and A4-sized hand-cut graphics depicting images of each piece’s origin country. Pianist Kellerine Quah illuminates the painstaking and assiduous process of decoration: “What was particularly unforgettable was sticking small pieces of duct tape to the wall in order to form a trail that even went to the floor. It really took a lot of effort.” The sheer amount of effort that Piano ensemble had put into decking the place up was a clear indication of the hard work the team had invested in preparation for the concert. 30th April was, indeed, a night to be remembered.

The strong turnout for the night
The strong turnout for the night

One of the standout moments was surely Franz Schubert’s ‘The Erlkönig’, performed by Emmanuel Tan and Fan Ze Cheng. This was accompanied by a sand art animation video set closely to the original poem, Goethe’s ‘Der Erlkönig’ and to the classical piece itself, portraying the young boy protagonist’s journey home with his father on horseback. Throughout the journey, the boy is continuously assailed by a supernatural being visible only to himself, aptly named the Erlkönig (literally “Alder King”, more commonly translated as “Elf-King”).

A screencap of the video used for ‘The Erlkönig’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_dighphz_A)
A screencap of the video used for ‘The Erlkönig’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_dighphz_A)

Emmanuel and Ze Cheng poured their hearts into their music to deliver a compelling, poignant rendition. The rise and fall of the music, enriched by the video’s vivid scenes, did justice to the piece’s emotional depth and nuance. Audience members were taken on a moving journey alongside father and son, keenly feeling the former’s anguish as he desperately attempted to assuage his son’s immense fear of the spirit. The piece ended on a loud staccato chord, signifying the unexpected, discordant death of the young boy to the Erlkönig, leaving many members of the audience buzzing about the shocking, unfortunate resolution.

Supplementary visual projections were made use of for several other songs as well, like ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from the two-act ballet ‘The Nutcracker’. A video of twirling, tiptoeing ballerinas spinning like tops from man to man was displayed while Cheryl Chin and Deng Yimin performed Tchaikovsky’s composition. The video aroused mixed reactions as to its effectiveness: one of the writers felt that the sight of pirouetting dancers fit perfectly with the dancing tune, while another writer thought that the mismatched beats failed to complement the piece.

Isaac Lee and Tan Chin Soon performed Debussy’s ‘Nuages’
Isaac Lee and Tan Chin Soon performed Debussy’s ‘Nuages’

In other cases, as in Claude Debussy’s ‘Nuages’, the video seemed only to distract. It consisted of an apparently random assemblage of time-lapse videos of cloudscapes rolling, amassing and dissipating across the sun. But it was incongruous with the music and was therefore unable to add value to the performance.

Allan fully exhibiting his equine instincts
Allan fully exhibiting his equine instincts

Another one of the most unforgettable moments of the evening was Galop Marche by Albert Lavignac, playfully performed by Jessie Chua, Li Jia Qi, Eric Leow and Allan Yang. A piece composed specially for eight hands (“à huit mains”), the four friends tickled the ivories of the same piano, seated side-by-side. Allan stood up at several points to prance about with a horse head and to take an on-stage selfie with his fellow pianists. Eric and Jia Qi leant back to clap hands with one another in time to the sprightly, quick beat, behind Jessie’s back. Tricky, mischievous gestures were also involved, as they crisscrossed their arms to reach particular keys, but they galloped through the light-hearted notes effortlessly and with grace. About his piece, Eric opined, “I think it’s one of the liveliest pieces and I like how the melody is equally distributed around all the players so everyone can have their ‘moment of fame’.”

On-stage selfie!
On-stage selfie!

By then, it was apparent that “Around the World on 88 Keys” was one-of-a-kind. The Piano Ensemble clearly had a sizeable number of tricks up their sleeves, outdoing themselves yet again when Deng Yimin and Joash Chin appeared on stage garbed in Pokemon onesies. The gleeful audience roared with laughter at this impeccable sartorial choice. Their piece, an uplifting “Pokemon Medley”, comprised of various familiar melodies taken straight out of the all-time favourite video game series. When enquired about this brilliant stroke of creativity, Joash remarked, “We thought it would be interesting to wear something that would suit the theme of the piece. There was a J2 class that dressed up in different animal costumes for a particular occasion, so we borrowed the onesies from them.”

Adorable Pokemon onesies
Adorable Pokemon onesies

One might think that attempts to emulate songs in popular culture will leave no lasting impression on an audience comprised of classical music aficionados. The “Part of Your World- A Whole New World” mashup performed by Joshua Gei and Colette Tan (collectively dubbed ‘Jolette’ by an obnoxious audience member) was, however, an exception. Expressive and communicative, the beautiful melodies mirrored the Little Mermaid’s and Princess Jasmine’s passionate desires for change and discovery, transporting the audience back to their distant days of childhood to unearth lost hopes and treasured memories. Enchanted, the audience allowed themselves to be swept away by the tides of music, visiting magical shore after magical shore.

The final piece of the night, ‘Serpent’s Kiss’, by William Bolcom, was performed by Kevin Wang and Thia Zhang Wei. The music’s dark tones of ominous foreboding called to mind the initial hesitation and trepidation contained in a kiss. These were skilfully contrasted with jocular, passionate parts, which conveyed the serpent’s ardent eagerness. Towards the end, the acceleration of the music’s tempo, coupled with the performers’ stamps of their feet and hard raps on the piano clearly brought out the serpent’s intensifying desire. The satisfied audience responded with loud applause and cheering at the conclusion of this emotionally-packed piece.

Kevin rapping on the piano
Kevin rapping on the piano

When asked about the concert, chairperson Kevin responded, “The concert has been a culmination of every single ensemble member’s hardwork and dedication over the past few months. The performers who took on well-known pieces were not afraid to bring out original yet convincing interpretations.” Performer Jessie Chua spoke of how she came to terms with her own high expectations during the preparation period, and “just let go” during the concert. She remarked that “that way, you can say with a clear conscience that you have done your best to prepare and fully enjoy yourself while performing!”

As the marvellous adventure drew to a close, a note of lingering regret hung in the air. At the start, the audience had been posed an enigmatic riddle: “What goes around the world but stays in one corner?” The answer, a stamp, revealed at the end of it all, was perhaps an apt metaphor for the night’s musical odyssey. Even as we remained stationary in our own little cozy corners of the LT, the sublime music offered us glimpses of our diverse planet, from the rolling green hills of Armenia to the perfect fantasies of Japan, back to the familiar, easily identifiable tunes floating in the alleys of Singapore.

Curtain call!
Curtain call!

Pieces played:

Sabre Dance (Kellerine Quah, Goh Xinyi, Zhang Lin Wan, Monica Lee)

The Swan (Isaac Lee, Sarah Lim)

Libertango (Tan Chin Soon, Cheryl Chin)

Nuages (Isaac Lee, Tan Chin Soon)

Hungarian Dance 4 & 5 (Shiu Chi Wen, Joash Chin)

Armenian Rhapsody (Sarah Lim, Emmanuel Tan)

Nutcracker, Waltz of the Flowers (Cheryl Chin, Deng Yimin)

Singaporean Folk Song Medley (Kalvinder Kaur, Dominic Tan, Melissa Choi, Chloe Hing)

Porgy and Bess (Joshua Gei, Kevin Wong)

Erlkönig (Emmanuel Tan, Fan Ze Cheng)

Chopsticks Variations (Colette Tan, Thia Zhang Wei)

Galop Marche (Jessie Chua, Li Jia Qi, Eric Leow, Allan Yang)

Pokemon Medley (Deng Yimin, Joash Chin)

Shingeki no Kyojin OP2 Jiyuu no Tsubasa (Fan Ze Cheng, Shiu Chi Wen)

Part of Your World – A Whole New World Mashup (Joshua Gei, Colette Tan)

Serpent’s Kiss (Kevin Wong, Thia Zhang Wei)

Curtain Call — Pop Medley (Saw Khai Khai, Coco Chew, Woo Yan Ting, Tang Yurou)

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