By Alex Tan (16S03B)
Photos by Lim Neng Du and Wallace Oh
*Coincidentally, this happens to be the writer’s tenth article! Symbolisms abound.
“Why Ten O’Clock?” I ventured to ask my friend Kellerine Quah (16S03B), who conveniently happened to be the Chairperson of the Piano Ensemble.
“Because it’s our tenth anniversary!” she jubilantly responded by way of explanation. Not wanting to spoil the surprise for myself by probing any further, I accepted this easily at face value, not knowing its essential significance, greater than what I had imputed to it. For if one idea can contain the remarkable spectacle that was the Raffles Institution Piano Ensemble’s concert, it would be that of time. Time, that abstracted, humanly-constructed entity by which we unthinkingly measure out all our days and ends, of which the movements on the clock are but an arbitrary, inadequate sign; time was powerfully celebrated and called to the audience’s consciousness in this show.
Arguably, it is rhythm that lends music its soul and emotional tenor. In deftly dabbling in a whole palette of songs with varying tempos, ranging from the lackadaisical peacefulness of Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” to the bright catchy quickness of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals: Finale”, the Piano Ensemble demonstrated their versatility. Delicate care had been taken to cater to multiple musical tastes, indulging the classical (Shostakovich’s “Concertino for 2 Pianos in A Minor Op, 94”) without sidelining the popular and contemporary (Paul Abraham Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from the Disney film “Fantasia”).
Within the well-selected, constantly interesting repertoire were lodged pop medleys arranged by the Piano Ensemble’s own members, such as a mashup of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Game of Thrones” (arranged by Saw Khai Khai) and Joe Hisaishi’s “Merry-Go-Round of Life” from the famous animated film “Howl’s Moving Castle” (arranged by Monica Lee and Woo Yan Ting).
There was evidence of immense time and effort invested in the smallest of details to conjure the right mood. Chloe Hing (16S03A) and Goh Xin-Yi (16S03E) wore tiaras for Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz”, while Saw Khai Khai (16S03I) and Li Jiaqi (16S03I) sported wizarding robes for their “Harry Potter Medley”, confronting each other civilly in the centre of the stage before taking their respective positions at the pianos to begin their magical duel. Indeed, not only had the venue – the plain Lecture Theatre 2 – been dressily adorned, the stage strewn romantically with flower petals, fairy lights and paper-cuttings of silhouetted fairytale castles, the very concert booklet had been designed in the style of the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter’s world.
The atmosphere of instant magic airily penetrated the emcees’ script, delivered entertainingly by Lim Rae-ann (17S03B) and Allan Yang (16S03H). The narrative revolved around Shostakovich, fondly abbreviated as Stakov, who faces the peculiar dilemma of choosing between a scholarship and a girl. To appease the Sorcerer who has kidnapped him, he has undertaken a quest to find four magical objects. It is a world in which students take “H4 Potions” in Schools of Enchantment. “There’s no A, B or C in ‘Dungeons’, only D, E, S and U, none of which will get you on a dean’s list,” quipped Rae-ann at one point. The emcees’ comfortable and hilarious dynamic was fostered by Rae-ann’s consistent playful banter about Allan’s unattractiveness and incompetence (although Allan is probably neither unattractive nor incompetent in reality!):
Allan: Prince Charming was the top student in his castle!
Rae-ann: Well, that’s too bad, because you’re neither smart nor charming.
Allan later gamely struck back:
Rae-ann: Is it over here, or is it over there?
Allan: This is not the audition for Dora the Explorer, you know!
For all its punchy college humour and romance, the script alone was a work of art that helped the audience draw the link between music and magic, between timed rhythms and timeless value, between the spectacle and the labour of love it represented. A huge clock, intricately cut out of black paper and pasted on the padded wall on one side of LT2, furthered this idea. On the wall opposite was hung a yellow moon, as if alluding to Robert Frost’s “luminary clock in the sky”, suggesting the artificiality of time against the unchanging placidity and indifference of the universe.
More than a rehearsed sequence of songs to be transiently listened to and enjoyed, it was an experience to be retained in memory. Especially notable was Octávio Pinto’s “Scenas Infantis”, performed by Eric Leow (16S06G) and Jessie Chua (16S03B), for its playful experimentation with sudden stops and shifts in mood, aptly accompanied with changes in stage lighting, as if to echo the loose disjointed fantasies of childhood, its symmetrical and highly ordered randomness. A medley of songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera”, performed on piano by Eric Leow and Monica Lee (16S06J), also showcased the vocal talents of Jessie Chua, Kellerine Quah and Dominic Tan (16S07C), who sang their respective parts with finesse.
Memorably, Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No.2 in F Major, Op. 102”, more commonly known as “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, was played by Jessie Chua and Kellerine Quah to an accompanying video clip. The audience’s focus was cast as much on the pianists as on the narrative gradually being unfolded – about a one-legged tin soldier who overcomes many obstacles, unfazed by difficulty, to win over his beloved ballerina figurine. The performers had obviously carefully calibrated their ivory-tickling with the happenings on screen, down to the minutest second.
Yet the crowning masterpiece was cleverly saved for the last. Uniting the whole J2 batch of 2016, Lavignac’s “Galop-Marche à Huit Mains” was both a suitable finale and a piece of sheer performance art. Fifteen pairs of hands – instead of the original four pairs (“Huit Mains” meaning “Eight Hands”) – assumed their places on the ivory keys, their owners impeccably ordered and tessellated around the piano in three neat ranks, some sitting flatly on the ground with their legs outstretched beneath the musical instrument, while others reached out their presumably longer limbs to enact their perfectly coordinated parts. The song began with fifteen people at the piano but did not persist throughout with all fifteen. Dancing, squatting, frivolous revelry, games of London Bridge took place around the piano while the music jauntily, valiantly continued. It was all quite chaotic, without losing that essential synchronisation which made it such a visual delight, such an appropriate tribute to both last year’s concert and the esprit du corps of this peculiar cohort.
“Encore! Encore!” the audience enthusiastically screamed. Not having prepared an encore, Kellerine improvised, “Galop Marche again ah?” And so Galop Marche was played a second time, losing none of its punch. Ng Zhi Rui (16S05A), an audience member, casually remarked, “The piece must have been really good when you can use it as an encore piece and the audience actually wants to watch it again.”
As a whole, in bringing our attention to the limited bounds of time, the concert paradoxically transcended those very boundaries. Meant to conclude at ten o’clock and symbolise the solidification of the Piano Ensemble’s tenth anniversary, the concert seemed to proudly declare, “This is where we are now, and we are only moving forward.” It was an immense labour of love, a mark of progress, a systematic introspection, a measured celebration to be remembered for a lifetime.
- When You Wish Upon a Star by Ned Washington and Leigh Adrian Harline, arranged by Jessie Chua and Tang Yurou (performed by Zhang Lin Wan and Coco Chew)
- Concertino for 2 Pianos in A Minor, Op. 94 by Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (performed by Allan Yang and Dominic Tan)
- Peer Gynt Suite: IV. Morning Mood by Edvard Hagerup Grieg (performed by Lee Hong Yee and Ashiley Annushri Thenpandiyan)
- Toréador et Andalouse by Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein (performed by Jacie Lim, Lee Yee Teng, Tan Chin Kiat and Paul Low)
- Grande Valise Villageoise (Sleeping Beauty Waltz) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (performed by Chloe Hing and Goh Xin-Yi)
- Scenes Infantis by Octávio Pinto (performed by Eric Leow and Jessie Chua)
- Phantom of the Opera Medley by Andrew Lloyd Webber, arranged by Jessie Chua and Kellerine Quah (performed by Eric Leow, Monica Lee, with singers Jessie Chua, Kellerine Quah and Dominic Tan, with guest violinist Yee Yang En)
- Scaramouche: III. Brasileira by Darius Milhaud (performed by Heng Si Kai and Tan Yee Jian)
- Carnival of the Animals: XIV. Finale by Camille Saint-Saëns (performed by Coco Chew and Woo Yan Ting)
- Intermezzo: Forrest Gump by Alan Silvestri, arranged by Tang Yurou (performed by Kalvinder Kaur and Tang Yurou)
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Abraham Dukas (performed by Monica Lee and Eric Leow)
- Suite No. 2 for 2 Pianos: II. La Coquette by Anton Stepanovich Arensky (performed by Tang Yurou and Kalvinder Kaur)
- Merry-Go-Round of Life by Joe Hisaishi, arranged by Monica Lee and Woo Yan Ting (performed by Zhang Lin Wan and Woo Yan Ting)
- The Flight of the Bumblebee & 斗琴曲 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Jay Chou, arranged by Kellerine Quah and Li Jiaqi (performed by Kellerine Quah and Li Jiaqi)
- Pirates of Westeros by Klaus Badelt and Hans Florian Zimmer, arranged by Saw Khai Khai (performed by Monica Lee, Dominic Tan, Saw Khai Khai and Allan Yang)
- Let My Favourite Things Go Up by Michael Giacchino, Richard Charles Rodgers, Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, arranged by Anna Cheang, Ashleigh Aathar, Chloe Chia and Faye-Anne Ho (performed by Anna Cheang, Ashleigh Aathar, Chloe Chia and Faye-Anne Ho)
- Dolly Suite Op. 56: VI. Le Pas Espagnol by Gabriel Urbain Fauré (performed by Chloe Hing and Goh Xin-Yi)
- Harry Potter Medley by John Towner Williams, arranged by Saw Khai Khai (performed by Saw Khai Khai and Li Jiaqi)
- Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102: I. Allegro (The Steadfast Tin Soldier) by Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (performed by Jessie Chua and Kellerine Quah)
- Galop-Marche à Huit Mains for 15 Pianists on 1 Piano by Alexandre Jean Albert Lavignac, arranged by Jessie Chua (performed by J2 Batch of 2016)