Sombre on Strings: A Rendition by Raffles Chamber Ensemble

By Calista Chong (18A01A) and Wong Zi Yang (19A01D)

On 12 May, Raffles Chamber Ensemble held its annual concert, titled Sombre, in Lecture Theatre 2. Although its title conveyed melancholy, the atmosphere of the lecture theatre was anything but so – it was abuzz with the chatter of an audience not dreading the start of a lecture, but anticipating the mellifluous music of string instruments to fill the hall.

The concert kicked off with the descent of a projector screen, as Raffles Chamber Ensemble assembled backstage, readying themselves to make the audience’s Saturday afternoon nothing short of splendid.

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The concert began with the re-enactment of the Korean drama Goblin, and laughter erupted in the hall.

The lights of the lecture theatre dimmed, and most unexpectedly, a parody remake of Goblin started playing in the hall, to the delight of the audience. Wiesiek Khoo (18A01E) was featured on the screen, in a hilarious attempt at cross-dressing to play the role of female lead Ji Eun-Tak, and later on, the male lead, Kim Shin, as well. The hilarious re-enactment hyped the audience considerably, kick-started the concert on a lighthearted note.

The concert started with Danse Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, Op 47. The piece began with a mystical violin solo by Liu Zhilong (18S03T), with a mellow bass harmony, that had the audience entranced. When the piece started in full swing, the ensemble played with swift and clean bow strokes that had the audience’s feet tapping to the rhythm. The piece grew in dazzling intensity. The lower strings echoed the melody previously played by the violins, accompanied with urgent trills, and ended on a high, akin to a dancer ending her performance in a brilliant flourish.

A particularly impressive piece was String Quartet No. 1, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The violinists begun with an expressive melody, before the motif was handed to the cellists, who took over with a mellower timbre. The call-and-response between the upper and lower strings made for an alluring tussle.

After the brilliant ensemble pieces, Chamber presented pieces performed by mostly quartets, with a trio and quintet thrown into the mix. A unique piece was the Terzetto in C major, Op. 74 by Antonin Dvorak, played by a trio. It only features the combination of two violins and one viola. Without the lower strings, the mantle of the bassline was assumed by the viola, played by Michael Lee (19S06D). Together with violinists, Loi Si Xian (19S03D) and Fu Xianli (19S03O), the trio delivered a powerful rendition, whilst swaying along to the liquid melodies that run through the piece.

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A sterling rendition of the Terzetto in C major, Op. 74.

Striving to break the stereotype that classical music is rarefied and esoteric, Chamber Ensemble also presented a classical take on iconic movie soundtracks from Indiana Jones and Harry Potter. The players played at the foot of the stage in a bid to be closer to the audience.

After several captivating performances put up by the ensemble and chamber groups thereafter, the emcees emerged from the curtains with an unexpected request for the audience to take out their mobile phones. Soft murmurs of surprise rippled through the crowd, as the use of phones in a musical performance would have otherwise been considered disrespectful. The audience soon realised that Chamber incorporated a Kahoot! segment in which audience members answered accessible but engaging questions about music terminology or pieces. A few members of the ensemble would play a short tune, and the audience would be quizzed on what emotions and images the pieces evoked. The audience had fun making guesses, and the most knowledgeable few were rewarded with prizes.

A particularly memorable piece was Pavane pour une infante defunte, or Pavane for a Dead Princess, by Maurice Ravel. This melancholic piece was slow and measured, keeping the audience enraptured by the beautiful music. The pavane is not, as its name would suggest, a mourning piece. The lyrical melodies of the piece were meant to convey a sense of nostalgia and melancholy, and went beyond the simple sadness that the title would suggest to something more profound. Watching the ensemble play this piece was an enlightening experience, with the performers’ virtuosity perfectly conveying the theme of ‘Sombre’.

The concert ended off on a high, as the audience demanded an encore. To the roaring cheers of the audience, the members of the ensemble lifted their bows for the final performance of the afternoon.

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The musicians looked on affectionately, as their conductor, Ms Marietta Ku, walked onto the stage to conduct the very last piece of Sombre.

The chairpersons of Raffles Chamber Ensemble thereafter presented bouquets to their teachers-in-charge and conductor, thanking them for their dedication in making the concert a resounding success.

When asked about the inspiration behind the theme of the concert, Nicole Ng (18A01B) and Caleb Leow (18A01A), the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of Raffles Chamber Ensemble respectively, cited the ubiquitous melancholy and poignance in the setlist. Nicole ends the short interview by jestingly invoking a quote of Shakespeare: “If music be the food of love, play on!”

While Sombre’s pieces may have been pensive or doleful, the audience had their fair share of delight at the amusing introductory video; and while classical music may be deemed as esoteric and inaccessible, the interactive Kahoot! quiz brought classical music closer to the audience as well. For Raffles Press journalists, Sombre has truly been an afternoon of defying expectations.


Repertoire

Camille Saint-Saens
Danse Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, Op. 47

Sergei Rachmanioff
String Quartet No. 1
II. Romance

Dmitri Shostakovich
Tea for Two, arranged by Claire Chow, composed by Vincent Youmans

Musical Medley, arranged by Claire Chow, Tamara Au, Grace Lim

Antonin Dvorak
Terzetto in C major, Op 74
IV. Tema con Variazioni
Played by Loi Si Xian (Violin I), Fu Xianli (Violin II) and Michael Lee (Viola)

Reinhold Gliere
String Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op 20
I. Allegro moderato
Played by Rachel Chung (Violin I), Caleb Leow (Violin II), Nicole Ng (Viola) and Tian Xindi (Cello)

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Trio in E-flat major, Op 3
I. Allegro con brio
Played by Liu Zhilong (violin), Emelyn Aw (Viola) and Teo Zi Yang (Cello)

Carl Nielsen
String Quintet in G major, FS 5
IV. Finale, Allegro molto
Played by Basil Ong (Violin I), Amanda Wee (Violin II), Samuel Tan (Viola I), Alvin Lim (Viola II) and Richmond Lip (Double Bass)

Movie Medley, arranged by Fabrianne Effendi, Wong Jia Hui

Joe Hisaishi
View of Silence
Arranged by Nicole Ng

Maurice Ravel
Pavane pour una infante defunte
Arranged by Liu Zhilong

Philip Lane
Pantomime


Players

Violin

Liu Zhilong
Chung Ruei Chieh Rachel
Basil Ong Tze Wee
Caleb Leow Yong Quan
Chow Jin Fung Claire
Fabrianne Effendi
Fu Xianli
Khoo Geng Kit Wiesiek
Loi Si Xian
Wee Jia Tong Amanda
Wong Jia Hui
Wong Zi Xin Avellin

Viola

Ng Xin-Yu Nicole
Aw Min Li Evelyn
Grace Lim En Hui
Lim Jun Han Alvin
Michael Lee Jun Hui
Samuel Tan Ming Ying

Cello

Tian Xindi
Goh Jue Shao
Tamara Au
Teo Zi Yang

Double Bass

Lip Jun Weng Richmond
Vanessa Tay Sin Yee

Piano

Ng Xin-Yu Nicole

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