By Sophia He (20S03H) and Huang Beihua (20A03A)
Photographs courtesy of Julia Chee (20S03D), Geng Heqin (20S06S), Jia Junran (20S06H), and Louise Tan (20S06D) of the Raffles Photographic Society
On the 26th of April, Raffles Institution Piano Ensemble (RIPE) invited their members and audiences alike to step away from the dull monotony of academia and routine, and into a rediscovered realm of fantastical imaginings, whimsical landscapes, and childlike wonder. In the gently dimmed light of LT2, audiences were treated to a kaleidoscope of pieces from romantic classics like Rachmaninoff’s “Romance and Valse”, to nostalgic film tracks like “Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard Of Oz.
Immediately upon entering the LT, decorations immersed the audience in a dreamy atmosphere—one different from the usual dreaminess the venue is known for—from the moment they set foot in the lecture theatre. Fairy lights shone like stars as they spelled out the night’s theme in calligraphy, while origami flowers in vibrant colours hinted at the joy of innocence the music would later invoke.
The two grand pianos that took centre stage (literally) would soon cede their spotlight to the two narrators of the night, as Pan Liyu (19S06D) materialised in a cloak, heralding a story that would, in the CCA’s unique tradition, eventually connect the repertoire with its plot. Limping onto the stage, Liyu introduced himself as the weary Lord of Dreams seeking a worthy successor in an overworked student, portrayed by Zhang Shi Tong (20S06G).
After waking the burnt out student from her peaceful slumber with Mozart’s “Overture to The Magic Flute, K.260”, she was introduced to the world of fantasy with two Japanese pieces: a Kimi no Na wa medley by Radwimps and “Morning of the Beginning” by Foxtail Grass. The lyricality of both pieces and the frivolousness of their lilting melodies set up an ethereal atmosphere befitting the narrative, and the seamless transition between pieces lulled the audience even further into the mesmerised ambience pervading the LT.
The Lord of Dreams then led us to Norway, with a convivial rendition of “Anitra’s Dance” from Peer Gynt, Op.23, a series of music written for the eponymous play. Vivid and evocative, the performance invigorated the audience with its fresh, energetic notes before segueing to another piece from the same suite, “Morning Mood”, depicting a sunrise in the play’s fourth act. Contrary to the typical morning mood of a student, the music suffusing the LT was calm and serene, as the pianists caressed the keys with exquisite care yet expert skill to paint a dawn full of promise and possibilities.
Returning from the far-flung Nordic lands, the student, reluctant in her wanderlust, was compelled to create her own paradise in their place, with inspiration from the elegant melodies of Gabriel Faure’s delicate “Dolly Suite”. The result was a journey down memory lane with “Someday My Prince Will Come” by Frank Churchill, a piece whose clear, crystalline high notes evoked the purity and innocence of a simpler time. The simple and sweet melody, however, quickly gave way to “Rose Adagio” from Sleeping Beauty, a more complicated piece that the pianists nevertheless handled with effortless ease. Rose-coloured lights gently veiled the stage as complex cadences cascaded smoothly from one to the next, before the tune concluded in a sweeping melody that left the audience in awe for more.
And more did come, in the form of an expert arrangement of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by RIPE’s very own Bryan Ge (19A01B) and Justin Liu (19S06S). Their realisation of the song’s grandiose soundscape managed to bring to life, with only the use of the traditional keyboard, one of the most iconic rock anthems of our time.
Indeed, the versatility of the pianists was apparent in their immaculate performances across an astonishing variety of genres, and the repertoire tonight reflected their confidence. Wesley Lam (19S05A) also greatly appreciated how the Ensemble took care to interweave the more classical pieces with contemporary ones, and was awed by the members’ effort in sourcing pieces from diverse origins.
The pianists’ great adaptability, however, manifested not only in the genres of their performance. Returning from the intermission, extra music sheet stands materialised on the stage, as guest performers from Chamber Ensemble joined the now-familiar pianos in the “Piano Quintet in C Minor” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The mellow piano proved to work flawlessly with the new additions, as the meandering song of the violin underlined by the double bass all worked together to weave into being one sweeping, melancholic tune.
That was, as the audience would discover in the following song, not all that there was to the already impressive coordination the performers were capable of. “Romance” and “Tempo di Valse”, from the Russian virtuoso Sergei Rachmaninoff, demanded seamless trust and cooperation between pianists as a trio of them sat together to bring the score to life. The pieces demanded even physical contortion as arms crossed over each other multiple times to reach the keys they needed, but in typical brilliance, they worked flawlessly as one to realise the works’ nuances.
The ever-inquisitive student, returning from her sojourn in 20th Century Russia, then embarked upon an ambitious crossover (arguably the best since Infinity War), fusing the structured classical works of Mozart with the careless abandon of late 19th Century ragtime. The frenzied rhythms and controlled chaos of the short, crisp notes transitioned flawlessly at exuberant pace from one to another, and, as the programme booklet pronounced, “liv[ed] out Mozart’s dream”.
The dexterous pianists then wasted no time in delving into the perennial classics of our time: “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, and “Stars” from Les Miserables. The familiar tunes were skilfully reinterpreted and brought to life, with their emblematic melodies stirring up first tendrils of nostalgia, and then the solid conviction only the righteous at heart could hold. The musical dreamscape then took a more contemplative turn with “Epilogue” from La La Land. The popular musical’s overarching conflict between optimism and regret was expressed immaculately in this oneiric piece, as the performers, opposite each other on their separate pianos, alternated between solo lines of pensive reflection, almost as if an intimate conversation was taking place.
This enchanting journey through beautiful, diverse dreams would eventually have to end somewhere, and, when the conclusion arrived, it arrived spectacularly with the Greatest Showman Medley. Blending slower and faster pieces alike, the spellbinding voyage through the sensational film took us from the hopeful and passionate “Rewrite the Stars” to the fiery resolve of “This Is Me”, before the pianists rose together, and took a bow to deafening applause.
After bidding his budding apprentice farewell to pursue her own fantastical dreams, the Lord of Dreams then called upon his buddies of old for a final round of merrymaking with the Undertale Medley, as arranged by Jin Minyue (19S06H). This unexpected encore had audiences enraptured with the dynamism of the players, as members of the departing Y6 batch came together to celebrate their time together not only as members of the Raffles Institution Piano Ensemble, but more importantly, as fellow musicians. As the musicians took turns stirring the ivory keys into their jubilant dance, they skipped, shuffled, and laughed under the effusive, vaguely carnivalesque air of their reverie’s culmination, before they would awaken reluctantly to a world void of the collaborative music-making that had brightened their Tuesday afternoons for so long.
Then, it was time to go on our separate ways. Members of the audience slowly (and reluctantly) stood up on their way out, while the stars of the night returned backstage to clean up and to bask in the accomplishment of a job well done. Outside, lingering listeners remained at the photobooth for some last memoirs before they returned home, for a sequel to this dreamland, to the fanciful landscape they had journeyed to, to innocence and wonder rediscovered, and to the reverie that enthralled and enraptured.
Overture to The Magic Flute K.620
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performed by Samuel Foo, Soh Wen Wei, Zhou Yi Rui, Low Chen Yi
Kimi no na wa Medley
Performed by Liu Haixuan, Tan Rui Zhe
Morning of the Beginning
Foxtail Grass (arr. Samuel Foo)
Performed by Pan Liyu, Samantha Wong
Peer Gynt, Op. 23
III. Anitra’s Dance
Performed by Claudeon Susanto, Rachel Tan
I. Morning Mood
Performed by Zhang Shitong, Megan Hon
Dolly Suite, III. Le Jardin de Dolly
Performed by Zhu Jieshuai, Wan Yuanjun
Someday my Prince will come
Performed by Yu Jia Lin, Yuan Ruoqing
Rose Adagio from “Sleeping Beauty”
Performed by Pan Liyu, Zhu Jieshuai
Queen (arr. Justin Liu, Bryan Ge)
Performed by Justin Liu, Bryan Ge
Piano Quintet in C Minor, I. Allegro con Fuoco
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performed by Samuel Foo, Fan Yiting, Roger Zhao, Ng Woon Ngee, Jacinda Soh
2 Pieces for 6 Hands: Romance and Valse
Performed by Jin Minyue, Shirley Chee, Zhou Yirui
Ragtime Alla Turca
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performed by Zhang Ming, Zhang Yuchi
Over the Rainbow from “The Wizard of Oz”
Harold Arlen (arr. Melody Bober)
Performed by Liu Haixuan, Tan Rui Zhe, Tan Jun Xiang, Low Chen Yi
Stars from ‘Les Miserables’
Performed by Samuel Foo, Soh Wen Wei
Epilogue from ‘La La Land’
Justin Hurwitz (arr. Tan Yuxuan, Wan Yuanjun, Samuel Foo)
Performed by Tan Yuxuan, Wan Yuanjun
Greatest Showman Medley
Pasek and Paul
Performed by Shirley Chee, Samantha Wong