Chamber Ensemble: Fantasia 2019

By Claire Tan (20S07A) and Coco Liu (20S06L)
Photographs courtesy of Loh Yih Hang (19S06B) and Cheng Wentuo (20S06L)

The LT2 we walked into on 11th May was a vastly altered place—and it wasn’t just because it was bustling with excited parents and schoolmates. Chamber Ensemble had transformed the space for their annual concert, creating an unearthly ambience. Their banner at the front of the stage was adorned with pink and blue flowers; the lights were dimmed to evoke a sense of intimacy; even the ticketing booth at the entrance was lit with fairy lights. Entering the lecture theatre felt like walking into a fantasy.

Chamber’s theme this year was Fantasia, derived from ‘fantasie’, a now-obsolete variant of ‘fantasy’. From the other-worldly decorations to the repertoire heavily centred around the Romantic/circa 20th-century era, everything was designed to evoke the notion of dreams, and of the magic of imagination coming to life through music.

At 2.30pm, the lights dimmed and the chatter died down. Elizabeth Chew (20S06U) and Amanda Wee (19S06B) then stepped onto stage to act as the emcees of the event, introducing the eager audience to the theme, the repertoire, and their conductor, Ms Marietta Ku. The ensemble then settled down, preparing to play.

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The ensemble in action, bathed in a gentle glow.

The first piece of the day was Marcia and Finale from Carl Reinecke’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 242. The first movement, although initially unsettling, soon transitioned into a lush melody whilst the ensemble grew with gusto. The next movement was fast-paced, with the ensemble playing with quick, energetic bow strokes. Towards the end, Finale featured themes from the opening of Marcia, tying the piece up nicely.

The next piece, Romance in C major, Op.42 by Jean Sibelius, had a darker tone. It began not in the titular major key but in E minor, with the violinists driving the melody, accompanied by the cellists and double bassists playing a pizzicato figure. Leaving us with a twang of melancholy, this was a perfect lead-in for the upcoming video game medley: featuring music from games such as Nascence, Gusty Galaxy and Angry Birds, the medley was more light-hearted, providing a breath of fresh air from the pensive piece from before. We were uplifted by the cheery melodies, and the familiar tunes from Angry Birds even had the audience swaying along.

With that, the curtains closed to rapturous applause. Yet, the concert was far from over—in fact, we were in for a surprise. From the side of the stage, a student ran in and across to the other end, holding up a board lettered with the word ‘FUN’.

And so the fun began.

‘Fun’, in this case, referred to a talent show featuring the talented musicians of Raffles Chamber Ensemble. First up was Fan Yiting (20S06L) hula-hooping while playing the violin, teasing out the widely-acclaimed ‘I Love You’ tune from the children’s show Barney & Friends. This was followed by ‘an elephant-based race’ by the bassists Richmond Lip and Ng Woon Ngee (20S06L), in which they played a few notes on the bass, walked a few steps, and then stopped to play a bit more. Subsequently, Elizabeth Chew, who proclaimed herself a massive fan of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, wore a cutout of a Rolex watch in honour of his endorsements of the company, and then promptly failed to play a full tune on the cello. Last but not least, Jin Zihan (20S06P) played the violin and provided musical accompaniment to a video of Super Mario Bros, eliciting peals of laughter from the audience.

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Yiting showcasing her talent and making it seem like a piece of cake.

Amongst all the performances by the chamber groups, Beethoven’s Duet mit zwei obligaten Augengläsern, WoO 32 “Eyeglasses Duo” performed by Alvin Lim and Richmond Lip was probably most noteworthy for the synergy displayed. The playful, light-hearted quality of the duet was reflected in the expressions of the performers, who exchanged smiles and eyebrow raises throughout the piece.

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Alvin and Richmond, using music to reflect their friendship.

Next up was the BASIL Quartet, comprising Basil Ong (19S03G), Amanda Wee, Samuel Tan (19S06C), and Isaac Tah (20S06L), with ‘L taken’, who presented Molto allegro e vivace from Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 12 ). Most of this movement was not centred in the home key of E-flat, creating agitation and anguish, but the mood later evolved to evoke feelings of tranquility. String Quartet in E minor (III. Prestissimo) by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by Fu Xianli (19S03O), Wong Jia Hui (19S03C), Alvin Lim, and Richmond Lip, similarly continued the theme of unsettlement, its operatic undertones brimming with intensity.

Isaac Tah then returned to the stage as the host (and sole judge) of the talent show. Yet, right before he announced the results, the show hit a snag as a question was posed: why were violas not featured in the talent show?

‘Violists only play the viola because they can’t play any other instrument,’ Isaac replied. ‘I bet two cents that you could probably play perfectly well without a violist.’ This was a reference to Twoset Violin, a popular violin Youtube channel which has a running joke of the viola being the inferior instrument.

However, this concert definitely disproved that: Chamber’s own violists, Michael Lee (19S06D) and Samuel Tan, exhibited incredible dexterity with Paul Hindemith’s Viola Sonata Op. 11 No. 4. It was a dazzling piece, and the violists definitely proved their worth, displaying exquisite finger work. ‘I guess you all are fine,’ Isaac reluctantly admitted, and the violists bowed out proudly, concluding the talent show.

Following that, the ensemble returned to the stage for Prelude and Intermezzo from Carl Nielsen’s Suite for Strings, Op. 1. The prelude evoked Scandinavian romanticism, effortlessly alluding to the theme of the concert. The intermezzo that followed took the form of a tilting waltz in triple time, which later developed into a dynamic dance section, prompting the audience to tap their feet along to the beat.

Finally, the concert concluded with a La La Land medley arranged by Richmond, Fabrianne, and Amanda, including tunes such as ‘Another Day of Sun’, ‘Someone in the Crowd’, ‘City of Stars’, and more. It was a fitting end to a concert themed ‘Fantasia’: after all, the movie had ended with a dream sequence of what could have been, of a fantasy never realised.

After the last note was played, thunderous applause erupted from the crowd, who cheered for an encore in unison. Unfortunately—and perhaps ironically—their dreams could not, and would not, be fulfilled. Instead, the emcees mused that “all good things must come to an end”, closing the concert gracefully.

The concert’s end brought out many conflicting emotions: it was a conclusion to the arduous journey the musicians had undertaken, a journey into which they had poured countless hours and unimaginable effort. For the seniors, this was also their last official concert with Chamber Ensemble. As chairperson Fabrianne put it, “I’m so relieved that it is over and glad that everything worked out well […] It’s a little bittersweet too, now that everything has actually ended for good.”

Fantasia, true to its name, was a dream come to life. The music took us away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday, immersing us in a fairytale land. In those precious few hours, we returned once more to our bright-eyed childhood selves, bringing us back to a more carefree, innocent chapter of our lives. The talent show, in particular, was more than just an entertaining surprise: it was a timely reminder of what it feels like to hope, and that though we may begin our endeavours assailed by doubt and wracked by fear, our dreams can still see the light of day.

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