YST Conservatory alumni composers were heard loud and clear in this year’s Singapore Youth Festival (SYF). Three of our alumni – Diana Soh (Composition, ’07), Phang Kok Jun (Composition, ’15) and Lee Jinjun (Trumpet, ’16) – were commissioned by the Ministry of Education to write the set pieces for the Choir, Chinese Orchestra, and Concert Band Arts Presentations respectively.
The SYF is an annual arts festival organised by the Ministry of Education (MOE), to celebrate the vitality and diverse artistic talents of youths in Singapore. An important part of the SYF is the Arts Presentation, where student performing arts groups perform prepared works to public audiences and industry professionals, and receive feedback for improvement. Each year, the repertoire includes mandatory set pieces, which function as a benchmark for the level of technical mastery expected from students.
We caught up with Diana, Kok Jun and Jinjun to find out more about their works.
Tell us the title of your piece, and what it is about.
Diana: My choral work is titled What is that I hear? – I wrote both the text and the music. It deals with homesickness and the desire to communicate a common lived experience.
Kok Jun: My piece for Chinese Orchestra is titled By the River and features two movements – Day and Night, written for the Secondary and Junior College/Centralised Institute levels respectively. I’ve heard that this is the first time that set pieces for different levels have been linked in a multi-movement work, and I’m excited to see how schools may interpret that!
Movement 1 – Day is inspired by the energy and life along the Singapore River in the daytime. It is an uplifting movement with ascending musical motifs and gestures. Movement 2 – Night, on the other hand, starts with a quiet ambience and uses longer phrases and a slower harmonic rhythm. Its middle section is an imagination of the past, taking us back to the times of our forefathers’ first arrival in Singapore via the River.
Jinjun: My pieces for Concert Band are titled Festival on Earth and Party in Space. Festival on Earth is a rhapsody that depicts Singapore not just as a place, but as a global event where people of different cultures come together in one small location and share with each other. Party in Space is an energetic work about the youth of Singapore carrying the country into the future with bold ideas and multiple societal perspectives.
What inspired you to write your piece? What do you hope to convey in the music?
Diana: My piece is an authentic conveyance of thoughts and emotions that I personally experienced through nostalgia while living abroad. It deals with the transformative effects of travels and immigration and conveys the message that our “Singaporean-ness” is very much an integral part of us, in spite of where our travels might take us or where we might live. Through the text – a short two-part poem that speaks about absence, longing and the desire to communicate experiences between two personae (one who had travelled and one who is home) – I hope to capture the idea that it is our conscious and continuous effort to connect with each other that ultimately fuels our sense of belonging and identity.
I wanted the piece to be organic, to have room for further dissimilation and creation, so I created spaces where artists can decide their own articulation and dynamics, and open-ended segments that allow choirs to create and introduce their own musical settings. For me, this structure allows for communication between composer and artists, and more importantly between the different representations of the same piece. I expect that choirs will use this space to conjure diverse and colourful images that pertain to an experienced, foreign or imagined reality! A huge regret is that I will not be present hear the live accounts of each participating choir!
Kok Jun: I conceptualised my piece with the Singapore Bicentennial in mind. While it celebrates Singapore in the present, it also pays important tribute to a history beyond 1965, from which the stories of our forefathers carry into the present via the river passageway.
Jinjun: My inspiration behind this work is a desire to merge Singapore’s rich historical past with my vision of Singapore’s future. Integral to the piece are avenues where band members and instructors can collectively make structural and orchestration decisions, and each group can thus have the freedom to articulate their own identity. For me, rather than promoting a spirit of competitiveness, this experience will facilitate different interpretations from participants that are unified by a shared cultural experience, thus allowing opportunities for the different bands to collide together in a vibrant display of overlapping ideas and visions.
What are some upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
Diana: I’m excited about all my projects! I have 4 works, which are currently work in progress – one of which is for Divertimento Ensemble in Italy where I am currently the composer-in-residence for 2019. In addition, I have been asked by an opera house to re-write Carmen by Bizet, and I will also be releasing a disc on the label Stradivarius in Milan, Italy. The label specialise in Early Music and Contemporary Music.
Kok Jun: Up next, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra will be performing two arrangements of mine for their “Homecoming III” concert. I’m also currently writing for an upcoming show, an educational theatre programme titled A Musical Canvas, co-produced by Esplanade and Ding Yi Music Company. And for 2020, I am excited to be writing a Ruan concerto as well as a Sheng solo piece!
Jinjun: Coming up is the Orchestra of the Music Makers’ performance of my latest orchestral work The Red Longkang on 9th June, 4pm at SOTA Concert Hall! It is a whimsical waltz about an imaginary journey down a drain into the Singapore River. My Variations on Chan Mali Chan will also be performed by Kang Chun Meng and the Lion City Brass Brand on 11th August, in an all new brass band arrangement by my talented friend Erica Goh. This will mark the 6th consecutive year the piece has been performed!
The 2019 SYF takes place from 1 April to 3 May. Learn more about the SYF here, and view the Arts Presentation schedule here. Admission to the Arts Presentations is free and on a first-come, first-served basis.