16 Nov 2019

MCC launches country's first ever piano anthology

The piano is one of Malaysia's most popular classical instruments, with tens of thousands learning the instrument every year. It is no surprise that piano compositions thus form the bedrock of the country's new music scene.

MCC has, since 2015 and earlier, been planning to put some of these scores into an anthology as part of its mission to document the musical landscape of the country and to promote the performance of Malaysian works.

Its plans finally came to fruition after its pioneering Free Hand Festival brought together the piano music community and spurred the production of the anthology.

Complimentary copies of the book are being distributed courtesy of sponsors Yayasan Sime Darby, and the anthology will be available at all local music stores, and can be ordered internationally via Faber Music, or pre-ordered at their website.

Introduction to Free Hand Anthology I:

Malaysia's very first anthology of piano compositions truly describes the growing pool of Malaysian piano compositions written over the past decade. This pioneer collection of original works span composers from different backgrounds and ages, from various parts of the country from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu in the east to Penang in the north.

This musical survey, which has been in the planning for several years, was the culmination of the country's first ever contemporary composers piano festival Free Hand 2019, featuring BBC Music Magazine's Best Newcomer award winner of 2013, Mei Yi Foo, who premiered a number of works in this volume.

The musical styles are as diverse as Malaysia's people themselves, colourful, contrasting, exciting and refreshing. From post minimalist to neo expressionist and beyond, the breadth of the compositions here provide an insightful glimpse into the world of 21st Century music in a country so young.

The sound world ranges from rhythmically potent to broadly contemplative, traversing worlds of colour, emotion, sonic exploration and the stretching of compositional forms and techniques handed down from past generations of classical composers.

Experience the darting motion of herring or the ghostly shimmer of stars long extinct, Webernesque miniatures or driving rhythms, meditations on the Malay pantun or the telling of a historical Malaccan battle, the footprints left behind by memories and the contemplations of cosmopolitan estrangement, a Chinese widow's last act of duty, the toil of the working class, echoes of kadazandusun gongs ...

Read more about the book and listen to the pieces at anthology.freehandfestival.com`

For updates on Free Hand Festival's activities, follow its Facebook page.

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3 Nov 2019

From water to wind chimes, dive into the creation of Sameul Cho's new work for piano

Young Malaysian composer Samuel Cho, who lives in Germany, is busy at work with his new commission for the upcoming UCSI Piano Festival 2020. The young pianist composer reports, "The commission work is coming along very nicely. The draft is finished and I'm in the notational process right now. I've already given it a title. It's called 'Tinatina'."

Cho won the UCSI commission at Free Hand Festival 2019 last August with his work Vatni, which explores concepts of water and fluidity on the piano. This time around, he has picked the ethereal sounds of windchimes for his inspiration.

He describes how he approached his new work, and has offered insights into a composer's approach and thought process into creating a new composition.

Samuel Cho's Vatni
"This piece came along quite easily, since I was already working on some small piano pieces earlier this year. I had a list of ideas I wanted to do for small piano pieces, but somehow I could not find the musical solution to composing them. The commission came at just the right time, since by then, I already had most of the problems worked out and could begin working musically. For this piece, the initial inspiration was to try and model a windchime. 

"Many composers have their own ways of notating windchime-like sounds. I found myself going through a lot of different notational processes to try and imitate the windchime. I first tried to use multiple layers of simple polyrhythms like 3:4:5:7, but these were too symmetrical. Even just using rhythmic layers like that was too predictable. 

"I also tried to use prolation canons, where there is one theme, so to speak, which is repeated at a different tempo and a different key. This too was still too predictable and doesn't even make much musical sense to me. In the end, while I did learn much from trying to imitate natural processes (the wind moving the windchimes), I had nothing musical. So I changed my goals. 

"With these tools now under my belt, I eventually found a very simple and very elegant way of writing down what I wanted to hear and play. This involves using what people already knew about standard notation, like reading the dynamics forte or piano, and repurposing them for a different way of playing. 

"The French school of composition has already done this to some extent, where the score becomes a 'manual' of playing the music, instead of the score reflecting what the music sounds like. My score is similar, but calls for a massive change in the way the pianist will have to think about playing. 

"The piece involves a lot of improvisation on the part of the performer, but in such a way that the notes to choose are already provided. It's a very organic and pianistic process that led to a more satisfying and interesting sound than using arbitrary and complicated rhythmic processes. 

"I believe the pianists will either have a lot of fun learning to play the piece, or will scratch their heads in pure confusion," says Cho.

The composer's Vatni can be found on MCC's latest publication Free Hand Anthology I, and can be heard on Free Hand's website. To hear the eventual Tinatina, come to UCSI's piano festival next year!
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30 Oct 2019

Adeline Wong presents Malaysia's piano journey in Singapore

On October 26, MCC president Adeline Wong introduced participants at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory's symposium to the world of Malaysian piano music, captured in the new anthology of 21st Century Scores, Free Hand Anthology I.

Her talk, Plotting Malaysia’s Musical Tapestry and The Free Hand Anthology, was part of the Singapore varsity's symposium 'TELLING STORIES - PERFORMERS(‘) PRESENT INTERNATIONAL ARTISTIC RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM from 23 - 26 October, 2019.

According to the YST website, "Narratives – whether historical, political, or musical; whether fact or fiction – are inextricably bound to the ways we experience the world, and the art that translates these experiences.

"In the decade since we began hosting the triennial Performers(‘) Present symposium, artistic research has been undergoing rapid and ground-shifting transformations, with the performer’s voice becoming ever more present. As with our previous symposia, Telling Stories seeks to address and evolve the kaleidoscopic issues facing 21st-century performers, as they reflect on their practice in the context of significant shifts in politics, communications and technology, and performance practice."

At her session, Wong recounted Malaysia's journey through its growing new music scene that finally led to the fruition of MCC's long-held plans to publish local works that would be available for study and performance, and act as a lasting document of the nation's achievements in modern music.

Several of the pieces in the book were demonstrated and samples of the publication, which at the time was in the process of printing, were shown to the participants and discussed.

Free Hand Anthology I is to be released on November 15, and 300 copies sponsored by Yayasan Sime Darby will be distributed free to various musical institutions such as universities, music schools, educators and performers and students at home and abroad.
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28 Oct 2019

Johan Othman's new theatre work Malam Takdir to open in Penang

Penang-based composer Johan Othman, who is planning his second opera after Conference of the Birds, has produced a theatre work in preparation in the Malay language.

Malam Takdir is a one-act play inspired by the Mahabharata, and is based on a new liberetto for the upcoming opera, taking off a work Johan originally conceived several years back, at the time called The Killing of Meghnad.

According to an interview in The Star, the work imagines a conversation between King Dhritarashtra who was born blind, and his advisor Sanjaya, who is gifted with foresight. This conversation takes place just before the epic Kurukshetra War where the 100 Kaurava brothers are killed by their cousins, the five Pandava brothers.

Malam Takdir runs at Sinkeh, a new arts venue in Penang, from Nov 7-10 and is directed by Chee Sek Thim, a long-time collaborator.


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16 Aug 2019

Two composers win commisions at the inaugural Free Hand Festival 2019

Free Hand Festival 2019 on Wednesday, 14th August saw music and piano lovers from all walks of live from as far as Penang and Singapore, gather at UCSI Institute of Music Kuala Lumpur to soak themselves in a day of Malaysian art music, from the well-attended seminars in the day where composers took the public through their compositional processes, to fascinating insights into the world of playing new music to new audiences in Mei Yi Foo's talk 'Modern Playground'.

The highlight of the festival was undoubtedly the 2013 BBC Music Magazine 'Best Newcomer' award-winner Foo's concert, where she dove into the variegated world of Malaysian new music, that took the audience through a fascinating journey into the world of contemporary piano sounds. The sonic saga visited some unusual places such as the woodcutter's world of percussive sounds in Choke Yuen Ting's The Woodcutter's Song, and the eerie other(piano)worldly ivory sounds of Chow Jun Yan's experimental piece In the Absence of Silence.

The closing works from Tazul Tajuddin, Kabus Pantun, a musical reimagining of the Malay traditional poem, and festival director Adeline Wong's exhilarating Herringbone were a real treat to watch, especially in the way Foo athletically lept through the latter's hammering notes and took the audience on a breathtaking sprint to the concert's finishing line.

Other works on the programme were ​Raja Mohamad Alif's Dol Said, a sound painting of the Naning Wars in colonial Malacca, Samuel Cho's Vatni, a study on water movements and fluidity, Chow Jun Yi's introspective Deep in the City, Lee Chie Tsang's Sympathetic [re]sonance, inspired by the sonic architecture of a Rajastjani musical instrument, and C H Loh's Morning at Klang Harbour, a reflection of sea burials dedicated to his recently departed mentor Luk Hoi Yui.

Closing the night of new sounds was surely  music to the ears of two of the young composers, Lee Chie Tsang (photo,second from right) and Samuel Cho, whom the judges Seung Jae Chung (Korea (president of ACL-Korea, photo, second from left) and Hoh Chung Shih (president of the Composers Society of Singapore, photo, third from left) awarded as winners of the commission to write test works for UCSI's International Piano Festival & Competition in 2020.

Free Hand 2019 organised by Malaysian Composers Collective (MCC) and sponsored by UCSI
University Institute of Music and Yayasan Sime Darby, with extra assistance from Pejabat Pembangunan Negeri Wilayah Persekutuan.

www.freehandfestival.com



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4 Jul 2019

Award-winning pianist Foo Mei Yi performs original Malaysian works in KL, 14 August 2019

On 14 August, BBC Music Magazine's Best Newcomer award in 2013, London-based Malaysian pianist Foo Mei Yi will perform 9 Malaysian contemporary classical piano works at the Free Hand festival organised by the Malaysian Composers Collective and UCSI University's Institute of Music, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, including the works of award-winning composers Adeline Wong and Tazul Tajuddin.

The festival is the first of a regular series to encourage the composition of local piano works of high standard, that can be showcased by pianists at home and abroad.

At the festival two winning composers will be picked to be commissioned to write the test piece for for the finalists of the UCSI University International Piano Festival & Competition in 2020.

Submissions for the festival will also be included in Malaysia's first ever anthology of piano works to be published after the event.

Foo is excited to be performing the Malaysian works, and says, "I believe this concert will prove itself to be a game changer, at least for me."

Find out more at www.freehandfestival.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/freehandfestival

About Mei Yi Foo

Winner of the 2013 BBC Music Magazine’s Best Newcomer award, Mei Yi Foo is recognised internationally as an innovative pianist with a diverse and eclectic repertoire. A prolific concert soloist, Mei Yi has appeared with the English Chamber Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony, London Chamber Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Remix Ensemble and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

She has garnered rave reviews from The Times, Independent, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, SRF broadcast, Guardian and Klassik magazine.

A native of Malaysia, Mei Yi resides in the UK after completing her studies at the Royal College and Royal Academy of Music in London with Yonty Solomon, Chris Elton and Alexander Satz.  Currently she holds a teaching position at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Mei Yi was also awarded the medal of Setiawan Tuanku Muhriz for her contribution towards art and music in her home country.

“…she sat down at the piano to give us a taster: three little late-20th century dazzlers, impish and poetic. Immediately we were her devoted fans.” - The Times


“…not only a virtuoso pianist, but an unaffected, intelligent artist.”  - Timeout


‘“Newcomer triumphs at BBC Music Awards […] Malaysian pianist steals the show […] her genius is now unquestionable’. - The Arts Desk


“Finally hats off to a young Malaysian […] Mei Yi Foo intrigued, charmed and dazzled in equal measure.” - International Piano Magazine

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28 Mar 2019

Malaysian minimalism in the south, soundscapes in the West

Last weekend Malaysian music made its mark in Singapore and California, USA through the works of Adeline Wong and Ainolnaim Azizol respectively.

Singapore art and music lovers got a closer look at the inner workings of Wong's new work for piano Herringbone last weekend, when she gave a presentation at the Marina Bay Sands' Minimalism Symposium at the ArtScience Museum's Expression Gallery.

Organised as a programme of Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. at ArtScience Museum, the symposium aimed to discuss Minimalism as a cross-arts phenomenon by addressing the rich terrain of intersections, and encourages new thoughts about the role and influence of Minimalism on performative practices.

Writes ArtScience Museum, "Firmly established in the lexicon of twentieth century art, the impact and influences of Minimalism are felt to this day, bringing about ongoing and compelling discourses as each generation of artists mines its form."

Wong's piano work, first premiered in the island nation by UK-based award winning Malaysian pianist Foo Mei Yi, serves to illustrate how she has employed the concepts of minimalism in music today - an art form that has come a long way since its early days of Philip Glass and Terry Riley -  to her latest piano work.

Her composition is also shown in The Sound Room in Minimalism: Space. Light. Object at ArtScience Museum. The museum describes the piece as "bold, with textural energy and kaleidoscopic colours ... marked by the use and concentration of as little material as possible."

Meanwhile, further West, composer Ainolnaim was invited to Stanford University, California to present his work Gneiss for almglocken, geduk, computer and 8 speakers at a concert last Sunday. The work was part of a series of concerts at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) as part of its Linux Audio Conference 2019.

The work was one of four works presented in the programme, comprising composers from Stanford and Japan.

According to the programme notes, "Gneiss is an electroacoustic piece written for Almglocken, Geduk and 8 speakers with computer. It is a revision from my previous original electroacoustic work for flute and 2 speakers with laptop, JulaJuli which was commissioned for for MA/IN Music Festival, Italy 2018 and Spaziomusica Festival Italy 2018.

"The piece uses Geophony recording during my visit in Zermatt, Switzerland as background while “cultural sound” at the middle ground and the musical instruments as foreground.

"Gneiss was premiered for Malaysia Electronic Music Festival - SPECTRA 2018 and followed by another performance for Connecting Beats Malaysia Vol.5 Mini Festival 2018. The piece will be performed again for Linux Audio Conference 2019 (LAC-19) at Stanford University’s Centre for Computer Research in Music (CCRMA) Stage in fixed media format."

Related:
Singapore's Straits Times reviews Herringbone
Adeline Wong's Herringbone for piano premieres in S'pore

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Malaysian premieres since 1995

Here is a roundup of premieres of Malaysian works at home and abroad. Since the mid-90s Malaysian works have been performed largely abroad...

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