16 Jun 2018

Composer draws inspiration from nature - Feature article on Ng Chong Lim

As a composer Ng Chong Lim draws his inspiration from everything around him, but nothing inspires him more than nature.

Recently while looking through photographs that a former schoolmate of his had taken, Ng was reminded of his childhood when he would spend a lot of time on his uncle’s farm in Seremban.

Those reminiscences sparked the ideas that produced Dragonfly, a set of four miniature movements that Ng composed specially for the 5th ASEAN International Chopin Piano Competition 2012, scheduled to begin in Kuala Lumpur on 20 November.

“I’ve always been interested in nature,” said Ng. “Kids these days are more comfortable in the city. With Dragonfly, I wanted to bring nature closer to them, to inspire them.

“There are a lot of very light movements in this piece,” he explained. “The piano playing helps children imagine the dragonfly’s movements—its speed and gestures.”

The score features a large degree of fixed improvisation. “I give them the notes but there is a lot of leeway to improvise,” explained Ng, also a highly regarded and much sought-after piano teacher and concert pianist.

The teacher in him is always alert to the educational opportunities within every piece of music. “I want to write more educational pieces for children,” he said, adding that Dragonfly provides children with the occasion to stretch their imagination and play with colours and the world of sound, all of which are important elements in making music.

Dragonfly together with another of Ng’s composition A Distant Voice of Rainforest were commissioned as required repertoire for the first stage of the concerto categories at the upcoming Chopin Competition in Kuala Lumpur.

Both pieces strongly evoke the numerous sounds found in the natural world around us.

Originally titled Rimba, A Distant Voice of Rainforest was first composed for 14 musicians—two groups of string quartets, three woodwinds, one pianist and two percussionists—at a Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) Forum for Malaysian Composers in 2007.

Ng extracted the piano part and reworked it for this year’s Chopin competition. The piece is based on gamelan modes and, just as with Dragonfly, has been written so that the player has plenty of freedom. “I always like freedom in music,” Ng declared. “Players can create their own music. Everyone can play it differently.”

This, however, might not prove to be good news for everyone. “Some students may find it difficult to have this freedom. It depends on how much imagination they have, how well they understand the piece,” Ng said.

“The piece is quite hard. It can sound really horrendous. The kids need to take risks. They need to feel the music and make the connection.”

During the competition, the jury will be interested to see how participants are able to make both pieces their own. “There is a lot of space, a lot of silence. In some ways, these pieces provide room for the pianist to search for piano sounds, to search for the soundscape,” Ng said.

He is a big fan of freedom in music, which he started to explore even before he wrote Rimba in 2007. As an example, he points to one of his earlier pieces: Morning Mist, which sounds completely different in three different recordings: one played by the Berlin-based Mosaik Ensemble in Kuala Lumpur, another played by Ng and cellist David Schepps at a music festival in Alberquerque, New Mexico, and the third also played by Ng but with cellist Miranda Harding at a recital in Denmark.

Ng, who studied composition with Prof Beat Furrer in Graz, Austria, gets several commissions a year. They come from all over the world and keep him busy, in between his teaching and performing.

Although Ng is often required to compose on demand and, therefore, remain mindful of deadlines, composing is not something that can be summoned up at the snap of a finger. “There is no fixed way, no routine. I don’t compose everyday. Sometimes I don’t write for months.

“But I am always thinking about the music. Once I hear the sound I start sketching and once I start with the manuscript, it might take me a few days to write it,” he said, adding that A Distant Voice of Rainforest took him three days to write.

Calling himself a “hobby composer”, Ng says his goal is not to change the world.  “I write what I feel, what inspires me,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing.”

All good composers, he says, take risks and strive to find their personal voice.

Among Ng’s favourite composers are Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Kurtag, Boulez and Ligeti.

“Each of these composers made great contributions to the music world and left a strong mark on the history of music. Each of them had their own personal way of expressing their thoughts, beliefs and visions,” he said.

November 7, 2012
Classical Music Asia

This article originally appeared on

5 Jun 2018

Rayner Naili to bring the sounds of Sabah to the Asia-Pacific stage

After showcasing Malaysia's young compositional talents from both the West and East coasts, the next representative at the upcoming ACL festival hails from the Borneo state of Sabah across the South China Sea.

28-year-old Rayner Naili, born in Sabah, will be presenting his chamber work piece Serpihan Mimpi for flute and violin (Fragments of Dream) at the festival's Young Composers Competition, and sees the opportunity as a "breakthrough" for Sabahan composers.

Naili started learning music as a self-taught musician, and then decided to get proper music education at the Faculty of Music of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) from 2008 until 2013, where he received a dean's list for his Bachelor of music in composition.

He then furthered his studies in composition at the University of Manchester, UK, where he studied composition with Richard Whalley. Rayner’s works have been performed and workshopped with many professional musicians such as the Quartor Danel, Trio Atem, Clare Hammond etc.

Currently, Naili is teaching at the Faculty of Music in UiTM.

On his four-part work, Naili says, "The piece was inspired by the idea of a journey in a dream. There are many occasions in a dream that switch from one emotion to another in relation to the dimensions of the dream.

"These dimensions could be related to each other or could be different from one another. Although these fragments of the journey are scattered, it's still in one set of a dream, hence, it makes a story that has different sets of emotions. These emotions and dimensions were composed and arranged accordingly as there are several parts in music composition."

The four short movements of the work are titled: I. Samar, II. Celaru, III. Sepi, IV. Riuh.

It begins with a conventional dialogue between the two instruments, but as the movements unfold, Naili introduces more extended techniques and flexible meters, and the tonality of the opening soon gives way to more unconventional sounds from the instruments, including jet whistle tones and scratch tones (excerpt below).

On his musical style, Naili says, "My music has always been influenced with interlocking elements, rhythmically and harmonically. This could be influenced of my growing up with the traditional music of Sabah, such as gong tunes, kulintangan, togunggak etc, which are largely using interlocking as their main element.

"Apart from that, I have always been fascinated with Einstein’s theory of relativity, where the speed of light is a universal measurement of time. From this perspective, I usually try to develop my music using these two elements of interlocking and relativity."

He said going to Taiwan for the 35th ACL "would be a breakthrough for me or any Sabahan contemporary composer".

"It would be an exciting experience to explore other composers’ works and hopefully learn something for personal development, and promote Malaysian contemporary music at the same time," said Naili.

History of the ACL Young Composers Competition

The ACL (Asian Composers League) comprises representative bodies from across the Asia Pacific that holds regular festivals every 12 to 18 months around the region. Its Young Composers Competition is a platform for young composers around the region to show their talent.

As the Malaysian representative in ACL, the Malaysian Composers Collective (MCC) has sent many young talents to the regional platform, and each and every representative has done the country proud in showing their highly individual musical voices. In  particular, 2011 (Taiwan), Jessica Cho won third prize for her work Five Little Pieces for Piano, while in 2014 (Tokyo), Ainolnaim Azizol won second prize for his Fragments I for trumpet duo.

2011 Taipei - Jessica Cho, won 3rd Prize
2013 Singapore - Ainolnaim Azizol
2014 Tokyo - Ainolnaim Azizo, won 2nd Prize
2015 Manila - Sayyid Shafiee
2016 Hanoi - Raja Mohamad Alif  
2018 Taipei - Rayner Naili

1 Jun 2018

ACL festival in Taiwan to feature five Malaysian composers

The 2018 ACL Conference and Festival will take place from Oct 19 to 23 at Taipei, Taiwan.

On the programme are works by Malaysian composers Vivian Chua (photo), Adeline Wong, Ainolnaim Azizol, Wong Chee Wei and Young Composer Competition representative, Sabahan 28-year-old Rayner Naili.

Vivian CHUA (Malaysia): Mercu Kegemilangan

Chamber Music A (For 4-5 players)
Adeline WONG (Malaysia): Interweaves

Chamber Music B (For 1-3 players)
Chee Wei WONG (Malaysia): A Song In Vain IIn

Electroacoustics / Multimedia
Ainolnaim AZIZOL (Malaysia): Clouds

Young Composers Competition
Rainer Naili: Serpihan Mimpi for flute and violin

According to the organisers, the selection committee carefully selected 66 works out of 238 applications sent by the ACL member organizations.  The selected 66 works are from:

Australia: 3
Hong Kong: 8
Indonesia: 3
Israel: 5
Japan: 3
Korea: 7
Malaysia: 5
New Zealand: 4
Philippines:  3
Singapore: 7
Thailand: 1
Vietnam: 1

and 16 works from the host, Taiwan.

The full schedule and details are now on the festival website

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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