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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