Interview: Quintessentially English – 2 Apr 2021 – re:Sound Musicians | Chan Yoong-Han, Chloe Chua

re:Sound returns to the Victoria Concert Hall for the second time this year since the gradual resumption of live performances with ‘Quintessentially English’, featuring well-known pieces from English composers – Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and selections from Handel’s Water Music.

The Flying Inkpot talks to concert leader, Chan Yoong-Han, and featured soloist Chloe Chua, both prolific Singaporean violinists to find out more.

By Aileen Tang

The Flying Inkpot: This concert is titled ‘Quintessentially English’, so Yoong Han, in your opinion, what is quintessential about the English composers featured?

Chan Yoong-Han (CYH): English western classical music has been influenced by other parts of continental Europe through the centuries. As such, it is immensely diverse in styles and its composers are very eclectic. However, in this concert, we are showcasing what is widely regarded as the three quintessential English musical icons. Handel, a musical star in the English late baroque, was known for his large-scale choral and operatic works as well as his music for the royalties. Elgar was arguably the king of English music during the pinnacle of the British Empire, and the musical soul of British nationalism and romanticism at the turn of the last century. And last but not least, Vaughan Williams, who in his attempt to bring music closer to the common people, reintroduced and incorporated English folk and archaic music into his works, breaking away from the prominent Germanic influences in his time.  

Chan Yoong-Han

TFI: Do you have a favourite English composer?

CYH: I don’t, but I personally have a soft spot for English choral music as I sang in a boys’ choir back in high school (Pembroke School) in Adelaide, Australia. We had a marvelous choral director who loved English Renaissance music and we would frequently sing them for concerts and weekly chapel services. I am fortunate to have also discovered and performed, through the last couple of decades in Singapore, symphonic and chamber works by Elgar, Bax, Bridge, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Maxwell Davies, Holst, and Britten amongst others. However, beyond these, I can’t resist the more popular offerings by John Rutter and The Beatles!

TFI: We can’t wait to hear you play a concert of songs by The Beatles!
Chloe, you’ll be performing solo violin in Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Can you tell us a little about how you personally feel about the piece?

Chloe Chua (CC): Vaughan Williams was inspired by the poem of the same title written by George Meredith. I can feel in the music how the Lark chirps, whistles and soars up into the sky. The Lark also sings a beautiful yet sad song, as if missing the peaceful times England once had before World War I (Editor’s note: This work was written for violin and piano in 1914 and re-orchestrated for solo violin and orchestra after WWI). I can also feel the tranquil lifestyle of the early 20th-century English countryside. I especially love the melody in the middle section which has a nostalgic character and resembles a folk song.

Chloe Chua

TFI: You’ve performed a range of repertoire from Bach and Mozart to Bizet and Piazzolla. Do you have a composer or piece that you really want to be able to perform one day?

CC: Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, op. 47. I love the piece very much, as there is an abundance of emotional expression in it and it’s also technically demanding to play. I find it a very challenging work.

TFI: That’ll definitely be another sold-out concert! What is your biggest dream as Chloe Chua the girl and not necessarily Chloe Chua the musician?

CC: I hope to do well in studies and in the arts. And I would like to have more free time to be with my family members residing abroad.

TFI: Live concerts are gradually resuming now, though to much smaller audiences. But with online concerts being so accessible, affordable and safer for audiences, why should people still attend live concerts? What do live concerts bring that digital productions cannot?

CC: The live concert is a very different experience for the audience as they can feel the emotional expression from the performers at a close distance. For instrumental concerts, the tone colour of the instruments can’t be replicated online. Also, the audience will be more focused in watching the concert in a concert hall and will therefore gain more inspiration and satisfaction.

CYH: In short, live performances bring people together! They are interactions between souls living in that moment in time, confined in a space meant for the transient communication of the human spirit and psyche through sound and aura. Having a live audience is very much a determinant of how a performance is expressed and rendered.    

CC: As a performer, it is more natural for me to play in front of a live audience because I can communicate directly to the crowd rather than have to imagine that I am playing to someone, especially when I can bow to people rather than a camera!

TFI: Yoong Han, you’re the leader for this concert. What are the main challenges you face in rehearsing under the current Covid restrictions?

CYH: The distancing of musicians on stage poses a challenge to the blending and balancing of sounds. Rehearsing with masks on can be exhausting as it doesn’t allow for any communication and leading through facial mannerisms. As for a larger ensemble without a conductor [such as in this concert], the biggest challenge would be in visual communication. Thus, we have to find a suitable stage set-up so that every musician is strategically positioned to maximise connection, both visually and aurally.

re:Sound musicians have proven themselves to be extremely versatile and adaptable; I therefore trust our rehearsals will go smoothly!  

TFI: What do you both miss most about pre-Covid times?

CYH: Being able to communicate with facial gestures and expressions on stage. Witnessing the reactions and connecting with my fellow musicians in closer proximity. The exhilarating atmosphere of a fully packed hall with shouts of “bravo” (or “boos”…). Playing larger symphonic works and having a bigger and fuller string section.

Most ensembles have adapted well to the current situation but it may take us longer to get back to the pre-Covid rigours and ensemble sizes.

CC: The autograph sessions and also meeting up with people after the concert!

Quintessentially English plays on Friday, 2 April 2021, 8.15pm at the Victoria Concert Hall
Tickets are sold out.

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