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7 November 2013

31st Asian Composers League Festival and Conference, Singapore

Stuart Greenbaum, Johanna Selleck, Andrián Pertout and Petar Jovanov Image: Stuart Greenbaum, Johanna Selleck, Andrián Pertout and Petar Jovanov  

Andrián Pertout reports from the 2013 Asian Composers' League Festival and Conference in Singapore, and the UiTM 'Composium' in Malaysia.

Established in 1973 as a means of 'promoting the art music activities in Asian countries, as well as fostering mutual exchange between these countries', the Asian Composers' League (ACL) is a contemporary music organisation in the Asia-Pacific region currently comprising of thirteen official member countries and regions: Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey. The inaugural ACL Conference and Festival took place in Hong Kong in 1973, and since then events have been organised annually or biennially.

The recent 31st Asian Composers League Festival and Conference was held in Singapore on 20-23 September 2013, organised by the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS). The four-day event consisted of eight concerts dedicated to Chinese orchestra, string quartet, Chinese and Western chamber music, art songs (a new category), wind ensemble, and electroacoustic/computer, as well as the obligatory 'ACL Young Composers Competition' concert.

The young composer selected to represent Australia was the Sydney-based Petar Jovanov with his work Strange Ways for three percussionists, presented as part of the Young Composers' Competition concert on 23 September. Other works from Australia included Johanna Selleck's The Prospect and Bower of Bliss I for soprano and pianoforte and Katy Abbott's 'At the Clotheslines' from The Domestic Sublimefor soprano and piano - both featured in the 'art songs' concert, as well as Stuart Greenbaum's String Quartet No. 5 and Andrián Pertout's Aequilibrium for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, trombone, piano and percussion; the latter performed by the Western Chamber Festival Ensemble conducted by Robert Casteels at the Yong Siew Toh University Concert Hall.

The opening concert featured the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by Tsung Yeh, with highlights including Robert Casteels's Symphony No. 3, based on artist Cheong Soo Pieng's cubist reinterpretation of traditional scroll paintings and the 'permutations of one single chord of natural harmonics', and Ho Chee Kong's Passage: Fantasy, juxtaposing an extremely virtuosic solo cello part against the instrumental colours of a Chinese Orchestra. The cello part was performed by Li-Wei Qin (who amongst his many achievements was the recipient of the 2002 Young Australian of the Year Award) on his incredibly expressive instrument, a 1780 Joseph Guadagnini cello.

Benjamin Yusupov's Con Moto for piano and string quartet, presented on the second day of the festival, was a shining example of what makes the Israeli contemporary classical music scene so artistically vibrant. Today, the state of Israel directly benefits from a wide variety of aesthetic principles in composition due to the heterogeneous and dynamic cultural makeup of the country. Yusupov, born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is a composer that makes use of both Western and Eastern musical traditions, with this particular work combining the notion of 'moto perpetuo' with Central Asian melodies and rhythms.

This year, the ACL festival also included a symposium component entitled 'Multiculturalism in Asian Contemporary Music,' which was moderated by Eugene Dairianathan, and consisted of panellists John Sharpley, Cecilia Kim, Joyce Koh, and Andrián Pertout. The discussion topics were framed around multiculturalism, the concept and definition of 'Asian' and, more generally, the challenges faced by the art-music practice today. The outcome proved interesting for participants and audience alike, as the topics discussed presented an array of contrasting points of view.

The Chinese chamber music concert, featuring the Ding Yi Music Company conducted by Quek Ling Kiong, was the setting for two magnificent works: the first, Mandala by John Sharpley (Singapore), and the second, Santo Domingo by Chichun Chi-Sun Lee (Taiwan). Sharpley's music is exceptionally spiritual, and his work Mandala is beautifully plaintive, with a lyrical quality that from time to time becomes subtly interrupted by bursts of melodious energy. Chichun's Santo Domingo exhibited her characteristically exciting quasi-jazz rhythmic intensity.

The Western chamber music concert on day three, directed by Robert Casteels, featured Dan Yuhas's (Israel) Coloured Lines for chamber orchestra - a harmonically rich, extraordinarily striking, and superbly crafted work. The art song concert showcased Harue Kondoh's (Japan) dramatic Snow and Fish from 3 Poems by Shotaro GYO for soprano and piano, as well as Hong-Da Chin's (Malaysia) Conversations between Owl, Nightingale and Lark for soprano and piccolo/flute, inspired by a poem 'Bird Songs' by George MacDonald, and taking great advantage (in an entertaining way) of the natural association between the instrumentation and actual bird song. Australian Johanna Selleck's powerfully emotive The Prospect and Bower of Bliss I for soprano and piano was also included in the program. The day ended with the Philharmonic Winds conducted by Leonard Tan.

'Day 4' presented the 'Electro-Acoustic/Computer Music' concert, where the dynamism of Mei-Fan Lin's (Taiwan) Multiplication Virtuelle for piano and electronic certainly impacted on the audience. 'In this piece, the composer aims to unite the piano and the electronic sounds without resorting to the use of actual piano sample sounds as materials for the electronic part', explained Lin. The composer managed to create an exciting post-Boulez sound world that proved to be not only an engaging visual spectacle but also highly innovative musically. Other highlights included Pete Kellock's (Singapore) modernist take on drum n' bass with ExoZoologica - articulated by him as 'structurally guided by a kind of "sonata principle" or at least some mutant descendant of it' and Joyce Koh's (Singapore) Hearing Lines - a 6-minute work for a solo performer at the keyboard and computer, accompanied by video animation.

The 20th ACL Young Composers Competition results were revealed on Monday night, with first, second and third prizes going to Lee Chi-Tien (Taiwan), Syafiqah 'Adha Bte Md Sallehin (Singapore) and Goni Peles (Israel) respectively. The 2013 ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize went to Emily Koh (Singapore) for her work Intro:spect for chamber orchestra, performed in Sunday's Western chamber music' concert. This award, initiated in 1988, nominates the best chamber music work by a composer from the host country under the age 30 at each ACL festival. The award was announced in the closing ceremony, which was held at the Yong Siew Toh University Concert Hall.

The next ACL Festival and Conference is scheduled to take place in Yokohama and Tokyo (Japan) on 2-7 November 2014.

After the festival, I travelled to Malaysia, together with the Indonesian composer Michael Asmara, to attend a 'Composium' hosted by the Faculty of Music, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). We were both invited as key-note presenters for the event organised around the theme 'Eclecticism and the compositional voice: pathways for the new millennium.' My key-note paper (entitled 'Defining Eclecticism in the New Millennium: Luz meridional and quotation as a compositional device) focused on the compositional process of Luz meridional, Twenty-four Études for pianoforte, no. 411 (2009-2012) - a work commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC, and composed for pianist Michael Kieran Harvey as part of a 2009 State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship. This 64-minute work incorporates quotations from early Australian composers, sourced from the State Library of Victoria's Australian manuscripts collection and received its world premiere in January 2013 in Hobart as part of the MONA FOMA Festival 2013. The work was awarded the 2012 Jean Bogan Prize for piano composition.

Michael Asmara presented a paper on 'the treatment of the Western and Javanese traditional concepts of music into a new language with reference to Gending Bonang for Bonang and Kenong,' which focused on how 'Eastern' aesthetic principles of the rebab (two-stringed bowed spiked lute) are translated within the domain of his own 'Western' compositional practice. Of special note was Hanafie Mohd Imam's (UiTM) paper 'Gaméjazz ensemble: reharmonizing textures in the traditional Malay gamelan', which highlighted his compositions for 'Gaméjazz' ensemble, or the juxtaposition of gamelan ensemble with jazz trio, whereby extended 'jazz' chords are generated via the superimposition of two simultaneous tonal centres (or two pentatonic scales tuned a major second apart) - a method of generating what could be referred to as 'functional' polychords with a direct relationship to melodic voice leading. Tazul Tajuddin's (UiTM) paper 'The transformation of gamelan and pantun into new modes of expression' was also highly interesting, examining 'aspects of Islamic art and geometrical design reflected in the compositional structures', and 'the use of Malay batik and weaving concepts as a visual stimulus'.

Other presentations representing the Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), School of the Arts (USM) and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) included papers by Katia Tiutiunnik and Ross Carey (UiTM; 'Collaborative composition and the creative process'); Patrick Terbrack (UiTM); Razak Abdul-Aziz (USM); Jean Penny, Andrew Blackmore (UPSI) and Valerie Ross (UiTM); and Robert Burrell (UPSI).

What made the 'UiTM Composium' both interesting and unique was the fact that all the works discussed within the paper presentations on the day were performed in the evening concert that followed - a fantastic idea that succeeded in putting a collection of innovative compositional concepts into perspective.

Further links

31st Asian Composers League Festival and Conference (Singapore, 20-23 September 2013)
Asian Composers' League (www.asiancomposersleague.com/)
Melbourne Composers' League (www.melbournecomposersleague.com/)
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) (www.uitm.edu.my/index.php/en)

Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer. His music has been performed in over 35 countries around the world. He is currently the Australian Delegate of the ACL (Asian Composers’ League), Chairman of the Melbourne Composers’ League, Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne) and Lecturer in Composition at the Faculty of the VCA (University of Melbourne).


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Another Australian Work at the 31st ACL

I was also one of the Australian composers represented in the 31st ACL, in Singapore. My work Jehanne for soprano and viola was performed in the Art Song Concert of the ACL, in the Orchestral Hall of the Young Siew Toh Conservatory, Singapore, on Sunday, September 22 2013. However, since I'm currently a resident of Malaysia, I represented Malaysia at the ACL.

That's right

Hi Katia - that's quite right, thanks for adding your comment. We did actually find out about this around the time when the works were selected and included your Jehanne in the news article on Resonate  http://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/article/asian-composers-league-festival-2013-australian-works