21 December 2015
33rd Asian Composers League Festival and Conference, Philippines
Andrián Pertout reports from the 2015 Asian Composers League (ACL) Festival and Conference in the Philippines.
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 fourteen official member countries and regions. The recent 33rd Asian Composers League Festival and Conference was held in Manila, Quezon City and Batangas City in the Philippines on 6-12 November 2015, organised by the Asian Composers League (ACL) Philippines. The seven-day event consisted of ten concerts dedicated to choral music, art song, ethno-pop and electronic music, traditional music, symphony orchestra, chamber music, symphonic band, and multi-media, as well as a special 'Tribute' concert and the obligatory 'ACL Young Composers Competition' concert. The theme for this year's festival was 'Likha-Likas: Reconfiguring Music, Nature, and Myth' and the conference component included four separate categories relating to the festival theme: Nature/Myth/History/Stories, Environment/Community, Specific Work, and Composition and Techniques. The participants of the festival consisted of 120 delegates from Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.
The young composer selected to represent Australia was Tyler Smyth from Melbourne (a current student from the Interactive Composition course at the VCA School of Contemporary Music, University of Melbourne) with the work Purlieu's Ambit (2014) for piano, performed at the Asian Composers League Young Composers' Competition concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) on 7 November. Other representation from Australia included Eve Duncan's Approaching Venice for (2014) symphony orchestra, Andrián Pertout's Un brillo en la oscuridad (2013) for piano trio, and Natalya Vagner's Breath (2005) for soprano and piano (2005). Two conference papers were also selected: Scott McIntyre's 'Reconfiguring Music: Lutoslawski's String Quartet as a Model in Logistics' and Maria Grenfell's 'From Unpublished Chinese Folk Songs to New Australia'.
The opening ceremony and welcome dinner' took place at UP Executive House, University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City. The night featured guitar orchestra adaptations (interpreted by the University of the Philippines Guitar Orchestra) of Daragang Magayon and Cuerdas II Visayan Medley by Ramon Pagayon Santos - an ACL Honorary Member and recently named National Artist for Music of the Philippines. After the obligatory rendition of the Philippine National Anthem (composed by Julian Felipe on June 12, 1898), the festival went to also acknowledge the presence of Santos at every single concert - quite a touching gesture, which in my mind reinforces the enormous importance of cultural figures in the Philippines.
Highlights of the festival included Kazuhiko Hattori's (Japan) Yours for a cappella choir, performed by the Coro Tomasino conducted by Ronan Ferrer - an excellent choir made up of students from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music (USTCM), pronounced 'The Super Choir' in 2014 by Japanese television and radio stations following their participation in the 10th Karuizawa International Choral Festival in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Hattori's work featured vocalised wind effects and low drones, amongst a quasi-minimalistic texture of subtle portamento and colourful contrapuntal interplay.
The art song category was introduced to the ACL in 2013 in Singapore, and this year was embellished as an 'art song, ethno-pop and electronic music' event. Several works featured a modern dance component, and amongst the choreographers, Minette Caryl Maza's work excelled. Joyce Beetuan Koh's (Singapore) Grafitti II for fixed media and two dancers was distinctly quirky and possessed a certain artistic flair - what I would describe as 'jazz gone wrong' sonically diffused via 4.1 splashes of brashly detuned electric guitars.
The traditional music concert presented music from Indochina, with one of the many highlights including a highly virtuosic and dazzling performance by Santi Udomsri (music director of the MUPA Company of Arts in Thailand) on khong wong yai (circular gong chimes) - an instrument projecting an exuberant collection of microtonal nuances. A performance by the Tray So Band from Cambodia followed, which featured vocalist Pich Chakriya - an incredible singer that aroused emotion within the beauty of the Khmer Chant Botum Gives Flowers. Music from Laos followed featuring the khim (hammered dulcimer), with the concert then closing with one of my favourite instruments, the dan bau (monochord, or one-string zither) performed by the great Bui Le Chi from Vietnam.
The orchestral concert that night featured the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Josefino 'Chino' Toledo. This is the nation's leading symphony orchestra and a resident company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (the CCP). The orchestra played magnificently throughout the night. Isao Matsushita's (Japan) Tenko-no-Hikari (A Shining for Firmament) was certainly the standout piece - beautiful from the first harmonically rich chord, and masterfully orchestrated to the last note. This is no doubt a twenty-first-century masterwork that slowly unfolds within a continuum of subtle timbral contrast framed around an essentially arch form structure.
The conference element of the festival was presented at the University of the Philippines College of Engineering in association with the University of the Philippines Center for Ethnomusicology (UPCE). 'Yet another Look at Notions of Spontaneity and Composition of Music' by Kedarnath Awati (India) was by far the most entertaining and wittiest paper presentation I have ever experienced - Kedarnath Awati is currently Professor of Music at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, having abandoned mathematics after a PhD in the 1980s.
Two separate chamber music concerts were presented on Monday and Tuesday featuring Grupo 20/21 Modular Music Ensemble conducted by Josefino 'Chino' Toledo. The most engaging work from these two events would have to be Hye-Jeong Hwang's (Korea) In Between which featured Crystal Milarose Rodis-Concepcion on alto flute and Sung Sin Park on gayageum (Korean board zither with 12 silk strings, 12 movable bridges, and a convex upper surface). Osamu Kadowaki's (Japan) A Dragon is Flying in the Sky exhibited a lucid orchestration technique in the UP Symphonic Band concert conducted by Rodney Ambat.
The move to Batangas City, situated about 100 kilometres south of Manila was strategically ingenious, as it provided the necessary divorce from the hustle and bustle of Manila's traffic congested madness. So here we all were relocated to a beach resort walking distance to the white sands and sapphire waters of Laiya Beach, eloquently ornamented with sun loungers and shaded cabanas. I am not sure whether it was done for security or for show but we were all accorded with a police escort from San Juan to Laiya, as well as a permanent armed guard at the resort.
The most special event of the festival was Tuesday's 'Tribute' concert held at the Acuaverde Resort in San Juan, Laiya, Batangas. A memorable night paying tribute not only to New Zealand composer, ethnomusicologist, photographer, teacher, and arts producer Jack Body, who sadly passed away in May 2015, but also to Shui-Long Ma (Taiwan), Slamet Sjukur (Indonesia), and Francisco Feliciano (Philippines). Mary Katherine Trangco's (Philippines) Pag-aalay 1 and Alay 2 highlighting her own angelic contralto voice together with the AUIT Vocal Chamber Ensemble were both extremely moving works, but who could have predicted the sentiments of the moment being stirred to a state of maximum emotion by the complex heterophony of Chinary Ung's (Cambodia) Spiral XI: Mother and Child for voice and viola performed solo by Susan Ung. In 2010, Joe Banno from The Washington Post described the work as 'sounding like a microtonal deconstruction of unaccompanied Bach, paralleled by the violist's own Southeast Asian vocalizations'. Chinary Ung was the first American composer to win the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 1989, and is currently a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, USA.
The final day's multimedia concert, which attempted to capture the 'ritualistic' aspect of the festival's theme was mostly performed on or near (overlooking) Laiya beach, and featured amongst other works a highly interesting composition by Robert Casteels (Singapore) entitled Sälapa, Septet opus 102 for playing, reciting, gesturing, singing, dancing and ambulating performer, inspired by the oral tradition of Pala'wan poetry from the island province of Palwan. Thursday night then delivered the results of the 22nd ACL Young Composers Competition, with three prizes awarded: first, second and third prizes going to Hibiki Mukai (Japan), Bertram Wee (Singapore) and Callum Blackmore (New Zealand) respectively. The 2015 ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize went to Jimuel Dave Dagta (Philippines) for his work Pulso for Flute and Symphony Orchestra. This award, initiated in 1988, nominates the best musical work by a composer from the host country under the age 30 at each ACL festival.
The 2015 ACL Hsu Tsang-Houei Memorial Prize went to Jem Talaroc (Philippines) for his work Salin sa Walay Kahangturan for mixed ensemble. The 'Best Performance' Award went jointly to the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the UP Symphonic Band. The awards were announced in the closing ceremony, which was held at the Acuaverde Resort in Batangas.
Shortly after the trip to the Philippines, I travelled to Hangzhou, China, to attend the 'Body Music 2015: Jack Body Cross-Cultural Music Conference' (15-17 December) at Zhejiang Conservatory of Music where I had been invited to present a paper on the cross-cultural aspects of Jack Body's music. This was a three-day event celebrating the life of the New Zealand composer.
The next ACL Festival and Conference is scheduled to take place in Hanoi and Vinh Yen (Vietnam) during 12-16 October, 2016. This festival will combine both the 2nd 'Asia - Europe' New Music Festival and the 34th Asian Composers League (ACL) Festival & Conference.
© Australian Music Centre (2015) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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