In Conversation: Kangyi Zhang, Low Shao Ying, Low Shao Suan – Singapore Asian Composers Festival

“We have great music schools in Singapore and superb composition students. So what’s going to happen to them when they graduate and no one wants to play their music?”
– Kangyi Zhang, Co-Founder

For the first time ever, the inaugural Singapore Asian Composers Festival (SACF) cum competition will showcase the winning works from composers in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region. We invited Co-Founders Kangyi Zhang, Low Shao Suan and Low Shao Ying to share with us their challenging journey at organising the festival and why you must turn up to the concert happening on the 8 & 9 of December 2015!

Melodie
Are all of you composers?

Kangyi
Yes, that was how we met.

Melodie
Was that how SACF came about?

Shao Ying
Yeah, we were just chatting over dinner and talking about the..

Kangyi
LUNCH! LUNCH!

Shao Ying
Oh yes, lunch! & we were then talking about the local music scene and came up with the idea. Nowadays, living composers have difficulties finding opportunities to showcase their works. It’s also hard to find musicians and orchestras who are willing to play these works. So we decided to team up and promote living composers!

Shao Suan
In a way, sometimes we get “sick” of playing the same old pieces over and over again. So we questioned ourselves as to why do we not play works by living composers. Especially when some of these composers are really good!

Shao Ying
Like how in concert these days, you hear the same old pieces and it gets really boring for the listeners. So we were like, why don’t we put together a festival with completely new works and premiere for audience to enjoy and new composers have the opportunity to showcase their work. Killing two birds with one stone!

Melodie
So, what has been happening so far?

Kangyi
A LOT.

(All laughs)

Kangyi
Competition, planning, planning and more planning! Looking for funding, that was very intense; writing letters and trying to convince people why it is important to support this festival, that was the major challenge. We also had to look through the judges’ results and shortlist the 16 winners. On top of that, we also organised the programme and musicians. Just last week we found out that we had to change the flutist, which was quite last minute.

Shao Ying
One of the cellist injured her hand, some inflammation of the joints. But luckily we found 2 other cellists to cover her parts.

Shao Suan
Yeah, looking for musicians, putting the musicians together, planning the rehearsal dates..

Kangyi
Yes! Planning the rehearsal date was a challenge! Next time, we need to set it months or even a year in advance!

Melodie
You mentioned judges, where are they from?

Kangyi
Dr Robert Casteels, Dr John Sharpley, Tan Chan Boon and Kailin Yong. They are based in Singapore.

Melodie
How was the competition held?

Shao Ying
It’s done online. The participants sent their composition entries to us through email and we liaise with the judges. We then work closely with the conductor to sieve through what is playable and what’s not.

Kangyi
The composers were given themes that were related to Asia Pacific; stories of their culture and experiences. One of the korean composers wrote about a korean buddhist festival that she really likes.

Shao Suan
One of them wrote about the ferry that sank in South Korea, MV Sewol.

Melodie
Heart-wrenching.. What about instrumentation?

Shao Ying
The contestants were only allowed to score for 10 instruments. Perhaps in future we can allow for more instruments.

Melodie
How was the rehearsal?

Shao Ying
Not too bad, actually better than we expected!

(All laughs)

Melodie
What countries were represented in this competition?

Kangyi
Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and New Zealand. There were really high quality compositions received!

Melodie
What do you think of today’s contemporary music?

Kangyi
This is my personal opinion. I have been in the USA for 8 years; Boston, Chicago and L.A. Every city that I’ve been in, they have a very strong contemporary music scene. And in these cities, they all have at least one professional ensemble that’s dedicated to contemporary music. In Boston there’s the Boston New Music Initiative, which one of our Singaporean composer is involved in, Emily Koh. In Chicago, there’s the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Ensemble Dal Niente.. & in L.A, there’s the L.A. Philharmonic. The L.A. Philharmonic in particular, has a Green Umbrella series where they put on new music, the sounds of our time. So when I came back to Singapore, I was like…why are our professional music organisations not doing that? Is it because we want to retain our audience base so we abide by the theory of why change something when it already works? Even when we do play new music, it’s always one new piece packed in between all the older pieces. And in an entire season, perhaps only three new music pieces.. We have great music schools in Singapore and superb composition students. So what’s going to happen to them when they graduate and no one wants to play their music?

Shao Suan & Shao Ying
(Nod in agreement)

Kangyi
Yes, it is important to recognise Mozart, Bach and Beethoven but every century makes their own music, their own recognised repertoire and we don’t want our 21st century to be remembered as the century that classical music died.

Melodie
Seeing as the world is so globalised today, what would you coin the music or genre of our this era?

Shao Ying
Rojak era.

(All laughs)

Kangyi
I think diversification is always good. There is a reason why jazz evolved and how this genre came about; people had to express something that’s distinct to their culture. So jazz emerged. It’s a great thing that music has diversified and evolved.

Melodie
Do you think we’ll be bringing back the old forms of music again?

Shao Ying
No. In fact, I’m already wondering what’s next after contemporary.

Shao Suan
Super contemporary?

(All laughs)

Kangyi
I read this quote before, “all music was once new.”

Shao Suan
It’s just that the way of writing has changed.

Melodie
Like how classical used to be pop?

Shao Ying
Yes yes.

Melodie
What are the end goals you are hoping to achieve? For the music scene, the organisers, the composers and the audience.

Kangyi
It doesn’t just end with the 2-nights concert. We will share the the concert highlights on Youtube, recognise the winners and their works on our website and try to create a buzz. That’s the amazing thing about social media, Youtube in particular. It’s like watching a 24-hour concert. We plan to do this once every 2 years and hope to get more classical musicians to be interested in contemporary music!

Melodie
Is it just going to be classical and contemporary?

Shao Suan
No, not necessarily.

Kangyi
It’s quite hard to distinguish film from classical. The styles are very diversed.

Shao Ying
Basically the styles we gave to the contestants, it ranges anything from neo-classical to avant-garde. So in between, we have pop jazz and film music. We are hoping at the end of the day, audience will like the pieces, give the composers more exposure and when we put it up on Youtube, perhaps some companies or audience will stumble upon these composers and their works and provide them more opportunities to share their music.

Shao Suan
In a way, it’s telling the audience to move forward and not constantly stick to the old music.

Melodie
You mentioned audience, who are you expecting to turn up to the concert?

Shao Ying
Anyone and everyone who appreciates music and art, and supports living composers! People who are daring enough to go out of their comfort zone to listen to new music rather than the standard repertoire.

Melodie
What is your most memorable or favourite part of the festival so far?

Shao Ying
I think my favourite is the rehearsal and hearing the music come to live!

Kangyi
Yeah everything we’ve done so far for the festival made it worthwhile when we hear the music live. The music is important, I really like the works. It is really refreshing, a huge change from the standard repertoire.

Melodie
Did the musicians know one another before coming together to play?

Shao Ying
In one way of another. The circle is small in Singapore. Most of them are working musicians.

Melodie
Will there be a sequel?

Kangyi
We already have plans for the second festival! We have been taking note of what to do and what not to do as we go along!

Melodie
Is there anything else you’ll like to add?

Shao Suan
Be open-minded. Expect different types of music.


To find out more about the Singapore Asian Composers Festival:
https://msworks.sg/sacf/home

Click here to buy tickets:
http://sistic.com.sg/events/asian1215

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Melodie Ng
Melodie Ng, Melodie graduated from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. She loved riding the pirate ship at Fun World in Parkway Parade. Melodie rings handbells and plays percussion. When the weather gets cooler, she enjoys taking long dog walks, penny boarding and a good green tea frappe at ECP.
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