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Antiques and Heirlooms

windstrung antiques and heirlooms.png


harp and clarinet (in A)

Duration: 12'

Antiques and Heirlooms was commissioned by Windstrung Duo - clarinetist Stephanie Tan and harpist Nigel Foo. This suite was written for their debut concert on 5th August 2023 at the private Peranakan museum Katong Antique House located at 208 East Coast Road, Singapore. The suite of eleven movements is a potpourri of Peranakan culture that include antiques, fashion, cuisine, kitchenware, and familial memorabilia. Musically, I have woven in some loose quotations of motives and rhythms from the Peranakan songs Burung Kakak Tua (The Cockatoo or ‘Old Sister Bird’) and Dondang Sayang. The interlocked flow of the musical material also suggests the practice of Dondang Sayang, where quatrains of pantun poetry are traditionally improvised in alternation between a male and female.


I. Gamcheng and other porcelain wares

II. Nyonya kueh kueh  

III. Kebaya and keronsang (blouse and brooch)

IV. Kasut manek (beaded shoes)

V. Kueh pie tee 

VI. Batu lesung (mortar and pestle)

VII. Tingkat (enamel tiffin carriers)

VIII. Ayam buah keluak ('black diamond' chicken)

IX. Enamel spittoons and chamber pots (tham pui)

X. Family name lanterns

XI. Good morning grandma (and old photos)

REVIEW by Natalie Ng

Published on Facebook on Sunday, 6 August 2023


Antiques and Heirlooms

Windstrung Duo

Katong Antique House

Saturday, 5 August 2023, 6pm


Stern portraits stare down from the walls as eighteen guests sit around the tok panjang of the the living room of Katong Antique House, waiting expectantly for the feast to begin.


This was no ordinary feast however (despite the kueh and drinks on the table), but a classical concert that featured folk-inspired tunes from the early 20th Century and beyond.


The brainchild of Windstrung Duo, comprising clarinettist Stephanie Tan and harpist Nigel Foo, this concert redefines the concert-going experience, and was so popular that they sold out their initially-planned two afternoon concerts and added one more evening show. Two of these concerts came with an option of a guided tour of the beautiful 100-year-old shophouse led by Angeline Kong, 6th-generation Peranakan who worked closely with the late shophouse owner Peter Wee when he was alive.


Both Tan and Foo presented solo works to start the concert: Tan played Debussy’s Syrinx, originally for solo flute, taking the arrangement with utmost sensitivity and minimal vibrato. It was followed by Khachaturian’s Oriental Dance, complete with percussive effects.


The concert takes its name from its centrepiece, the world premiere of Dr Chen Zhangyi’s Antiques and Heirlooms, specially commissioned for this concert by the Windstrung Duo.


Making its appearance exactly a decade after ST reviewer Chang Tou Liang commented that his Laksa Cantata (2013) would have been better with ‘a Peranakan or local idiom’, Antiques and Heirlooms did just that.


Comprising 11 vignettes with each named after a dish, item or practice in Peranakan culture, the work perfectly encapsulated the intricacies and quirks of each, from the crunch of 'Kueh Pie Tee' and grinding of spices in the 'Batu Lesung (mortar and pestle)' to the elegant and impressionist 'Kebaya and Keronsang' and 'Kasut manek', which would have been all the rage in the 1920s, when music by ‘impressionist’ composers Debussy and Ravel were in vogue.


This fact was not lost on the duo, who presented arrangements of Debussy’s Syrinx and First Arabesque, as well as Ravel’s Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas from Mother Goose Suite.


Leaving the most poignant for the last, 'Good morning grandma (and old photos)', Chen wove in the Peranakan folksong burung kakak tua (the only time he uses an existing tune in the entire suite) as a nod to an anecdote Tan shared about her late grandma before the movement.


The short movements were like good keropok: just salty enough, crispy, and definitely leaving the listener wanting more. The seemingly abrupt endings to each vignette suggest that it should be followed by the next and played as a set of 11, rather than broken up into four sets and interspersed with other pieces by other composers, which the duo did.


Piazzolla’s Cafe 1930 retained its sense of yearning pathos even though it sounded a tad rushed; but overall the duo showed themselves as fine chamber musicians, playing with subtle control of dynamic nuance.


Special mention must go to Toh Yan Ee, whose work Reminiscences (A Peranakan Song Medley) was most enjoyable.

With all three concerts sold out, perhaps this should be the way forward in presenting music: with good food and drinks, friends, and in unique locations.

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