Contributed by Amelia Faith Dizon.
On 17th September 2014, the NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS) presented Tabi ni Deyou! (Let’s go on a journey!) at the University Culture Centre Theater as part of the Exxon-Mobil Campus Concerts season.
For the uninitiated, GENUS is a Niibori guitar orchestra. The concept of using guitars of different sizes and configurations to achieve timbral variety was made popular by Dr Hiroki Niibori who sought to exploit the versatility and potential of the classical guitar and founded the Niibori Guitar Music Academy. It was this Academy which GENUS had the privilege of visiting during an exposure trip in May this year.
Thus, it was no surprise to find that the concert programme comprised an entirely Japanese repertoire, inviting the audience to experience the multiple facets of Japanese lore, culture and scenery through music. The programme booklet feted ‘showmanship, creativity, attention to detail and overall packaging’, and the audience was indeed treated to a night of delightful Japanese music.’
The evening’s proceedings began with the grand Hoshizukuyo ni Omou by Kengo Momose, a stalwart in the Niibori composition scene. Led by student conductor Alex Gan, the ensemble explored the nuances of longing and the subtlety of love. Koh Wai Kit turned in a masterful display on the alto cembalo, and the ensemble displayed their familiarity with this piece having performed it in Japan without sounding over-rehearsed.
After an intense opening, Hakkei (Iida Fumio) and Candy Waltz (Yuudai Hatanaka) served as palate cleansers. These two short pieces delivered with finesse took us from the leisurely idyll of Yokohama to the excitement of enjoying delectable dessert. It seemed the ensemble was finally delivering what they promised by the time Candy Waltz rolled around – having warmed up to being on stage, the guitarists appeared more relaxed and expressive.
We then returned to nature in Sendai with Hirosegawa (Yuudai Hatanaka), a duet about one of Japan’s 100 Great Waters, performed by Heng Zhong and Tan Yin Yun. With some palpable chemistry between them, the piece ebbed and flowed with appropriate amounts of restraint and release with the climactic ending leaving me – and no doubt others in the audience – breathless by the end.
The two pieces which followed were decidedly more light-hearted in nature, which helped the audience grab a breather or two. We heard from Japanese pop culture, in the form of a quartet arrangement of Yasashisa ni Tsutsumaretara (from the acclaimed Studio Ghibli movie ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’) and Arigatou, originally performed by pop rock outfit Ikimono-gakari for the drama series ‘Gegege no Nyobo’. While the structure of a pop song might normally seem dull without lyrics to fully express the piece, Arigatou was held together by technically sound playing and sufficient emotiveness to keep each repeated chorus from sounding tiresome.
The last of the small group pieces was Ominaeshi (Hiromu Taguchi), arranged for 6 guitars including the soprano guitar and prime cembalo. The soprano guitar brought out the delicate nature of the Ominaeshi flower, whereas the prime cembalo’s lush mid-range lent itself to paint the rich hues of a Japanese autumn.
With the audience having had an intimate taste of the various Niibori instruments and configurations, it was time to bring back the full orchestra who were down to the last 2 pieces of the night.
First up, there was some audience interactivity as Ame – Mizu to Hikari no Fantasia (Kengo Momose) got underway. Before the piece began, we were instructed by the emcee to participate in the piece by using our mobile phone browsers to log in to animatedsoundworks.com:9000 and keying in our row numbers. There was – visibly – some slight confusion among the audience as we fumbled with our devices and attempted to participate.
However, soon enough we heard the sound of rain – it was coming from the mobile phones located in the back half of the hall! What followed was a dramatic piece depicting the serenity and turbulence of spring and summer rains. Midway through the piece, where I thought some intelligent use of lighting may have amplified the effects, thunder sounds emanated from the audience phones. When the piece came to its tranquil resolution, it was accompanied by birdsong. NUS Professor Lonce Wyse was responsible for the sound design, and while the effects ran the risk of falling flat (what if no one cared to participate?), a game audience ensured that the desired outcome was achieved.
‘Like bringing guns to a swordfight’ was how my companion for the evening described GENUS’ final offering for the night – the energetic and wildly irreverent Jounetsu Tairiku arranged by Kazayuki Terada. We were treated to harmonising electric guitars, groovy bass riffs and percussions held together by guest drummer Benjamin Soon. It was in this last hurrah where we finally felt that GENUS had brought everything to the table; there was ample showmanship (headbanging, anyone?) which did not compromise the music.
The concert was 75 minutes of good, solid fun – it was a wonderful exposure to a musical discipline widely considered ‘niche’ and I would certainly recommend anyone whose interests have been piqued to check out GENUS concerts in the future (http://nusguitarensemble.wix.com/nusguitarensemble#!genus/c15n3).