Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The President's Command Performance

When my niece told me that she would be back in Singapore for the President's Command Performance I thought it was an unusual name. Did the President command artistes to perform? I was further intrigued when she told me she would play the violin for 5 minutes and then speak for 3 to 5 minutes. Something like a toastmaster's prepared speech? Knowing Ning's sense of humour, she would probably tickle the funny bones of the audience. Later, I learnt that the President's Command Performance is launched in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of President's Challenge. The 11 personalities selected have made a mark for themselves and have put Singapore on the world map through their achievements in diverse fields such as music, fashion design, photography and literary works.

And there I was, together with four of my friends, Soh Wah, Amu, Avinesh and Jasmin at the Esplanade. We only knew we had to dress our grandest. It was only when we arrived that I realised that only invited guests were at the concert. However, it is wonderful that the great concert will be aired on Sunday evening at 7.30, 19th of April. Hence, more people could also enjoy this fabulous performance by all the gifted artistes from Singapore. I have read of the works of these artistes, and except for Kam Ning and my ex-lecturer from the then Institute of Education, Professor Edwin Thumboo, I have never met the rest on stage.

The stage setting and lighting effects were just right to bring out the best from each performance. Iskandar Ismail played the piano and conducted the ensemble of musicians as they played his composition. The exciting start gave a good anticipation of more great works to be seen and heard!

Next were the many wonderful photographs taken by the master photographer, Russel Wong. With the great technology on stage, audience was able to have a very clear view of his photographis as seen through the sharp eyes of Russel. "It's the photographer, not the camera that counts", shared Russel when he complained of an ordinary looking camera which his father had bought for him in his early years. How many of us are like Russel in his younger days, always complaining that our school was not good enough; our family was not rich enough, etc. etc. Russel's speech suddenly made me think of the small table we had used as a ping pong table, and that was how my sisters and I started out on the game and soon became quite good at it. "Your skill is more important than the tool", papa would often remind us. "Even if you had a good instrument, and you don't use it well, it would soon become a white elephant," papa continued.

I was so thrilled to hear Abigail Sin with her lovely rendition of "L'Isle Joyeuse" by Claude Debussy with a backdrop of four lovely dancers from the Singapore Dance Theatre. The dance was well choreographed.

Professor Edwin Thumboo recited his touching poem, "Uncle Never Knew". He was seated on a garden stool and his recitation was accompanied by Arts Sphere Chamber Ensemble playing "Gardens of Delight". I am so proud of my ex-lecturer and glad of the special honour given to him by the President.

JJ Lin! Wow! Screams from the upper balcony were heard from seemingly feminine voices! JJ played the piano and sang so wonderfully. Truly a gifted young man of 28! His boyish good looks belied his age. No wonder he has so many fans! As I hardly go to rock concerts, it was a treat to be able to watch JJ's mesmerising stage presence!

When the curtains were drawn, the audience was pleasantly surprised by the almost heaven-like stage, with clouds created from dry ice and Kam Ning was standing in the centre, resplendent in her outfit and looking like an angel with a violin. ! Ning played the Amazing Grace, her own arrangement, with such panache that she mesmerized the audience. When her photo was published in the Life section of Straits Times, the writer appropriately put the caption as "On Cloud Nine with Amazing Grace".

Now - the most colorful event - a bevy of 21 models strutting on the stage with Ashley Isham's beautiful Spring Collection of 2009! Our own made-in-Singapore young man who carved for himself a name in the tough and challenging world of fashion! Ashley has a stable of fans throughout the world from Kylie Minogue, Mariah Carey to the Royal family from Brunei. Ashley said, "Things didn't just happen. It took dedication, passion, sleepless nights, sweat and tears and a good team who was prepared to work very hard. As the adage says, 'a designer is only was good as his team.'

The audience warmed to the serene yet humble Gabriel Ng who displayed his talent in his rendition of "Polonaise in D major" by Henryk Wieniawski and accompanied by pianist, Lim Yan. A child prodigy, Gabriel could read music notes when he was four years old. At 14, Gabriel is now studying at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School.

"You haven't really listened to jazz if you have not heard Jeremy Monteiro!" a friend used to say. Hence, I was excited when I heard Jeremy on stage singing and playing "Asiana" on the piano and accompanied by Christy Smith, Tama Goh and Mohamed Noor. A 2002 Cultural Medallion winner, the humble Jeremy said, "I still don't know if I have a talent for it. I really believe that the formula for success is 10% talent, 90% hard work. I know people who are many times more talented than I am, but they did not believe in themselves and they did not put in the work, so they never succeeded as musicians."

I have often read of Margaret Leng Tan and her toy pianos, but have never watched her perform. Hence it was so thrilling to hear her play on a grand piano as well as on a toy piano! What a huge contrast in size and sound! So much beauty of sound and music can be elicited from such a small piano! Amazing! During her speech, Margaret Leng Tan shared about her passion for animals and how she must be the "voice" for them. She has five dogs which she rescued! Being an animal and music lover, I immediately felt a bond with Margaret.

The last performance was by Stephanie Sun with her rendition of "Against the Light" from her third album "Kite". This was my first time listening to Stephanie, and I must admit I was not very impressed with her singing. Maybe the fault lies with me, as I have only heard a few singers like the late Theresa Teng and Hongkong singer, Sammi Cheng, and hence am not so familiar with pop music. I mentioned this to one of the Media Corp production managers, Henrietta Tan. She agreed with me that Stephanie Sun excels more as a recording artiste which is why her albums have been sold by the millions.! Wow! Nevertheless I must say that I like Stephanie's demure and sweet personality and applaud her for her role as Mercy Relief's Goodwill Ambassador, where she advocates for programmes which support children and needy families in rural villages as well as victims of natural disasters. "It's all about extending hands and connecting hearts", says Stephanie. Singapore is proud of you, Stephanie! Keep her flag flying high!

What an exciting, meaningful and fun-filled evening! It was truly an Evening to Inspire which was the theme of the concert. I am so glad that now our government is giving greater support to the arts, and I am so proud that we have been blessed with so many talented Singaporeans. Just as my eldest brother has said, "Singapore is such a tiny island on the world map, yet, we are able to produce a talented violinist in Kam Ning to win the second prize in the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium in 2001. At that time, many in Europe did not even know where Singapore is located on the world map!" It is so wonderful to see so many Singaporeans making their mark on the international stage with their art and music. I returned home, remembering the words, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever!"

I hope my readers in Singapore will remember to tune in to Channel 5 on Sunday, 19th April at 7.30p.m. to enjoy "An Evening to Inspire". In one evening, you will be able to hear and see the cream of Singapore's talented crop. Don't miss the meaningful and exciting program!

Gan Chau


Marc said...

I think Ho Yeow Sun (a.k.a. Sun Ho) deserves a mention too... Well, she put Singapore on the World Map with her Billboard Chart topping singles too...

Not forgetting her Humanitarian works in China, building schools, donating all her royalties to the poor...

The Oriental Express said...

Thanks Marc but Ho Yeow Sun was not on the list of 11 artistes specially invited to the President's Command Performance. She might in the later performances. However, there are to many talented artistes. Singapore is truly a blessed nation.

However, frankly I am not too impressed with Ho Yeow Sun. I prefer singers like the late Theresa Teng, Agnes Chen and Siti Nurhalizah. Find Ho's revealing clothes too distracting, and her voice nothing outstanding. Sorry, just a personal preference, though she may have lots of fans who like her style.