“We do not treat our instruments according to its history and traditions, but to its diversity as a device that can create various sounds. As such, we hope to turn attention away from what is usually expected of Chinese musicians and just play music.” - Samuel Wong, Artistic Director
Chinese instrumental music is commonly viewed as boring and practised mainly by students as part of their co-curricular activity in schools. In fact, The TENG Ensemble had its beginnings in Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road)’s Chinese Orchestra where they became close friends.
“Often times when we told people that we are Chinese musicians, we were immediately stereotyped or categorised as being uninteresting as compared to western music, and in some cases, we were even asked if we play at funerals,” says Samuel Wong, artistic director, The TENG Ensemble.
Taking the Chinese art form beyond its cultural boundaries, The TENG Ensemble combines its experiences outside of Singapore with its experiences within multi-cultural Singapore to create what is essentially a Singaporean sound. “Growing up in a country of such varied cultures, travelling widely and listening to a wide range of music has, in many ways, influenced the way we choose to conceptualise and create our music,” says Wong. As such, the ensemble tends to look out for composers who understand the range of their instruments and are able to cater to their diversity.
On 4 March, The TENG Ensemble will perform a concert at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Titled 宿 Sù – Abode, the performance will pay homage to the concept of home with newly commissioned works by Beijing-based composer Wang Si and The TENG Ensemble’s Composer-in-Residence, Lim Yi Benjamin.
Lim has written soundtracks for short films such as Loo Zihan’s Threshold, the title song for Wee Li Lin’s Forever, and the accompaniment music for a T.H.E. Dance Company production; while Beijing-based composer Wang Si frequently writes music for TV. Through a long process of discussions and sending samples to each other, The TENG Ensemble ended up with 8 pieces that borrowed elements from different cultures and music genres.
“Audiences can expect something very different from what they would see at a typical chamber music performance, because while we each play with traditional instruments, we are essentially a band like any other professional rock or pop groups,” says Wong.
To make their music accessible, the ensemble uses their instruments purely as sound creating devices.
“We do not treat our instruments according to its history and traditions, but to its diversity as a device that can create various sounds. As such, we hope to turn attention away from what is usually expected of Chinese musicians and just play music,” notes Wong.
In addition, The TENG Ensemble leaves out the graceful gestures which are a staple in playing Chinese instruments.
“We certainly wish to break these stereotypes of Chinese music and to transcend the barriers of culture and language,” says Wong. “But beyond that, we want to create a musical identity that is truly Singaporean because we are all Singaporeans and we also happen to be professional musicians.”
宿 Sù - Abode
4 March, 2012, 4pm & 7:30pm
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tickets available from Sistic
*Tickets for all shows are sold out. Leave your name at the Esplanade Box Office for the waitlist.
By Amy Tan