Lumen – ISCMS 2012 – Best Yet!

 

500 on stage

I was about to start this review from Wednesday 15th of February, 2012 as this was officially the first day of Lumen, the Festival of the International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS). I quickly realised that we actually started much earlier. I could go back one day to the Tuesday, to the Chamber Music Concert, ‘A Night of Champions’ in which I was fortunate to perform with my talented colleagues. My professor from Northwestern University, Dr Robert Hasty also played fiddle in a duo with his wife, song-writer Christina Trulio. Also performing was the Dulwich College Big Band, and a number of amazing student composers and performers, Kathryn Chua, Pratcha Sananavanont, John Hui, Amy Yun and Julien Bell. This concert was really an entree to Lumen and set the tone for the incredible music-making to follow in the next five days!

 

Chamber Music

We could go back to the weekend and the arrival in Beijing of our practitioners. The first, and by far the most exuberant of our stars to arrive was Dr Beverly Vaughn. Known affectionately by all Lumen folk as Bev, she brought to the festival her vitality, sense of fun, passion for music and her sheer energy. She made a wonderful contribution to the success of Lumen and is now considered a part of the ISCMS family. ‘Go Bev!’

“Go Bev”

Another member of the ‘ISCMS family’ is our regular mentor and friend, Dr Martin Adams, whose role is Artistic Director – Repertoire and Development. His youthful joy in music making and concern for our talented young students always adds tremendously to the success of ISCMS. His energy levels too are amazing, bringing him into a close second place – only pipped by the super-human Beverly! He was caught napping (literally) in between rehearsals following a couple of marathon days of music-making and socialising but his enthusiasm for our ongoing project is inspiring.

Still looking for a place to start my review, I should go further back in time to the months and weeks of practice done by our dedicated teachers and students in the lead up to Lumen. As in other cities, we in Beijing combined our schools, Dulwich, WAB, BCIS and BISS for a number of preparatory rehearsals. This was in addition to the many hours of practice done by individual students and teachers – all before the official ‘first’ day on Wednesday 15th February.

Of course, being on the committee of ISCMS, I can say with pride that the excellent planning and preparation for this event went on for the whole year. All the work behind the scenes in logistics planning, financial management, artistic development, venue bookings, negotiations with artists and sponsors, hotels, transportation, school administrators, printers, music publishers…….etc. All the meetings, the 2170 emails I have tagged from festival@iscms.net …..all of these efforts by a passionate and visionary ISCMS committee must be considered a major factor in the stunning success of Lumen.

From the arrival of the first students and teachers from 26 different international schools, this year’s ISCMS festival was indeed a stunning success. Lumen, meaning light was the name of the festival and we have now established ISCMS as the premier student choral music festival in the region, possibly in the world. We attracted 500 participants to Lumen, which set a record on a number of levels. We now have interest coming in from all over the world, with teachers and students wanting to be part of this event.

There were too many instances of creativity and music-making at an inspiring level, to review every one in detail here. I will try to mention some highlights, though.

The collaboration between students, teachers, professional and semi-professional musicians, academics and an army of volunteers, is what makes ISCMS a unique experience for all involved. The focus is always on our young ISCMS students, who are constantly pushed towards excellence in what they are doing musically. They have the opportunity to work alongside some of the best practitioners and highly experienced musicians in the world. There is no other student music event which can offer this standard of excellence and the results are clear to all.

The culmination of all the preparation mentioned above was of course the final Gala Music Concert held in the Forbidden City Concert Hall on Saturday 18th February. The orchestra and singers all performed magnificently. To mention a few personal highlights, the violinists standing and playing the reel solo in Lord of the Dance; Katie Targett-Adams singing “The Song” from Karl Jenkins’ Gloria; jamming with Bev; sitting in the orchestra and hearing the first beautiful notes emerge from the massive ISCMS Chorus behind me.

Katie Targett-Adams

Lumen was one of the best musical experiences of my life. Thank you to all who were involved.

Requiem – Karl Jenkins

What a great concert! I was so glad to be involved with this performance, last Saturday night. Students and staff from a number of Beijing Schools  and the Beijing youth Orchestra, conducted by Shane O’Shane, collaborated in a really stunning performance of the beautiful Karl Jenkins Requiem. The piece is a mixture of traditional Latin mass text and beautiful Japanese Haiku. Also, to compliment the elegant words of the Japanese poetry, the score calls for solo shakuhachi (the haunting Japanese flute) to weave beautiful decorated melodic lines into the texture with the singing. I was fortunate to be given the chance to play the solo flute lines – on my silver flute rather than the traditional instrument. I did try playing the melodies on some more primitive bamboo/wood instruments, but not on shakuhachi, which really requires a master player to do it justice. I found that playing the intricate decorated melodies on anything other than my ‘usual’ modern flute was not going to produce a good enough result, particularly regarding intonation. Having a love of Japanese music, I have always enjoyed playing and listening to it, and I was pleased with my playing and tone, especially as much of the playing was in the difficult low register. In fact, the composer writes on the score ‘shakuhachi or flute’ so I believe the instrumentation was still authentic and pleasing.

Now, this performance was quite unusual and challenging for me personally, as I had two different roles in the ensemble. As well as playing the solo flute parts, I also sang bass in the chorus. I found myself swapping from a standing position in the front of the basses for the Latin parts of the Requiem – to sitting in the orchestra to play flute in the ‘Japanese’ movements. Apart from the challenges of physically moving between the two parts, I had to be very careful to mark each score with ‘FLUTE’ or ‘SING’ at the top of each movement and to quickly find the correct spot in time for the start of each movement. Also, what to wear? Black for the orchestra or white shirt for the choir? I opted for white, since I was standing in the chorus. It was very interesting moving from the lowest pitches to the highest and a great experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Singers from Dulwich College Beijing, Western Academy of Beijing, Beijing BISS International School (congratulations to Kanchana Jaishankar) were joined by a large group of very young choristers from the Korean School. These young singers were beautifully trained and sang their hearts out. All were dressed in little matching pink jackets and they made a wonderful contribution to the performance. Their boy soprano soloist sang beautifully in the stunning ‘Pie Jesu’ with its extremely difficult high phrases. In fact, congratulations must go to all the soloists as well as the chorus and orchestra. Also, to the producers of the amazing visual display of still images which was projected behind the performers and ‘choreographed’ to accompany the music and add meaning to the text. The concert was sold out and the audience left the auditorium uplifted and satisfied by a truly amazing musical experience.