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Bernard Tan’s Guitar Concerto

Performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO)

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Published: 17 Jun 2020


Time taken : >15mins

Following his Piano Concerto (2002), Violin Concerto (2006) and preceding his Cello Concerto (2014), Bernard Tan’s Guitar Concerto is the third of four concertos written by the Singapore composer since the beginning of the 2000s. Together, the four works also earn the NUS physics professor the uncommon distinction of being the Singaporean with the most number of concertos premiered in this millennium so far. 

Presented in three movements, the 22-minute Guitar Concerto derived its thematic material from the musical cultures of Asia, especially those indigenous to Singapore. Marked Allegro Moderato, the first movement’s gentle introductory string phrase sets a reflective mood for the movement before the guitar enters with quintuplet figurations. A transition leads to the second subject – its oriental flavour vaguely recalling the film tunes of pre-war Shanghai. 

Marked Andante, the theme of the middle section is first heard on the guitar, then restated by the oboe punctuated by rapid arpeggios on the guitar. Bassoon and flutes make a comment on this, followed by a brief dialogue between the two instruments and the clarinet. The guitar restates the middle section theme, leading to a reiteration of the principal theme before the movement ends quietly.

The third movement, marked Vivace, is a lively sonata-rondo in triple time. The subject, introduced by the guitar, is an extended melody leading to the first episode – a darkly coloured, vaguely Middle-Eastern flavoured theme. A brief dialogue between oboe and guitar leads to the cadenza. The persistent restatements of the five-quaver phrase herald the final formal statement of the rondo theme, leading to the closing bars of the movement in which the five-quaver phrase has the last word.*

Premiered at Esplanade Concert Hall on 18 January 2013, Bernard Tan’s Guitar Concerto, featuring classical guitarist Kevin Loh, was commissioned and performed by the SSO to commemorate its 34th anniversary.

Video reproduced with permission from SSO.

*Adapted from Dr Bernard Tan’s original programme notes.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) is Singapore’s flagship orchestra comprising over 90 professional musicians. Today, its extensive repertoire continues to cover works from orchestral masterpieces to international premieres. Bridging the musical traditions of the East and West, the orchestra has toured extensively in Europe, the United States and various parts of Asia. The SSO performs more than 60 concerts a year and aims to enrich communities while spreading the love for music. 

Photo courtesy of Bryan van der Beek and Asian Scientist Magazine

Dr Bernard Tan Tiong Gie (b.1943) is a Singapore composer and Emeritus Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Physics who has made significant contributions to science and music in Singapore. Having built an extensive repertoire of orchestral, chamber and choral works, he has composed for ballets, musicals, a play and songs with words by Singapore poets Lee Tzu Pheng and Edwin Thumboo. His works have been commissioned, premiered and performed by organisations such as the Singapore National Youth Orchestra and the SSO.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Loh

Kevin Loh is a Singapore guitarist who was scouted by the Yehudi Menuhin School when he was 12 and awarded a grant by The Rolling Stones to study at the prestigious music school. In 2012, he came first in the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Youth Competition and 3 years later, became the youngest artist ever to perform at the India International Classical Guitar Festival & Competition. He clinched the first place in the Cambridge University Musical Society Concerto Competition in 2020. 

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