Local gems

If there’s one quintessentially Malaysian collection of contemporary classical music, Faith Hope Chaos is it.

UNLESS you’re a dedicated follower of contemporary classical music or an avid reader of a rival publication, you are very likely to have missed one of the most interesting local releases to come out in recent times.

C.H. Loh: The architect of FaithHope Chaos.

Put together by freelance writer and composer C.H. Loh and soundtrack musician Hardesh Singh, Faith Hope Chaos is a unique recording that compiles the work of nine contemporary classical composers, including established names like Saidah Rastam and a group of promising talent.

Initially available as a companion to the February issue of Off the Edge magazine, Faith Hope Chaos is largely the brainchild of Singapore-based Loh. It was through his capacity as music fan, though, that this project has borne fruit.

In a recent e-mail interview, Loh, who is in his late 30s, explains why he was motivated to turn parts of his large collection of local classical music into an anthology.

“So much great music has been composed and performed outside this country that few people know about or have the chance to hear. Also, everyone thinks that contemporary “classical” music does not exist outside what the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) has done. There are so many composers who are not recognised seriously for what they are doing and I wanted to showcase their work.”

Fortunately for Loh, he met Hardesh Singh, best known for composing for a host of Yasmin Ahmad and Amir Muhammad movies. The pair struck it off and decided to work together.

Says the 32-year-old Hardesh Singh: “Loh’s passion for local music drove the project. Many of the composers like Dr Tazul Izan Tajuddin who’s a professor in Britain and the European-based Chong Kee Yong are not as well-known as they should be, despite producing cutting-edge work.

“Because a lot of the material was pre-recorded and compiled, Loh and I worked through computer. The ‘new’ pieces like Johan Othman’s Composition for Piano No.8 and Yii Kah Hoe’s Inner Voices II were fun to work on. In Johan’s case, he is in Penang so he sent us the score for his composition and we got it recorded in Kuala Lumpur.”

Hardesh Singh worked closelywith Loh to produce the album.

Adeline Wong, 32, who is part of a new breed of emerging Malaysian composers, contributed two pieces, Letters from an Eastern Empire and Synclastic Illuminations. She notes that the compilation has its roots in the MPO’s composers’ forum.

“I’ve known Loh since we met at the MPO forum in 2004. I have kept in touch with him and sent him my recordings. I think a lot of us, including Johan, Ng Chong Lim and Kah Hoe, all met Loh at the MPO forum.

“I can tell you that this is a good compilation to bring along overseas and present as an example of modern Malaysian music.”

Adeline Wong:‘It’s a goodexample ofmodernMalaysianmusic.’

So, just why is Loh so fascinated with local classical compositions?

“Every country values its own music, us Malaysians shouldn’t be any different. I think the idea that classical music is only composed in the West is ridiculous, as is the idea that musicians in Malaysia should aspire to just play the Western classics. It’s a terrible waste of local talent, especially when the music we are producing is of such high quality.

“There is plenty that is distinct about Malaysian compositions. Chong’s music is hailed as truly Eastern in the West, without even trying to be a hybrid. The harmonies on Synclastic Illuminations are so Malaysian in their origins even though it doesn’t sound that way on the surface. When I listened to Ng’s Three Sketches for Two Pianos, I immediately heard gamelan modes. These works could only have been written by Malaysians.”

Loh’s enthusiasm on the subject is certainly boundless. “There were other pieces I wanted to feature but couldn’t. Yii’s Buka Panggung is such a fantastic showpiece and would have blown everyone away. It’s like Stravinsky meets Chinese orchestra in Kelantan! The other one that’s always on my mind is Johan’s orchestral Ittar, which is my absolute favourite in the Malaysian repertoire.”

Still, Wong admits that it is quite a challenge for composers to make a name for themselves in today’s classical scene. “It is difficult to stand out,” she laughs. “It is very challenging, but you don’t want to give up. You have to find your own voice, dealing with the difficulty and going for it.”

Certainly, Loh and Hardesh Singh had their own obstacles to overcome while putting the anthology together. “Getting permission to use these recordings was the toughest part,” says Loh. “For example, Yii had made an excellent recording with an orchestra but they refused to release it to us, without giving us any reason. Fortunately, we had friends like New Zealand composer Prof Jack Body who helped us get some of these permissions, otherwise we would not have had Adeline Wong’s stunning full orchestral piece.”

Hardesh Singh adds that funding was another inevitable factor. “It looked really tough but somehow all the pieces came together. I applied for the Krishen Jit Astro Fund and that came through. We also had some additional assistance from Gardner & Wife Theatre and when the main sponsor HSBC came on board, we knew we could do it.”

Now that the project is firmly off the ground, curious music fans have one more exciting album to investigate, and can rest assured that a sequel is in the works.

  • ‘Faith Hope Chaos’ is available through