Music News

Hello to the Cellos and Over the Moon with Bassoons: The Classical Music Festival 2018

What are your first thoughts when you hear classical music? Melodies for the elite or droning sounds that put you and your kids to sleep? We’re going to stop you right there and tell you bluntly – you’re definitely wrong.

We at The Daily Seni might not be able to prove it to you but the folks over at the 4th Annual Classical Music Festival 2018 are sure to shake any preconceptions you’ve had about operatic music right out the door. Over the course of four days from the 28th of June to the 1st of July, Johor Bahru will be rocked by a completely different soundscape that most of us never take the time to listen to. And when you get to Jade Restaurant, Greenland Danga Bay and The Puteri Pacific Johor Bahru where the festivities are taking place, come with your hearts open and your ears judgment free. Invited audiences and participants from all backgrounds are sure to find something that will bring out their inner classical maestro.

Organised by the Johor Society for the Performing Arts, the celebration presents a spectrum of musical hues for audiences of all colours and flavours – from the operatic icons to the sounds of a fish darting through the water. The Malaysian poetic form is wrapped up in symphonic ribbons to showcase the versatility of Malaysian arts and classical music, and hopes to leave a mark on the laymen of classical music. Classical music is everywhere, as long as you have the imagination and emotion to see it through. This represents one of the festival larger goals, according to Artistic Curator Jonathan Oh, “We like crafting experiences where people have the chance to try and see (or listen to) things from another perspective, and encourage the idea that there’s wisdom to be found in uncertainty.”

Pictured here is Artistic Curator Jonathan Oh, widely celebrated Malaysian cellist and musical educator Credit: JSPA

Jonathan Oh has received wide acclaim for his roles as performer, educator and curator and to this day remains one of Malaysia’s leading cellists. While his achievements are absolutely no small feat, performing extensively with orchestras and chamber ensembles like the ASEAN Symphony Orchestra, the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Malaysian National Symphony Orchestra, Jonathan believes that education is just as important as the performance. He is a dedicated music educator and has established and tutored the award-winning youth string ensemble Arioso Sinfonia in Negeri Sembilan and teaches at several institutions of higher education in KL. In emphasising the importance of teaching the joys of making classical music, Jonathan is joined by the co-curator for Educational Programming, Dr Andrew Filmer.

Dr Filmer has said before, “Our duty is not to play it safe….it is to forge new trails, draw new boundaries and take risks for the shared good –the same as the role of the intellectual, the role of the citizen and the voter, something certainly resonant with the trailblazing path of the JB folks who bring these festivals to you, and to me.”

Andrew Filmer’s expertise ranges from viola performance, musicology and publication, watch for his skill during his performance as one of the members of the Sutera ensemble! Credit: JSPA

Thus, the festival makes sure to provide variety in their workshops for younger and older audiences. Some of them include ‘The Creative Process of Music Composition and Performance’ by Professor Don Bowyer in which creative processes are analysed and improved on to make better classical and jazz compositions. Another one that could catch your eye is ‘Violin Anatomy 102’ by Tan Chin Seng. This is a workshop so successful that it was continued from the previous year and seeks to transport participants into the workshop of the esteemed Malaysian instrument maker Tan Chin Seng, whose instruments have grown increasingly valuable in today’s market.

But for those of you who are avid fans of the classical music scene, you’re in for a treat. Beyond its workshops and various exhibitions that will keep fans jam-packed with activities to inspire, we arrive at the chamber music programmes. The festival uses the theme of Love as its leading motive, and ‘Love Souvenir’ is a journey of the strongest human emotion through selected arias and duets from Bellini to Puccini that will keep your heart light. Schubert’s The Trout makes an appearance as ‘Sutera Plays the Trout Quintet’ – throughout the dances of the piano, the mad dash of the violin’s sounds and the low trouty rumblings of the bass, you can now figure out for yourself what a trout feels and hears as it splashes through endless streams.

Come Swimming with Schubert and the rest of us as the Sutera Ensemble jam out to The Trout Quintet and many other soothing melodies. Credit: JSPA

‘When Classical Meets Harmonia’ is a blues and folk explosion within the cool confines of classical music, showcasing the versatility of the harmonica through a repertoire of some of your favourite tunes from Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Joe Hisaishi and many more. Finally, the festival will close with an all-female cross-cultural collaboration of France and Malaysia’s brightest musicians known as ‘Sans Frontières’. This finale concert will feature French violinist Saskia Lethiec, cellist Valérie Aimard with Malaysian pianist Carolyn Lo and 15-year-old violin virtuoso Denise Mubin.

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The Fresco Harmonica Ensemble will be the main feature of the When Classical Meets Harmonica event and it promises to be a treat! Credit: JSPA

When confronted with the complexities of classical music, many of us would probably shy away from everything and say, “I don’t understand this kind of music, it’s not my thing.” Yet something that always seems so far away seems to get closer and closer to us the more we attempt to understand and it and maybe even, grow to love whatever had us so confused in the first place. Classical music gave birth to many of the music forms we know and love today, heavy metal and movie scores being one of many. It takes courage to begin understanding something so vast and complicated. So with courage in hand and a song at heart, why don’t you drop by for some lessons at The Classical Music Festival 2018?

To keep yourself updated with the latest happenings in Johor, go to

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