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Revelations & Angels


Revelations & Angels

Revelations & Angels

22 & 23 Aug 2019
20:00 to 21:30
Foyer, YST Conservatory

PHOON YU, organ
THEEMPTYBLUESKY (MERVIN WONG), electronics and visuals

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Fantasia in G minor, BWV 542/1

CHEN ZHANGYI (b. 1984)
The Seven Angels

Fugue in G minor, BWV 542/2



Prelude in E minor 'Wedge', BWV 548/1

CHEN ZHANGYI (b. 1984)
The Seven Angels

Fugue in E minor 'Wedge', BWV 548/2


Revelations & Angels is an audio-visual performative installation in two parts, presented by organist Phoon Yu and electronic musician Theemptybluesky, reframing the conventional recital into a new kind of experience.

Revelations is a multimedia installation piece that will take over the expansive foyer and atrium areas of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. Designed by Theemptybluesky, the installation experiments with light, space, and sound to invite contemplations of cosmogony and our relation to the universe.

On the evenings of 22 and 23 August, Revelations will serve as the backdrop for an 80 minute performance featuring the world premiere of The Seven Angels by Chen Zhangyi, organ works by J.S. Bach, and sonic reflections by Theemptybluesky. 

Revelations will be installed until 9 September.


A multi-media installation piece by Theemptybluesky

Listen to the soundtrack while you explore the installation in the space:

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Phoon Yu
is an organist and composer currently studying at The Juilliard School as a doctoral candidate. Previously, he did his Masters of Music in Organ Performance at the Peabody Institute and his Bachelors of Music in Composition at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. He has performed in Singapore, the United States, and the Netherlands, with performances at the Victoria Concert Hall. His compositions and arrangements have also been premiered in Singapore, the United States, and China. For his achievements, Phoon was awarded the Bruce R. Eicher Prize in Peabody Institute on completion of his degree.

Mervin Wong, under the alias of Theemptybluesky, is a sonic alchemist best known for his explorative journeys through sound in an evocative and eclectic manner. With a curiosity for blending recorded and synthesised sound, Wong’s full-length debut album Aphelion explores the juxtaposition of musical narratives against organic textures from field recordings to produce a unique electronic sound that is highly emotive.

His other works include creating bespoke music and sound design for film, media, installations, as well as collaborations with performing and visual artists. Wong also actively explores his practice in other forms including light, visuals and design.

Chen Zhangyi

The music of Chen Zhangyi has been described by The Straits Times as “a breath of fresh air on our musical landscape.” He has collaborated with ensembles such as London Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Lyric Opera, re: mix, and Hong Kong New Music Ensemble. 

At Abbey Road Studios, Eric Whitacre led the London Symphony and Eric Whitacre Singers, recording Zhangyi’s award-winning Ariadne’s Love. Broadcasted on BBC Radio 3, it was dubbed “music from a choral voice of the future.” His dramatic works Window Shopping, Laksa Cantata, and Pursuant passionately reveal his exploration of vernacular themes. He is also drawn to nature as a source of inspiration, as shown in orchestral works such as Rain Tree, Sand Sketches, and most recently, Vanda - a violin concerto commissioned by the Singapore National Youth Orchestra. 

He read music at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore and Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University. His composition mentors include Kevin Puts, Thomas Benjamin, Michael Hersch and Peter Edwards. In 2014, Zhangyi was awarded both the Paul Abisheganaden Grant for Artistic Excellence (NUS), and the Young Artist Award by The National Arts Council.

Zhangyi taught music at Peabody Institute and Baltimore City Community College, and is currently a lecturer at Yong Siew Conservatory of Music. He has also conducted premieres of new works, and performed on violin (and viola) with the Charm City Baroque (2012-15) and Baltimore Baroque Band (2009-2015). 

In his free time, Zhangyi enjoys traveling and good food.

Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542

J. A. Reincken (1643-1722) is not a name that is commonly heard amongst conservatory students - or their professors - but his influence on the better-known J. S. Bach (1685-1750) left a lasting impression on the younger composer. As a youth, Bach had heard Reincken play and improvise on the organ at St. Katharinen in Hamburg, assimilating much of his style. He would later have the chance in 1719 to return the favour (i.e.: trade places with Reincken at the organ bench), deeply impressing the older composer with his extemporisation on the chorale An Wasserflüssen Babylon (sometimes translated as 'at the rivers of Babylon') - a chorale that Reincken had written a well-known fantasia on.

Some musicologists have called Reincken a 'father figure' of the North German organ school - a group of composers for the organ from the aforementioned region who were mostly born a generation before Bach - and the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 reflects much of their musical style, despite it being composed towards the second half of Bach's life. The fantasia is laced with much embellishment, ornamentation, and decorative scalar passages, and its structure consists of multiple contrasting small sections, reflecting an improvisatory style. The intense chromaticism of the fantasia adds more emotional depth to the piece, contributing even more to its grandiosity and magnificence. The fugue is decidedly more upbeat, with two sections played solely on the manuals providing some contrast from the near-constant pedal action. Some sources have suggested that Bach played this for Reincken himself in their 1719 encounter, and that Bach had based this on Dutch folk tune as a tribute to Reincken's Dutch origins.

Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 'Wedge'

Despite the fact that J. S. Bach (1685-1750) never left the area that is now modern-day Germany, he diligently sought to learn not just from the best German-speaking composers, but also from composers from other countries, such as France and Italy. One such master was the Venetian Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), who influenced a good deal of Bach's later music. Vivaldi's collection of concerti (titled L'estro armonico, or 'the harmonic inspiration') had taken Germany by storm in 1711, and Bach - through his boss at that time, Prince Johann Ernst - had assimilated much of its features, including the use of ritornelli (a theme that constantly returns throughout an entire piece, serving as a unifying factor) and the use of germinal motifs as a basis of a musical work.

Vivaldi's anointing never really left Bach, and this can be seen in the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 (sometimes also called 'The Wedge' on account of its angular fugue subject). The opening 18-bar introduction in the prelude provides the source for much of the material that recurs throughout the entire movement, even returning in the end almost in its entirety as part of Bach's friendly reminder on its importance in the piece. Indeed, much of the prelude's musical material - such as the descending scales, the chords paired in a pseudo-iambic patterns in the first few measures of the work, and the constant flow of semiquavers - find their genesis in the initial introduction. With the fugue, Bach makes the material contrasts between sections even deeper - parts analogous to the 'solo sections' in a Vivaldian concerto grosso are suffused with fast scalar passages and repeated semiquaver figures, while much of the sections associated with the 'ritornello' are characterised by leaps stemming from the fugue subject or its countersubject. As with the prelude, Bach is happy to remind the audience of the importance of its 59-bar introduction with a near-complete reiteration of it at the end of the piece.

The Seven Angels

The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. (Rev 8:7)

And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. (Rev 8:8 - 8:9)

And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. (Rev 8:10 - 8:11)

And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. (Rev 8:12)

And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. (Rev 9:1 - 9:11)

And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. (Rev 9:13 - 9:19)

And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. (Rev 10:1 - 10:11)

Notes by Phoon Yu, extracts from The Book of Revelation.

Special thanks to:

Yong siew toh Conservatory of Music
Estil Furnishing Pte Ltd
Ben Yap
Chin Jun Tian
Lim Cheng Jun
Sal Seah
Racy Lim
Jean Yap