LONDON-BASED Malaysian pianist Foo Mei Yi (known overseas as Mei Yi Foo) will be performing nine original compositions by nine contemporary Malaysian composers at the inaugural Free Hand Festival 2019 on Aug 14.
This one-day festival, organised by Malaysian Composers Collective (MCC) and sponsored by UCSI University Institute of Music and Yayasan Sime Darby, will also feature seminars with the nine composers as well as one with Foo, held at the UCSI Recital Hall, starting from 10.30am.
Asked why it is called the Free Hand Festival, MCC president Adeline Wong said: “It is to give the composers the freedom to write whatever they wish, and also [to give freedom to] the pianist who will interpret the works.”
The highlight of the festival is, of course, Foo’s solo performance and interpretation of the nine original works.
Two of those compositions – Herringbone and Kabus Pantun – are by Wong and Tazul Tajuddin respectively, while the remaining seven are finalists competing in the first Malaysian Contemporary Composers Piano Festival 2019.
Foo will not only perform but also judge these compositions along with guest judges Asian Composers League Korea president Seung Jae Chung and Composers Society of Singapore president Dr Hoh Chung Shih.
They will select the best two, and the winning composers will then get to compose a new piece that will be entered for the UCSI University International Piano Festival and Competition 2020.
According to Wong, these composers in the competition are all in their 20s and 30s. They comprise Raja Mohamad Alif with Dol Said, Samuel Cho (Vatni), Choke Yuan Teng (The Woodcutter’s Song), Chow Jun Yan (In the Absence of Silence), Chow Jun Yi (Deep in the City), Lee Chie Tsang (Sympathetic [re]sonance) and C.H. Loh (Morning at Klang Harbour).
Foo was approached to be part of this festival in December 2018. Once she agreed, the organisers invited Malaysian composers to submit their original compositions for Foo to perform at the festival.
Foo was handed the nine works that she will play at the festival some three to four months earlier.
“These are very new works and some of these works have been written especially for this festival,” explained Foo, who was back in Malaysia in preparation for her solo performance, at a recent interview.
She said she has been in contact with the composers, but not face-to-face. They have only heard bits of what she will be performing, so the concert will be something they will be looking forward to as well.
Foo added: “It is a good collaboration. We have been learning a lot from each other.
“We have been going back and forth on how I would interpret [their compositions] or what the composers want, [and] even making minor changes.”
Foo said she approaches these pieces the same way she would approach compositions by Mozart and Beethoven.
“That style of writing you can trace back to the old western style. These composers are Malaysian, [so] you can hear a lot of eastern influences. You can also [hear] a lot of special ‘treatments’.
“For some compositions, you will not only hear me play the keyboard, but I will also reach into the piano and pluck the strings inside the piano to create special effects.”
Foo, who is originally from Seremban, started studying the piano at age four. She left for London to study at the Royal College and Royal Academy of Music in London at age 15.
She went on to win the 2013 BBC best newcomer of the year award, and her recent debut at the Lucerne Festival was voted ‘Highlight of the Year’.
She has also appeared with renowned orchestras around the world such as London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Her music albums, Musical Toys and ConNotations, have received much acclaim from critics and music lovers alike, both locally and abroad.
Catch Foo’s concert tonight at the UCSI Recital Hall at 8pm.