Composer of the Month - Zecharaiah Goh Toh Chai
I have spent a fascinating time with the Singapore composer, Dr. Goh Toh Chai and took the opportunity to interview him.
This is what I wrote about him after the CBDNA Conference in Austin Texas of 2009.
My favorite piece from this programme was the Concerto for Marimba and Wind Ensemble with Kevin Bobo as the quite outstanding soloist. I always enjoy Goh Toh Chai's music, quirky, wryly ironic, with an extraordinarily attractive mix of Western and Eastern idioms; more of that anon. What I loved about this work was the variety of scoring, small groups pitted against the virtuoso marimba playing of Kevin Bobo, and while the first movement is a little static and introspective, the second bounds along with a joyous freedom. I am biased, since Zeck is a good friend and colleague, but I think he has a very distinctive voice.
This is what Adam Gorb wrote about his Sang Nila in 2005:
"Nothing could have been a greater contrast than what followed: Sang Nila by Singaporean composer Zechariah Goh Toh Chai. For me this work was the highlight of the conference. This was a haunting and magical work for chorus and band, featuring chanting and beguiling bell sounds. Here the influence of Gamelan music was triumphantly integrated into the musical language; the static harmonic field in this context was totally appropriate. The composer, who conducted this premiere has clearly absorbed many musical directions of the last fifty years, and the final choral passage with vowel sounds paying homage to Stockhausen's Stimmung was most memorable. Here is a composer whose original voice deserves to be heard worldwide."
Symphonie Bombastique was dedicated jointly to the composer's father and to my commissioning project in memory of my third son. It was premiered by the Philharmonic Winds conducted by the composer on June 15 2008, and can be viewed via these links on YouTube.
Zechariah Goh Toh Chai Biography
Zechariah Goh Toh Chai was born in 1970, studied piano under Ong Lip Tat, harmony from Phoon Yew Tien and counterpoint from Leong Yoon Pin while working on his Diploma of Music from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. In 1999, he received the David and Gunda Hiebert Scholarship award to work on his Master of Piano from University of Kansas, during which he was appointed as a graduate assistant by the university to teach undergraduate music theory.
Subsequently, he worked on his Doctorate degree majoring in Composition under the guidance of Dr. Charles Hoag. At the same time, he studied Orchestration and Arrangement for Band under James Barnes. Zechariah was also awarded the prestigious Anthony Cius Prize for outstanding student composer from the University of Kansas for the Academic year of 2001 and 2002.
Before embarking on his studies in the United States, he was a familiar face in the local music scene, teaching bands and choirs in Singapore. He was a lecturer at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, specializing in Composition, Orchestration, Aural and Sight Singing, and Keyboard Harmony since July 2002.
As a composer, he is frequently commissioned to write music for symphonic bands and choirs. Since the 1990s, his choral works have been premiered in Singapore as well as many international festivals and competitions around the world, including Austria, Brazil, Germany, Greece and Wales.
In 2003, Zechariah's "Piano Trio" and "Variation on Rasa Sayang" were performed at the Ong Teng Cheong Concert held at Esplanade Concert Hall. He was also commissioned by the Co-curricular Activities Branch of the Ministry of Education to compose two pieces for the Singapore Youth Festival choral competition in 2003.
In 2004, the SYC Ensemble Singers premiered Zechariah's "Narcissus and Echo", while the Singapore Symphony Orchestra premiered his piano concerto titled "Meta Dragon". July 2004 saw the world premiere of "Zhu Li Guan" (In the Bamboo Forest), commissioned by the Victoria Chorale for the Choir Olympics 2004 held in Bremen, Germany. His creativity was further explored through the various compositions such as the orchestra piece "Celestial Blossoms" for the fireworks display for the 39th National Day Parade, performed by the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, "Concertino" for saxophone and wind ensemble, performed by The Philharmonic Winds, and "Ripples I" for two pianos and four percussionists. The latter, in particular, was premiered at the prestigious Ong Teng Cheong Concert held at the Esplanade Concert Hall in September 2004.
For his artistic excellence in the field of music, Zechariah was conferred the Young Artist Award (Music) in September 2003 by the National Arts Council, Singapore. The award was presented by the President of the Republic of Singapore at Istana.