On Day 7 (Dec 28, 2007) of the Singapore Trip, I visited the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. Esplanade can be compared to a jumbo-sized version of our own Rangashankara but on a much grander scale - while Rangashankara is a place where plays are produced and played (pun intended), Esplanade is a place for all kinds of performing arts including music. It has a 1,600 seat concert hall and a 2,000 seat theater. It was opened in Oct 2002 and within 5 years, it had 5000 performances and 20 million visitors.
What I was impressed most with Esplanade was the story behind it from the conception to its architecture. There was a 'Passages' exhibition on display explaining the story and I watched 3 videos on the TV screens and I was very inspired.
The ideas was originally conceived in the 80s by the then Culture Minister of Singapore. However, he realized the time was not right for a performing arts center when they're still building a nation. In the last decade, the same person became the Prime Minister and got things moving. There was a long process of conceptualizing what Esplanade stands for, and in the end they said it's a performing arts center for the people, and the stress on the 'common people' aspect can be seen in every decision, in every aspect of the place.
For example, the weird open-glass structure was a result of their focus on "for the people". How? They wanted common people walking by to be able to look inside on what's happening and to consider it part of their society and that they can participate as well, and not think of it as just some building for some crazy artists. So, the structure had glass through which people can see, but considering the climate, the architects came up with the leaf-like structure which can be controlled by computers to fold. The result was that during the daytime, people can look inside as well as the sun's heat gets inside the building. During night, the metal leaves are closed, and the heat remains inside. What a beautiful design! In fact, this architecture has won many awards.
Similarly, they set up restaurants inside the complex so that the general public can use this as an excuse to visit the place. Even the shape of the building is like the common-in-Singapore durian fruit for the very same reason!
On Day 8 (Dec 29, 2007), I went back to Esplanade to experience the free weekend concerts at the WaterFront called "stage@powerhouse", and boy, was I impressed with the local talent.
There was a performance by 'The Rhythm Chefs' who make music out of kitchen utensils! It sounds stupid, I know, but seeing these guys performing live, their music was actually catchy.
Later in the night, they got the audience involved from tourists to mostly kids who were excited at being able to bang away to make some music together.
As I've written before, notice how Singaporeans make things as visual and as interactive as possible. The crowd really liked the make-your-own-music session.
There was also a stage show by bands such as the 'Peep Show' band. They were decent but the lyrics were way too clichéd. I liked the tune of one of their songs "I know". There was also a performance by a band called 'Comic Strip' (if I'm not mistaken) and they were more of a big orchestra doing everything from pop to salsa-like songs. They kept the crowd dancing by the bay, although I couldn't understand which language the singer was crooning in (apparently it was English, no offense meant).
The best performance of all, was a performance of 'Hotel California' by a couple of 12-year old kids. We were so blown away, Abishek, Srinivas and myself, we were just speechless. The kids were supported by an experienced guitarist guiding them (but carefully and sometimes slyly letting the kids do most of the music). He said "Please don't think that your 12-year old children or nephews or nieces just listen to music, they can play well too. I would encourage you to send them to Esplanade and help them learn to play music just like these talented kids right here."
It was interspersed with the singing performance of a teenager girl. She had surprisingly good control over her voice and sung some popular pop and rock songs.
I seriously wonder if I have any talent in anything that can match these kids. Damn.
Even on the way back down the underground passages to get to the subway trains, there were paintings and artwork by 5-year old and 6-year old kids all over the passage.