SINGAPORE, 24 September 2021 – Singaporean jazz singer Joanna Dong’s new single titled 《第一章》will be released on 24 September on major digital platforms, the first in the UTOPIA Reimagined Series (“the Series”) – an initiative by the Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise (“The Foundation”) that will see four artists reimagine a symphony inspired by Singapore, written by a Russian composer and recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO).
《第一章》is Joanna’s response to Vladimir Martynov’s UTOPIA Symphony (“the Symphony”) that was recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra on its own LPO label and released last November. The Symphony was commissioned in 2003 by then Ambassador to Russia Michael Tay, who currently serves as Founder and Executive Director of The Foundation. It was reworked in 2019 for the LPO recording, with choral parts now containing English translation of the Tao Te Ching texts.
The Tao Te Ching texts are central to Joanna’s inspiration. She explains, “I returned to thinking about one of the core tenets put forth by that ancient text – that of ‘wu wei’（无为）. Literally translated to mean ‘inaction’, I understand it to mean ‘effortless action’, or ‘non-contrivance’, which in common parlance, is what we mean by ‘going with the flow’.” That guiding principle led her to focus on the process instead of the outcome. Following her instincts, she invited gifted jazz pianist, organist, and composer Chok Kerong to write the music. His melody began as a variation on a motif in the original Symphony, and the lyrics that naturally fell in place, are a near-complete rendering of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching, hence the title 《第一章》, which translates to “Chapter One” in English.
‘This is only the second time in Joanna’s 20 year-plus music career that she has accepted a commission to write a song. “For most of my career I’ve focused on honing my performance skills instead of songwriting, even though there have been enquiries to do so over the years. Since the pandemic threw most of my life into disarray, I took the opportunity to ‘reset’ myself,” says Joanna.
In a departure from her signature pop-jazz style,《第一章》is a meditative song accompanied by a string quartet and classical guitar, that Joanna chose to deliver as if she were in a choir, with minimal embellishments to her voice.’
“I’ve genuinely felt a sense of personal and spiritual growth just by being more mindful of the concept of ‘wu wei’”, says Joanna of the song writing process. “I also believe this was only possible because both the commissioning body, as well as executive producer Charlie Lim, gave me so much freedom. The result is a piece of music that departs from what anyone would consider my ‘usual’ style of music, nor Kerong’s for that matter. I think that it is poetic that in reimagining the UTOPIA Symphony, we were also able to reimagine ourselves.”
Explaining the Series, Michael Tay, Founder and Executive Director of The Foundation said: “The Foundation is always keen on supporting local musicians who are constantly creating. The UTOPIA Reimagined series, while prompting our artistes to verbalise their versions of utopia, also becomes a platform to start a conversation on how the arts is at the centre of our lives.”
Joanna is a singer, actor, and host who became a household name in 2017 after placing third in popular singing competition, Sing! China. Her string of awards includes Best Entertainment Hostess at the 2019 Asia Rainbow TV Award.
Following Joanna’s release, the Series will see singles by Aisyah Aziz, Charlie Lim, and ShiGGa Shay released progressively. Local artist Kenny Low, whose artwork was previously used as the LPO’s UTOPIA Symphony’s CD album cover, was commissioned to expand on his original artwork, in keeping with the spirit of the project.