• Piano Extravaganza 2019 – A Bicentennial Commemoration
    Esplanade Concert Hall
    Saturday (22 June 2019)

    This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 June 2019 
    — Written by Marc Rochester

    “.This concert showcased the cream of Singapore’s new-generation piano masters – four local lads, three of whom are recent graduates from Singapore institutions. It was an exhibition of superb pianism with some home-grown creativity thrown in for good measure – the concert ending with all four players together performing the Singapore Suite by one Singapore composer (Tsao Chieh) arranged by another (Bertram Wee).

    The first half of the evening seemed like an inside-out sandwich. Azariah Tan and Song Ziliang provided the light, fluffy filling – duets by Brahms and Milhaud – encased within two massive chunks of pianistic meat, the first of which was Busoni’s monumental transcription of Bach’s Chaconne. Played with imperious strength and hypnotic intensity by Gabriel Hoe, his performance had such stature that it was hard to see how the rest of the evening could live up to such a stunning opener.

    But Clarence Lee, if anything, outdid Hoe with a dramatic, truly spectacular account of Liszt. Such was the arresting force of Lee’s playing and his vast tonal reserves (the demands of which the piano was barely up to meeting), that the concertgoers seemed quite awestruck as they filed out for the interval.

    Given their magnificent first half performances, it seemed only right that in the second half Hoe and Lee gave us the evening’s major musical treat – the Suite No. 2 for two pianos by Rachmaninov. Emotionally draining, bustling with intricate detail and placing unforgiving demands on the players’ stamina and virtuosity, the pair not only presented a deeply moving and perceptive performance, but did so with almost impertinent nonchalance. It was the musical climax of a very long evening.

    The performances either side of the Rachmaninov were in no way anticlimactic, even if they were very different. Azariah Tan offered a subtle and discrete account of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30, exuding a deeply prayerful aura in the work’s final moments. Song Ziliang’s solos inhabited a more ephemeral world. He delivered two moon-related Chinese songs in wispy arrangements with great delicacy, and a medley of Strauss dances with great elegance, as if to remind us what was going on in Vienna around the time modern Singapore was establishing its own musical feet.” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Leeds International Piano Competition, 1st Round
    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
    Sunday (8 April 2018)

    This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 April 2018 with the title “Spirited Piano Playing Coupled With Technical Brilliance”.
    — Written by Mervin Beng

    “…Clarence Lee (27, Singapore), in contrast, presented a wonderfully well-conceived Mozart Sonata No.18, K.576 – constantly exploring the composer’s harmonic twists, with a depth in playing that perfectly fits Mozart’s final piano sonata… ” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Clarence Lee at LEEDS INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION 2018, 1st Round: Singapore LegLeeds International Piano Competition, 1st Round
    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
    Sunday (8 April 2018)

    This review was published by a Singapore blogger Dr. Chang Tou Liang, a classical music reviewer of The Straits Times (Singapore’s national daily) since 1997.

    “Closing the Singapore stage of the competition was our very own CLARENCE LEE, proud alumnus of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. He may very well be the first Singaporean to get selected to perform in The Leeds since the likes of Melvyn Tan and Seow Yit Kin in the 1970s.

    His hunting-themed programme opened with Mozart’s Sonata K.576, the only work to be heard twice today. Lee’s advantage over Hsieh is his maturity, which translated into a more well-rounded vision of the piece. Merely playing the notes correctly was not enough, and when he got to the melancolic aria-like slow movement, he made one truly care about this music.

    His show of musicality provided a different dimension in Liszt’s Wilde Jagd (Wild Hunt) from the set of 12 Transcendental Etudes. Going for broke, caution was cast into the winds as thunderous chords and octaves rained in this mini-epic. What Liszt the Koreans hath wrought, Singaporeans are equal to the match, as proved with neither fear nor favour. “ VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Concert Review: Passion and Poetry

    Young Virtuoso Recital Series
    Victoria Concert Hall
    Saturday (2 May 2015)

    This review was published in The Straits Times, Life! on 4 May 2015 with the title “Beauty and Risk-Taking”.

    “When the Young Virtuoso Recital Series was inaugurated in 2005 as part of the Singapore International Piano Festival, the fear was that there would not be enough pianists capable of holding their own in the prestigious event. Although foreign-trained pianists such as Lim Yan, Lee Pei Ming and Nicholas Ho proved more than up to the task, enthusiasm waned and financial support was eventually pulled.

    Since the series was resurrected in 2013, it has featured pianists who received their musical education at Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, whose formation must surely rank as the most game-changing milestone in the country’s history of Western classical music.

    Passion And Poetry was the title of conservatory alumni and young pianist Clarence Lee’s recital and the programme featured two composers who embodied this ethos: Sergei Rachmaninov and Franz Liszt.

    Few pianists possess the ability to make the daunting instrument sound larger than it is and produce a fortissimo that never sounds harsh, but the opening octaves of Rachmaninov’s Prelude In C Sharp Minor Op. 3 No. 2 resounded with authority. What followed was a meticulous crafting of layers of sonorities which were at times let down by the acoustics of the concert hall.

    The composer’s Op. 23 Preludes pose a stern test to the pianist’s artistry and stamina and most performers treat them as technical showpieces. But Lee never let the virtuosity of the 10 pieces in the set distract from the hidden beauty of Rachmaninov’s surging harmonies.

    Even the most famous of them, the B Flat Major and G Minor Preludes, did not sound tired, with the former containing some awe-inspiring playing from Lee with the right hand shimmering above the melody held by the left hand.

    As part of the requisites of the recital to include a work by a local composer, Waves by Phang Kok Jun was given its world premiere.

    Phang showed that imaginative writing did not necessarily equate to complexity and his idiomatic writing created a kaleidoscopic effect with hints of Debussy’s Clair De Lune and Pagodas, with the gentle rocking figuration of the left hand mimicking the breaking of waves on shore, as a simple lullabic melody sparkled unpredictably like the refraction and reflection of light on water.

    No virtuosic recital is complete without the music of Liszt and Lee’s thoughtful programming saw the polarising pairing of Benediction De Dieu Dans La Solitude and Reminiscences De Don Juan close the evening.

    Written after retiring from the concert stage, Benediction is one of the composer’s most deeply poetic works during his period of spirituality. Taken at a brisk tempo, there was an unexpected youthfulness in Lee’s interpretation. The evenness of the sweeping arpeggio figures was almost unreal and in voicing the melody above the dense writing, be showed his consummate control.

    If the work showed Liszt’s unlikely religious side, the Don Juan fantasy showed both the vulgarity and ingenuity of his technical innovation. It was in this work that Lee finally tossed caution to the wind, as he dove head-first into the multitude of double-thirds and octave runs.

    Taking risks is a sign of a confident musician and while it was not note-perfect, Lee’s fiery temperament was on full display.

    Visibly exhausted by the end of the recital, be responded to the thunderous ovation with an improvisation on The Moon Represents My Heart and a smashing transcription of Die Fledermaus by Alfred Grunfeld, with the latter showing some glittering fingerwork by the pianist.”

  • Celebrating 30 Fantastic Years, Braddell Heights Symphony OrchestraBraddell Heights Symphony Orchestra
    SOTA Concert Hall
    19 Mar 2016, Saturday

    — Review by Soo Kian Hing, 23 Mar 2016

    “The last piece before the intermission featured two Singaporeans: pianist Clarence Lee in Dr Kelly Tang‘s ‘Concerto in Three Movements’. Written as a commission for Singapore’s 50th year of independence in 2015 and premiered by Lang Lang, Tang thankfully eschewed musical theatrics in favour of a supple contemporary work that was forward-looking in its outer movements; at times the conversation between piano and orchestra brought to mind the playful intimacy of Poulenc.The middle movement was a languid, Piazzolla-esque elegy dedicated to the nation’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that was like a reflecting pond before a monument. The horns had recovered from their earlier reticence, and gave blistering calls in the first movement, as well as in the fanfare of the third, where Tang injected some Hollywood glamour with a romantic play on popular Malay folksong ‘Geylang Sipaku Geylang’.

    Clarence Lee was the stand-in for Lang Lang during the 50th anniversary rehearsals, and his performance in this condensed concerto (the original was written for 50 pianos!) was lively and convincing, with just the minimum touch of drama needed to propel the musical idea. BHSO could not have found a better pianist to play this concerto.” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • President’s Young Performers Concert
    Victoria Concert Hall
    Thursday (2 July 2015)

    This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 July 2015 with the headline “Young talents shine”.
    — Review by Albert Lin, 4 Jul 15

    “Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 In E-flat Major offers the pianist little to work with due to its sporadic switches between outright virtuosity and heartfelt tenderness. Despite this, pianist Clarence Lee gave an excellent account of this rhapsodic work.

    The opening octaves were executed with conviction, aided by Lee’s uncanny ability to deliver fortissimo passages with gentility….” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Concert-Review-The-Goddess-poster

    Singapore Chinese Orchestra, HUAYI Chinese Festival of Arts 2014
    Esplanade Concert Hall
    Saturday (15 February 2014)

    This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 February 2014 with the title “SCO brings out tender moments”.

    “Tender moments between mother and son brought out some of the best music, with Zhao Jianhuaíserhu and Han Leiís guanzi carrying the melodies, and the additional luxury of Clarence Leeís grand piano adding that final bit of gloss. On witnessing her sonís recitation in a school concert, a heartrending orchestral crescendo represented the pride swelling up in her heart. Slashing sounds….”  VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Graduate Diploma Recital Series
    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
    Wednesday (3 April 2013)

    Review by Chang Tou Liang, 4 Apr 13

    ” Clarence Lee plays like a seasoned performer and is buoyed by the applause of a warm audience. Beginning with Chopinís Nocturne in C sharp minor (Op. Posth), he wove a seamless legato and a fine cantabile line. The clarity of projection continued into Mozartís Sonata in D major (K.576), distinguished by its trumpet-like hunting motif. The performance was crisp, very well-articulated and full of vitality in the outer movements. The slow middle movement revelled in the shifts of major and minor key, bringing out its true pathos… ”  VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Concert-Review-AllAmerica
    Orchestra of the Music Makers
    Esplanade Concert Hall
    Saturday (26 January 2013)

    — This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 January 2013 with the title “Music Makers reach out with pops concert”.

    “A very large audience greeted the latest OMM Prom which was an enjoyable salute to American music. The heady spirit of the Boston Pops was immediately relived with the opener, George Gershwinís Girl Crazy Overture, with popular melodies like Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm and But Not For Me flowing out with the slickness that these Broadway musicals demand.
    Rhapsody in Blue was next, and clarinettist Vincent Gohís slinky opening solo set the tone for a totally commanding performance by young pianist Clarence Lee. Not only does he have the physical heft to project above the orchestra, he also gave the score an improvisatory feel by dictating the pace, slowing at will and then upping the ante when it mattered. The orchestraís razor-sharp reflexes served the musicís rhythmic intricacies to a tee, with woodwinds and brass in splendid form….” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • SCO Hakka Tunes Banner
    Singapore Chinese Orchestra
    Singapore Conference Hall
    Friday (14 September 2012)
    — This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 Sep 2012 with the title “Delightful Hakka harmonies”.

    ” Kuan Nai Chung’s Folk Song for piano and orchestra could have easily been called Hakka Rhapsody, for its slow-fast form and Lisztian pianism from the unerring fingers of Clarence Lee, 2nd prize winner of the 2011 National Piano Competition.” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
    Thursday (24 November 2011)

    — Review by Chang Tou Liang, 24 Nov 2011

    “Clarence’s well-conceived programme began with a tiny Scarlatti Sonata in F minor (K.466), that dovetailed neatly with Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata (Op.57), also in the same key. The former was illuminated with clarity and a rounded legato that brought out its tender bittersweet quality, contrasted with the latter’s boom and bluster. The more mature musician in Lee avoided the bangy and splashy tendencies of his younger years, and went for instead for the heart of the music by projecting well and bringing volume to bear only at the right moments. Even in the coruscating finale, might and power was reserved – rightly so – for the final page. Before that, he went velocity and lightness instead, which made for a refreshing change from those all-too-loud versions that pass for passionate hearts.

    The best performance fell to Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Isoldes Liebestod. Always careful to maintain the seamless soprano line, Lee never forsook beauty for the pursuit of virtuosity. The build up to the shuddering climax was perfectly judged, a truly heartrending journey before the tumultuous meltdown of crashing chords, and eternal rest…” VIEW FULL REVIEW

  • Piano Concerto Competition Final
    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
    Tuesday (10 November 2011)

    — Review by Chang Tou Liang, 10 Nov 2011

    “The sentimental favourite had to be Singapore’s own Clarence Lee in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. From the word go, he was a big-boned account, with heart unabashedly worn on the sleeves. He went for outsized gestures, but always had a special place for its bittersweet lyricism, drawing out the melodies with much tenderness. His rapport with accompanist Matthew Mak was almost telepathic, drawing the work to a rapturous close…” VIEW FULL REVIEW