The Vanda Miss Joaquim is a hybrid of two orchid species cultivated in the 1890s by horticulturalist Agnes Joaquim, a Singaporean-born Armenian. It was chosen as Singapore’s National Flower in 1981.
Analogous to the uniquely Singaporean hybrid orchid, this quintet is a hybrid of various musical styles found in Singapore, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Western classical, and pop. The melody is composed in a custom-designed rāga (a melodic mode with stylistic features in Indian music) using the Gamelan pelog selisir mode as its ascending scale (D F# G A C# D) and the Chinese yu mode as its descending scale (D C A G F D).
The piece begins in unison with fast and complex rhythms inspired by Indian music. The main theme is presented successively by the cello and the Erhu with slides and ornaments typical of Malay and Indian music, over the Zhongruan’s rhythmic groove in a pop guitar style.
The centrepiece is a five-part fugue – a type of intricate contrapuntal writing originating from the Baroque era in Western classical music, where melodic subjects and motifs interweave among the instruments, forming a kaleidoscopic texture. At the climactic conclusion of the fugue, the theme is presented at double, normal, half and quarter speed simultaneously.
The musicians then take turns to showcase fiery, virtuosic solos in the spirit of rock music. The reprise of the opening culminates in a grand finale that represents the Vanda Miss Joaquim blossoming into a cultural icon of Singapore.
This piece was composed in 2021 as a commission by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.