Monday, 8 November 2010


Silk Road Odyssey
Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (6 November 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 November 2010.

At the closing gala of the Singapore Sun Festival, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra led by Yeh Tsung performed a typically East Meets West programme. Bartok’s Romanian Dances opened on a spirited high. Folk music translates well for Chinese instrumentation, with the ruan, dizi and erhu sounding totally idiomatic in their solo passages.

Moving eastward, Zhao Jiping’s Silk Road Fantasia Suite featured an unusual collaboration with Chinese sand artist Ruan Yun Ting, whose work was projected on screen in real-time. From a blizzard of sand, images of a distant fort, gnarled trees, wind-beaten paths and a camel caravan soon came into view.

With gently sprinkles, broad finger strokes and sweep of the hand, visions came and went. A peacock’s plumage was transformed into dancing dervishes, accompanied by music of Central Asian flavour and Han Lei’s superb guanzi, alternating between sounding like a saxophone and Klezmer clarinet.

Less successful was the partnership with young Korean-American violinist Rachel Lee. Despite perfect intonation, her violin projected a small sound, barely registering above the orchestra for Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons and Saint-Saens’ Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso. The arrangements did not add anything new, although an erhu soloist would have been far more interesting.
A masterstroke of programming paired a Chinese pipa concerto with a Spanish guitar concerto. Tang Jian Ping’s Spring and Autumn was arguably the more interesting work. Percussion outbursts and the pipa’s stormy entry indicated that this was not about the seasons but a turbulent period of Chinese history (Chun Qiu Shi Dai).

Both violent and meditative in turn, SCO Principal Yu Jia’s pipa played both agent provocateur and peaceable mediator, baiting and calming the orchestra at every turn of this colourfully scored masterpiece. It was a pity that the audience was so parsimonious with its applause that it abruptly ended before soloist and conductor left the stage.

More fortunate was Montenegrin guitarist Milos Karadaglic who starred in Joaquin Rodrigo’s popular Concierto de Aranjuez. Sympathetically accompanied, one did not miss the western orchestra and the famous slow movement’s cor anglais solo, now played by the organ-like blown sheng. His complete mastery of the instrument was rewarded with one curtain call and one encore in Tarrega’s Lagrima.

Audiences for Chinese orchestral music could learn to applaud more unreservedly. The artists on stage deserve to know that they are being appreciated.

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