Tuesday, 15 February 2011

KIT CHAN My Musical Journey / Review

with Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (13 February 2011)

About 12 years ago, the then-Chairman of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra made the claim that the all-inclusive SSO would eschew avant-garde music and go light, by collaborating with pop singers like Kit Chan in concert. There was an outing in 2000 called “SSO Goes Pop!” with the likes of Tanya Chua and Mavis Hee (who?), which was a colossal flop, and there have been no more such crossover acts ever since. The failure of that concert was largely due to the fact that the orchestra had little to contribute other than less-than-high-class accompaniment in mostly Chinese pop songs that were totally forgettable. A five piece band would have sufficed.

Other than Kit Chan learning German for Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs or singing Mahler’s Das Lied von Der Erde in Cantonese, there is absolutely no chance of “Kit Chan and the SSO” ever taking place. Kit Chan with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, however, has filled the Esplanade for two sold-out evenings, and appears to be a far more promising union.

First, the 85-minute gig had some form to it. Conceived in five movements, each representing some phase in the pop icon’s musical career and containing from two to four songs, there was something Mahlerian about it. There was narration in Mandarin, by ex-radio DJ and scriptwriter Danny Yeo, seated high up on stage behind what looked like a SISTIC ticketing and information counter. The concert was conducted by SCO Music Director Tsung Yeh, no less, who did not mind having someone placed on a higher podium than himself.

Second, the orchestra had ample opportunity of parading its prowess, although it may have been in music of a Hollywood-slant, arranged by Law Wai Lun, parts of which emulated Mantovani’s cascading strings. There was an orchestral prologue, the choir (from Meridian Junior College) and pipe organ was illuminated, and out stepped from the gallery Chen Jieyi (to borrow her hanyu pinyin name) herself. It wasn’t exactly a grand entrance, but it did not get in the way of the music.

The first song was the hymn Amazing Grace (reflecting her Christian faith?), followed by Something Good (The Sound of Music) and her original composition Mr Turner, all in an American-accented English. This first movement was entitled The Early Days – Wonder Years, but I’ve still got no idea who Mr Turner is (the only one I know was married to Jane Fonda last century).

Movement II: Break Through was more substantial, with four Mandarin songs, and she was coming into her own. The first two, Xi Huan Ni (Liking You) and Dan Xin (Worry) were by Liang Wern Fook, Cultural Medallion winner and pioneer of xinyao, the brand of Singapore Chinese (invariably Mandarin) pop known for its easy mellifluousness. Two further songs Ba He (Tug of War) and Xin Tong (Heartache) completed the suite. The last was particularly poignant, that being the single hit that launched her career in the Chinese-speaking world.

Now this would probably sound redundant, but Kit Chan has the perfect voice for Mandopop. Her very clear diction, perfect pronunciation and ability to emote with the words has made her a legend of sorts, and rightly so. She still upholds a relatively wholesome persona (for pop stars that is), with none of those scandalous asides which the tabloids clearly wallow in.

The SCO provided some lovely moments in the interlude, notably by Zhao Jianhua’s erhu accompanied by Ma Xiao Lan’s harp. Han Lei’s sax-like guanzi had a few seconds, which were pitifully all too short. Then the diva emerged in a white top and flowing red skirt for the third movement Flying High. All this comes across very self-congratulatory, especially from a narration which began to sound pedantic (“At 8, she did… At 13, she was… At 20, she had… et cetera). However, she never struck one as that, instead coming across as outwardly modest and self-effacing. She addressed the maestro and arranger as laoshi (teacher), all very polite and Confucian.

The next song Waiting, sung in Cantonese, brought out the cheers as it was from the musical Snow.Wolf.Lake by Dick Lee. She was truly in her element by then, and so crooned Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart), the most popular Chinese wedding song ever. If only those brides (and bridegrooms) could sing like this. Popular local songwriter Jimmy Ye then appeared on the piano to accompany Chen Xiao Juan’s Dazzling and Kit’s own Dong De (Understand). For the latter, she sang seated (So that’s what the garden swing was for.)

The fourth movement was titled The Turning Point – Journey of Discovery, prefaced by her contemplation of retirement, with the enigmatic “I also found the love of my life”. Of whom or what that may be was not elaborated upon. (According to official sources, the 39-year-old has a long-time banker boyfriend in tow.) By the way, there was also an interesting number that was accompanied by a group of ruan, plucked instruments which resembled a guitar quartet.

The finale Coming Home was greeted by a wind fanfare, heralding Kit Chan’s return to the concert stage after a six year hiatus (which included a 19-month stint as a corporate stuffed suit in a public relations firm). “Kit Chan is back!” announced the narrator gleefully as she sang another song in Cantonese and finally the National Day Parade favourite Home by Dick Lee. Even if Richard Lee Peng Boon had written nothing else but this number, his fame would have been assured. This was sung in Mandarin, and as an encore in English with the audience singing along.

Home was where Kit Chan wants to be, and she exhorted the cheering audience to do likewise. At the end of the day, one may ask, “Who is Kit Chan?” I am none the wiser. If this concert was a success, could Ho Yeow Sun and Stefanie Sun be next?
Huayi Chinese Festival was organised by Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. Photographs courtesy of Esplanade Theatres on the Bay.

1 comment:

vintage said...

Mavis Hee is a local singer who made it bigger than Kit Chan overseas.