Monday, 3 October 2011

FIESTA OF ANIMALS! / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
SCO Concert Hall
Saturday (1 October 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 October 2011 with the title "Suite animal fiesta delights".

Children’s concerts are part and parcel of a modern arts organisation’s outreach efforts to cultivate young listeners and nurture an audience for tomorrow. The Singapore Chinese Orchestra has followed the example of the Singapore Symphony by combining entertainment and education alongside “serious” music to engage newcomers.

Fiesta of Animals! was an one-hour treat which saw versatile SCO Associate Conductor Quek Ling Kiong (below) play the part of a Peter Moore (of SSO’s Babies Proms) combining directing, circus clown and ringmaster duties. While he lacked in girth and sheer cuddliness, he made up with a spontaneity that mixed Singlish and Mandarin to good effect. Always a good sport, stuffy he was not.

Through a well-chosen programme of Chinese and Western compositions, he introduced to his kiddie audience some of the basic elements of music: rhythm, pitch, tempo and dynamics. Liu Xing’s Animal Suites was the longest work, contrasting the energetic Arrogant Monkey with the ruminative Fantasising Panda. The unique timbres of Chinese instruments played their part, the dizi mimicking the Singing Parrot, while rhythmic winds and percussion reliving a yapping Dancing Pekinese.

Two duelling dizi, played by Zeng Zhi and Yin Zhi Yang, simulated a cockfight in a composition by Simon Kong Su Leong, while the whole orchestra engaged in the popular Horse Racing, in an arrangement by Qu Chun Quan. The herd of erhus did their bit of neighing and whinnying that coloured the work’s final bars.

Such a concert would not have been complete without Saint-SaĆ«ns’s Carnival of the Animals. Three movements were performed, with the deep organ-like sonority of the diyin sheng joining the double-basses for the Elephant, Xu Zhong’s sublime cello solo in The Swan, and tutti orchestra in the racing Finale. Through these, conductor Quek got the audience involved with playing shadow hand puppets.

With Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the issue of tempo was demonstrated, from the slow Andante (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) to a breakneck Presto (Russian Dance). An hour passed all too quickly, but that is about the maximum span of attention young ones are likely to stomach. One thing is certain, the enthused crowd and their families are likely to come back for more.

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