Monday, 14 January 2013

RHAPSODIES OF SPRING 2013 / Singapore Chinese Orchestra/ Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall
Friday (11 January 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 January 2013 with the title "Casual air at SCO concert with DJs in the mix".

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s first concerts of the calendar year often coincide with the Lunar New Year and the celebration of spring. Like the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Concerts which closed the preceding year, they are jolly and light hearted affairs. Conducted by Music Director Yeh Tsung, semi-serious music was mixed with the popular and downright frivolous.

The opener, Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture, is so familiar that it even appears in the SSO’s latest CD of popular classics alongside Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Raucous and rowdy, the percussion section had to work overtime but there were moments for a lovely sheng solo to stand above the hustle bustle. As a tribute to the coming year of the snake, Nie Er’s brief Jin She Kuang Wu (Wild Dance of the Golden Snake) did not slither or strike but displayed some energetic dragon-like feints.

The involvement of eleven deejays from the Chinese-speaking radio station UFM 100.3 gave the concert the casual air of televised variety shows so loved by heartlanders. There was a finger-snapping Mandarin rap An Exceptional New Year Song that played on the ubiquitous New Year greeting Gong Xi Gong Xi.

The comedy team then acted and sang New Legend of Madame White Snake, updated to 21st century Singapore to include Hokkien, Singlish, product placement, cross-dressing and a sly dig on our stressful modern lifestyles. The totally irreverent reboot of an old tale centred on the romance of Xu Xian and the eponymous heroine, which almost foundered on that typically Singaporean malady – subfertility.

A new look at the Legend of Madame White Snake, updated to 21st century Singapore.

After the interval, jazz drummer Tama Goh ad-libbed in the spiced-up Cantonese classic Han Tian Lei (Thunder Storm and Drought) while two suona masters Jin Shi Yi and Liu Jiang (above) had a virtuosic pas de deux in Huan Tian Xi Di (Exuberance). Jin’s stunning reed technique which approximated Donald Duck in falsetto brought out the most cheers from a startled audience.

Less impressive was Begin’s Accompany Me to See the Sunrise, sung in unison by two lady deejays accompanied by their colleagues on four ukuleles. Popular Malaysian singer-songwriter Wu Jiahui (below) then crooned three sentimental songs Although I’m Willing, Do You Love Me? and One Half.  The last was the Hokkien theme song of the Royston Tan getai movie 881, also sung by the personable Wu himself.    

Like the Christmas Concerts, there was an audience sing-along, which resulted in a rather tepid clap-along instead. Whether audiences at SCO concerts are more reticent, or because the lyrics to Chinese New Year standards such as Da Di Hui Chun (Spring Returns), Bai Nian (New Year Greetings) and Gong Xi Gong Xi Ni are so banal as to render them speechless, it was difficult to say. 

The longest autograph line in town!

Here is one Straits Times reader's response to the concert and review, published on 19 January 2013 in the Weekend Mailbag letters page.

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