Monday, 26 May 2014



As an invited member of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s Artistic Committee, I was honoured and privileged to join the orchestra on its ten day concert tour of three cities in China. This was the SCO’s third tour of China (the last being in 2007) and a significant landmark in the orchestra’s short but august history.

In the small world of professional Chinese orchestras, the SCO is Southeast Asia’s only representative and prides itself with a unique instrumental sound and colour. Over the years, it had been developing and specialising in what has been described as “Nanyang music”, that is music by Southeast Asian and Singaporean composers, imbued with distinct aromatic flavours, idioms, styles and characteristics of the “South Seas”. This tour was a prime opportunity to showcase this repertoire in the “father and motherland” of Chinese instrumental music. But how would the “parents” respond?

Arriving at Pudong International Airport.

Day 1 (Friday, 16 May 2014)

We arrived safely in Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and bunk in the luxurious Huating Hotel & Tower, fresh with the anticipation of the mission at hand. The orchestra was boosted by the company of SCO Chairman Mr Patrick Lee, who had taken time off his incredibly busy schedule to provide moral support throughout the entire duration of the tour.

Composer Ho Chee Kong, cellist Qin Li-Wei
acknowledging the applause.

Day 2 (Saturday, 17 May 2014)

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s concert held at the Shanghai Concert Hall in People’s Square was part of the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. This was the first time a foreign Chinese orchestra has been invited to grace the prestigious festival. True to form, SCO under Music Director Tsung Yeh performed its most serious and uncompromising programme of the tour, highlighting the music of both contemporary local and Chinese composers. Yii Kah Hoe’s Buka Panggung, a ritualistic part of the traditional wayang kulit, opened the concert. Using Malay themes and drumming, it made startling contrasts with Ho Chee Kong’s Passage, which had Shanghai-born cellist Qin Li-Wei (now residing in Singapore) in the starring solo role, itself conceived as an elaborate and discursive prequel to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.  

Maestro Yeh Tsung in engaging
banter with the Shanghai audience.

Two Chinese composers, Ye Guo Hui and Wang Jian Min, were represented with their Late Autumn (a World Premiere) and Tribal Dance respectively. On a lighter note, Singapore-based British composer Eric Watson’s The Ceilidh (incorporating the popular folksong O Waly, Waly) and Kelly Tang’s jazz piano concerto Montage completed the ambitious show. In the latter, local jazz piano legend Jeremy Monteiro was at his most exuberant in the three-movement virtuoso vehicle. Maestro Yeh, himself a Shanghainese, also connected with his compatriots with friendly, warm-hearted banter, signing off with two encores. Old Shanghai, by Law Wai Lun, which relived the heady days and saxy nights of the 1930s. The Shanghai audience was clearly delighted and enthused.

All the Chairman's Men: (From L)
SCO Generam Manager Terence Ho, Maestro Yeh Tsung,
Chairman Mr Patrick Lee, Director Dr Ho Chee Kong,
Pianomaniac and SCO Resident Conductor Quek Ling Kiong. 
The Jade Buddha Temple (Yufoshi)

Day 3 (Sunday, 18 May 2014)

Today was a free day, with many of the players (some of whom are Shanghai natives) relaxing and visiting relatives and friends. Maestro Tsung Yeh had been staying with his 95-year-old mother who is still sprightly and active as a vocal teacher. For my part, I was invited to an authentic Shanghainese lunch by Singaporean friends residing here. More sightseeing included the Jade Buddha Temple, CD and DVD shopping, and luxuriating in the night lights of Yuyuan Bazaar, the Bund and Nanjing Road.

Colourful Pudong by night.

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