Monday, 21 July 2014

MUSICAL LANDSCAPES FOR ALL SEASONS / Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall
Saturday (19 July 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 July 2014 with the title "The future of Chinese orchestra is fine".

The Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO) is the junior wing of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), formed by young musicians from the age of 11 to 26. A national project of excellence, it serves as a feeder for the main orchestra besides playing an important role in furthering Chinese instrumental music among the young in Singapore.

Led by Quek Ling Kiong and Moses Gay, both conductors of the SCO, its annual concert was an impressive showcase of solo and ensemble virtuosity that bodes well for the future. The 2-hour long programme began with World Premiere of Liu Qing’s Puppet Show.

Ever the enthusiastic proselytiser, SCO Resident Conductor Quek introduced the important elements of the work, including plucked strings simulating percussion and bowed strings portraying the human aspects of the ancient art-form of puppetry. Concertmaster Huang Yiheng’s gaohu solo also accurately characterised the gingerly steps taken by a novice monk who takes a tumble in this vigorous and engaging piece of musical storytelling.

Leanne Ong Teck Lian was the Chinese language
narrator in Phoon's Chinese Music for All Seasons.

Phoon Yew Tien’s Chinese Music for All Seasons was an ideal vehicle to introduce a brief history of Chinese orchestral music. Within its short 15 minute span, the work covered Chinese music’s humble roots from homophonic and unison instrumental music, through simple ensemble groups to the complex symphonic organisation of the modern Chinese orchestra. In describing a rapidly metamorphosing genre, its colourful canvas included melodies like Sceneries of Wuxi, Coloured Clouds Chasing the Moon and Tune of the Bamboo Flute.

SCO Assistant Conductor-in-Residence Gay conducted three works highlighting different sections of the orchestra. Plucked strings – the pipa, liuqin, ruan and double bass – featured in a suite of three popular songs from Chinese Sights and Sounds by Bao Yuan Kai, a serenade for strings that resembled those Russian balalaika ensemble works of old.

Reflections of the Moon on Erquan by legendary blind erhu exponent Ah Bing brought out a beautiful svelte sonority from bowed huqin strings. It was a nice gesture of conductor Gay to highlight the contribution of young visually-impaired erhu player Stephanie Ow at the end of the piece. Charms of Xiangxi, by a committee of three composers Wang Zhi, Lin Zhen Gui and Yang Nai Lin, was an exuberant show of percussion prowess (below) and full orchestral forces.

To close, Quek returned to conduct Chen Ning-chi’s Romance of the Old Capital, a 1984 symphonic poem that recounted a traveller’s eventful journey on the Old Silk Road. Roy Yuen’s solo guzheng opened this rhapsodic work which took on an exotic melange of Central Asian themes before reaching a rowdy climax with a brassy chorus of suonas bursting forth (below).

Its quiet ending with the return of the guzheng heralded a tumultuous applause. The ending of Liu’s Puppet Show, this time punctuated with scored chanting, was delivered as an exuberant encore. The future of Chinese instrumental music in Singapore is in good hands.

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