ELEGANT MUSIC SOCIETY OF
Ding Yi Chinese Chamber Music Festival
Esplanade Recital Studio
25 October 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 October 2015 with the title "Fine Chinese chamber music".
The Ding Yi Chinese Chamber Music Festival has become a regular annual fixture of the cultural calendar, attracting enthusiastic audiences to its concerts by international chamber groups from
and China . This year's offerings
was wrapped up by the aptly named Elegant Music Society of Shanghai Chinese
Orchestra, an elite chamber ensemble of the famed Chinese institution. Taiwan
The five-person group specialises in the genre known as Jiangnan Shizhu, literally silk and bamboo music, which involves string and blown instruments. Typically these are the bowed erhu, plucked pipa and ruan, dizi or xiao (bamboo flutes), accompanied by the struck yangqin (Chinese dulcimer). Many consider this chamber music the true essence of Chinese music, far removed from massive Chinese symphonic orchestral forces.
Ancient tunes handed through the centuries by oral tradition featured in this concert including Blossoms On Spring Moonlit Night and Song Of The Bamboo Robes, where the melodic line is shared by Duan Ai-ai's erhu, Jin Kai's xiao (transverse flute) and Yu Bing's pipa, and mostly unadorned, with Xia Qing's ruan and Yu Xiaona's yangqin providing added textures. Heterophony (different instruments playing the same melody) rules in place of the polyphony that is sine qua non in Western chamber music.
There is much beauty in the music's simplicity and clarity of lines, which never sounds cluttered or overly busy. One of Jiangnan music's greatest hits was included in the concert: Xing Jie (Walking The Streets), which opened in an ambling pace, before taking off in quick steps for a fluid finish.
As musical traditions evolved and Chinese composers became exposed to the West, certain techniques were imbibed and assimilated. Some of these could be found in living composer Gu Guanren's rhapsodic Flavours Of Jiangnan, which sounded more contemporary in character and feel.
There was a solo segment that showcased the individual player's virtuosity. Zhao Songting's arrangement of Flying Partridges found dizi player Jin in fine fettle, luxuriating in long-held trills and fast passages of Paganinian fiendishness. Duan's solidly-honed huqin tone in blind composer Hua Yanjun's contemplative The Moon Reflected in Erquan was rare thing of beauty.
The festival's host ensemble Ding Yi Music Company added Gu Guanren's The Beautiful Jiangnan as if to highlight the differences between small and larger groups, but that was merely the prelude to the World Premiere of Lu Pei's Divertimento. Specially commissioned for this festival, the 12-part work saw players of Ding Yi joined by the Shanghai Elegants conducted by Quek Ling Kiong.
In this witty old-meets-new composition, pentatonic melodies were subjected to rapid tempo changes, the polyphony of the Javanese gamelan and the intriguing patchwork that is 20th century minimalism. Despite its tricky idiom and technical challenges, the merry band of virtuosos pulled off its intricacies with much polish and aplomb. Whoever said that Chinese instrumental music had to be lao gudong, or antiquated?
Photographs by the kind permission of Ding Yi Music Company.