Monday, 1 February 2016

RHAPSODIES OF SPRING 2016 / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
The Star Theatre
Saturday (30 January 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 February 2016

Rhapsodies Of Spring is the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's way of celebrating the Lunar New Year in concert, and for the first time it performed in the massive arena that is The Star Theatre. As with previous editions, the concert took on the form of a variety show, and who better to host it than well-known local television personality Marcus Chin (Chen Jian Bin), emcee of the popular Golden Age Talentime?

He and conductor Yeh Tsung displayed good chemistry in their playful banter in Mandarin, peppered with a few English phrases, which most centred around how busy they were and how young each other looked. There were no skits from radio personalities this year but more music, which began with Li Huan Zhi's Spring Festival Overture.

This familiar work was accompanied by visuals of the orchestra projected on a giant screen behind the stage, which focused on groups of soloists. This was soon overtaken by the entrance of the 9-member ZingO Festival Drum Group which raised a racket that was wholly appropriate for the occasion. Its synchronised drumming in Soar and Xu Chang Jun's Dragon Dance was an impressive show of precision and togetherness.

The first half was otherwise the Marcus Chin show, who had no less than four costume changes and enthralled the aunties with his crooning in the Nostalgic Song Medley (arranged by Tan Kah Yong) and Mix Match Song Medley (Phang Kok Jun). He does not have an operatic voice for songs like Man Chang Fei, Azaleas Bloom, Yue Qin and The Traveller With A Bamboo Pole, but his tenor comfortably scaled the heights with oodles of personality and some epileptic dancing.

The Chinese Folksong Medley curiously included a Russian song, Under The Shimmering Moonlight (but sung in Mandarin) and concluded with Radiant With Joy, rendered in an authentic Sichuan accent. Then the concert took on the feel of a typical episode from Saturday Night Live. With the lights dimmed, the main orchestra dispersed leaving behind the 16-strong SCO Pop Ensemble, which resembled and played like a jazz combo.

TV Golden Medley (arranged by Law Wai Lun) revived melodies like Striving (from the early local serial The Awakening), Good Morning, Sir! and  Kopi O. Suona Principal Jin Shi Yi had a field day with his assorted reeds in the Taiwanese song Tian Hei Hei, alternating between jazzy riffs and Donald Duck imitations. Not to be outdone was Han Lei on guanzi in Beijing jazz pianist Kong Hong Wei's Summer Palace, with a stirring display that brought on loud cheers.

The 2-hour concert concluded with bidding farewell to the Year of the Goat and ushering the Year of the Monkey. Wang Li Ping's Shepherd Song gave way to Xu Jing Qing's Gan Wen Lu Zai He Fang from Journey To The West, which saw Chin imitating the moves of Sun Wu Kong (Monkey God). Joined by four ladies in gaudy red, a motley Chinese version of Solid Gold Dancers, the glittery ensemble got the audience singing and clapping along to Sim Boon Yew's Spring Suite VI.

Has there been that many Chinese New Year songs in circulation? The Singapore Chinese Orchestra under Yeh Tsung has played them all. 

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