NAFA Chinese Chamber Ensemble
Lee Foundation Theatre
4 February 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 February 2016 with the title "Ushering in Chinese New Year with raucous music".
As the beginning of a new lunar year draws ever close, one is readily reminded that much Chinese music heralding the onset of spring exists beyond the usual suspects. This 80-minute concert by the excellent Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Chinese Chamber Ensemble was a showcase of the Chinese orchestra's celebratory colours.
The first three works were led by Singapore Chinese Orchestra Resident Conductor Quek Ling Kiong, beginning with the ubiquitous Spring Festival Overture by Li Huan Zhi in Sim Boon Yew's arrangement. An elaborate display by the drumming section ushered in the furiously-paced opening that did not let up until its lyrical second subject heard on solo sheng.
Equally busy and raucous was Peng Xiu Wen's Lantern Festival, which depicts the feeling of anticipation on New Year's Eve. Xuonas, de facto brass of the ensemble, led the way through its gaudily lit procession to a rowdy conclusion.
The sole concertante work featured elegant young guzheng virtuoso Yvonne Tay, winner of numerous awards and prizes, in Zhou Yu Guo's Robe Of Clouds. This is a rhapsodic piece which begins with an evocative slow segment, almost impressionist in its narrative, before taking off in a fast leaping dance.
This culminated in a showy cadenza exhibiting the full gamut of the plucked instrument's sonorities, which
Tay brilliantly explored to
best possible effect. This undergraduate, Principal Guzheng in the Ding Yi Music Company, augurs a bright future for
Chinese instrumental music in . Singapore
The same could be said about young conductor Moses Gay who helmed the balance of the concert. His casual stage demeanour belied a serious musician who had something vital to say. Lo Leung Fai's Spring was perhaps the most eclectic work on show, its pivot being a big tune that sounded like a variation of the familiar Molihua.
Accompanying figures that resembled those in the
musical Les Miserables and a finale
whose theme reminded one of Dvorak's American
Quartet were probably coincidental, but the end result was the same – jolly good fun for all concerned. Wang
Fu-Jian's arrangement of A Moonlit Night
On The Spring River, sensitively played, provided genuine reflective
moments before all of old Middle Road broke loose.
Ten singers in festive costumes fronted the Spring Festival Medley which erupted with popular seasonal favourites Da Di Hui Chun, Ying Chun Hua and the inevitable Gong Xi Gong Xi Ni. The hapless nightclub-like arrangement paid nil regard to harmonic subtleties, instead letting the lucky percussionist on the drum-set go to town on a rampage.
Conductor Gay cheekily quipped that an encore would be played “whether you like it or not” and that turned out to be the cheerful Hua Hao Yue Yuan (Beautiful Flowers, Full Moon), which saw synchronised clapping from the audience. In the tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic, the performers hollered a hearty “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, and there can be no more auspicious greeting than that.