Monday, 9 May 2016

A GIFT TO MUM / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall
Saturday (7 May 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 May 2016 with the title "A charming and nostalgic Mother's Day concert".

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra's annual Mother's Day Concert this year was not so much about motherhood than about the memories of childhood. Directed by Resident Conductor Quek Ling Kiong, the concert opened with Lullabies, a medley of familiar cradle songs orchestrated by Sim Boon Yew.

Schubert's Schlafe, Schlafe (Sleep, Sleep) and Brahms' Wiegenlied from the West were balanced by songs from Dongbei and Kyoto, the last featuring the Japanese shakuhachi, and this was incongruously followed by Five Little Monkeys On The Bed, which sounded all too flippant. More appropriate was Lo Leung Fei's Memories Of Youth which featured nostalgic child-like melodies, accompanied by a projected montage of baby photographs of SCO musicians and their families, which was a nice touch.

Two concertante works completed the first half, beginning with Gu Guan Ren's arrangement of Charms Of Jiangnan, with soloists Yin Zhi Yang (on qudi), Ling Hock Siang (erhu) and Xu Hui (guzheng). This was much like a Chinese concerto grosso, with each instrument having separate flourishes and joining the general ensemble for a grand finish.

The outright virtuoso concerto of the evening was Phoon Yew Tien's Rhapsody On Dinuhua for yangqin, based on a popular Cantonese operatic melody. Qu Jian Qing, its dedicatee, gave a spectacular performance, easily transcending the orchestral textures in her stirring runs, and also casting a ruminative spell in the work's slower and more reflective moments. This work deserves a place among the Yellow River and Butterfly Lovers of the Chinese canon.

The concert's second half had the feel of a pop concert, with dimmed lighting and flashing spotlights. Law Wai Lun's medley of six Luo Tayou popular songs constituted Love Song (2016), which employed a different solo instrument for each melody. Conductor Quek was also on hand to quiz members of the audience as to which instrument played a starring role.

The stage was now set for Singapore-born singer-songwriter Hanjin Tan, a pop icon presently based in Hong Kong, to charm the hearts of mothers. Boyish in appearance, laconic in humour (occasionally referring to himself in a third person), and possessing a Barry Manilow kind of crooning voice, he was a natural slayer of aunties.

His Mandopop ballads, Marry Me, Wo Men Dou You Cuo (Nobody's Perfect) and Yi Bu Yi Bu Ai (Love Step By Step) had a contemporary feel which would easily appeal to listeners younger than the concert's pioneer generation audience. That he could get a usually-reticent crowd to clap, respond and shout “encore” (with a little coercion) - no easy task - was a testament to his entertaining abilities.

Fearing for their safety, he spared the audience the need to stand for his final song, Zhan Qi Lai (Stand Up), which closed the programme on a high. Quek and the orchestra were not done yet, and a clap-along to the popular melody Tian Xia De Ma Ma Dou Yi Yang (Mothers Are All The Same) was indeed the perfect encore.


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