Monday, 18 July 2016

EXUBERANCE OF YOUTH / Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall
Saturday (16 July 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 July 2016 with the title "Impressive youth performance".

If one needed to gauge the level in which Singaporean youths applied themselves to the arts, there are worse ways than to attend a Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO) concert. Led by its Music Director Quek Ling Kiong, the standard displayed by players ranging from 11 to 26 years of age impressed, and the show of commitment was staggering. 

This sense of frisson was immediately felt in Kuan Nai-chung's The Sun, the rousing 1st movement from Millennium Of The Dragon Year. Beginning with a fanfare for suonas, solo percussionists Lim Rei and Nicholas Teo commanded the stage, hammering out rhythms on timpanis and a variety of drums. There were also quieter and lyrical moments when marimba and slung gongs were employed, culminating in a fugue for strings before a dramatic and rowdy finish.

The massed sound of suonas, woodwinds and strings created a festive atmosphere in young Taiwanese composer Wang I-Yu's Impressions On Bei Guan, a fantasy on a theme associated with the lunar new year. The Bei Guan, or northern reed, refers to suona music in all its guises, whether heard as a plaintive solo, an off-stage presence or a stentorian chorus ringing out loud and true at its climax. 

Princess Wencheng, written by a committee of three composers, was a virtuoso sheng concerto showcasing the clear and incisive tones of soloist Zhou Zhixuan. The work celebrated the union of Tang dynasty princess to Tibetan monarch Songtsen Gampo, but its music featured only one phrase simulating the Tibetan long horn. The eventful work which touted “friendly and cooperative relationship” between Han Chinese and Tibetans came across more like propaganda, a cover-up for brutal occupation of a sovereign state.

Almost as jingoistic was Liu Wen Jin's Brave Spirits Of The Slow Mountain featuring erhu soloist Low Likie who was equal to its technical and rhapsodic demands Here its three continuous movements commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Red Army's Long March, with musical references to the struggle, suffering and sacrifice of comrades through a procession of martial and heroic strains. 

Far more succinct was talented young Singaporean composer Benjamin Fung Chuntung's Variations On A Hainanese Folk Song, which conjured a pastoral air over which Zhe Gu Ti, a birdsong inspired theme, was heard on solo suona and later dizi. With further development, this could become a substantial work like Kodaly's Peacock Variations.

Closing the concert was Law Wai Lun's classic of Nanyang music, Prince Sang Nila Utama and Singa, based on the legends of Temasek. Indo-Malayan scales and themes were created for this lush tropical sea piece which at times hinted of Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloe. The orchestra cooked up a storm, placated by the Prince's relinquishing of his head-piece, and the sighting of the mythical lion closed the work on a raucous high.

For the encore, Guest-of-Honour Baey Yam Keng (Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth) was invited as guest percussionist for Ary Barroso's Aquarela do Brasil, which prompted a free-for-all on stage as the orchestra headily greeted the Rio Olympic Games to come.

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