Tuesday, 7 March 2017

GREAT MASTERS OF CHINESE MUSIC / Ding Yi Music Company / Review

Ding Yi Music Company
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (5 March 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 March 2017 with the title "Pearls of wisdom from Great Masters".

Marking its 10th anniversary, Ding Yi Music Company invited four veteran Chinese instrumentalists to grace its annual gala concert, where they performed with the ensemble and played mentor to young local musicians. Singapore Chinese Orchestra Resident Conductor Quek Ling Kiong assumed dual roles of conductor and host, enlivening the proceedings with spur-of-the-moment remarks and jokes.

The 150-minute concert opened with Wang Dan Hong's Four Dreams of Plum Blossom, showcasing the ensemble's mettle in an impressionist score based on the Peony Pavilion saga. Then each of the four music-meisters took turns to perform solo and ensemble pieces, beginning with 76-year-old guan exponent Hu Zhi Hou.

A reed instrument with a timbre not unlike a saxophone, Hu's guan elicited a hauntingly beautiful tone, full of vibrato for Two Variations On Yang Guan. The audience held its collective breath, and applauded vociferously for his performance of Zhao Ji Ping's Silk Road Fantasia Suite with the ensemble, which wafted with the aromatic mystique of Xinjiang in China's Far West.

Tang Liang Xing's Sound Of Strings brought out the folk flavour of his pipa in a work that began slowly but got more animated as it progressed. His agility was matched by eight young players (winners at the 2016 National Chinese Music Competition) in a unison rendition of Wei Zhong Le's Spring Snowfall, where their synchronisation was close to perfect.

Erhu master Zhao Han Yang displayed utmost control and finesse in the rhapsodic Capriccio On Qin Qiang, a Northern Chinese melody accompanied by Yick Jue Ru on yangqin. This was contrasted with mellowness in Shanbei Cantabile, which sang of a more soft-spoken variety of heroism. With 13 younger erhu players, the outfit displayed virtuosity in Galloping in the Boundless Prairie, a close cousin of the famous showpiece Horse-Racing.

Li Zhen sported a Mongolian outfit, reflecting his formative years in Inner Mongolia, for his celebratory Daqing Mountains for dizi. He switched this for the fibreglass bass dizi in Longing Of The Grassland, where a deep and throaty tone waxed lyrical in a nostalgic pastorale. He and ten other players had a field day in Feng Zi Cun's Happy Gathering, where a corporate shrillness was exceeded by boundless enthusiasm.

Pearls of wisdom rolled from the lips of the experienced when asked about their personal philosophies. While most extolled the discipline of labour (“Practise, practise, practise” was a mantra), one emphasised an all-round education on understanding Chinese culture. Hu's secret was doing 400 push-ups a day!

Tang exhanged his pipa for an erhu to join Zhao in the famous Jiangnan Shizhu number Xing Jie (Walking The Streets), its ambling pace soon gathering speed for a delightful close. All four maestros converged for the final number, Hui (meaning “confluence” or “conference”), by Ding Yi composer-in-residence Phang Kok Jun. It was a short and undemanding piece with a memorable melody, which left both performers and audience happily sated.

Black and white photography by Andrew Bi, courtesy of Ding Yi Music Company.

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