Monday, 15 May 2017

A KISS FROM MUM / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
Saturday (13 May 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 May 2017 with the title "Tribute to Mum hits high notes".

Mother's Day is a fixture that probably benefits florists, gift-shops and restaurants most, more than the very people whom that entity was meant to celebrate. However cynical one might be, few would argue that the Singapore Chinese Orchestra has honed its annual Mother's Day Concert programme to a fine art. Tickets to all three of its Mother's Day Concerts held at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre spanking new auditorium had long been sold out.

SCO Resident Conductor Quek Ling Kiong was in his element as maestro and cheerleader-in-chief in the matinee attended mostly by senior citizens. The first half was wholly instrumental, opening with Gu Guan Ren's The Lovable Rose. This and Phang Kok Jun's A Kiss From Mum were based on pre-existing melodies, and both opened with fine dizi and gaohu solos from Yin Zhi Yang and concertmaster Li Bao Shun respectively.

There were two concertante works featuring SCO rank-and-file musicians as soloists. Shen Qin's erhu starred in Chen Yao Xing's A Song Dedicated To Mother, which began heartfelt and melancholic but took on lively strides by its conclusion.

Xu Hui on guzheng was more of an obbligato presence in Wang Jue's San Zi Jing (Three Character Classic), which had orchestra members chanting its familiar words which also exhorted mothers' role in moulding their children's moral compass. While Confucian in intention, the work took on a martial stance with movie-like music as it progressed.

The concert's second half was more contemporary and popular in appeal. Wang Jue's Medley of Sichuan Folksongs was performed by the 13-member SCO Pop Music Ensemble, which included drum-set, bongos and electric bass guitar alongside traditional instruments. One has not lived until one has heard Kangding Love Song in the rhythm of Dave Brubeck's Take Five.

The concert's highlight had to be the appearances of pop singers Lee Peifen and Hao Hao in the segment entitled I Really Love You – Songs Dedicated To Mothers. They enlivened the proceedings with youthful spunk, dialect-speaking and quickfire repartee with conductor Quek. The audience lapped it all up with keen relish.

Both had two solo songs each, in Mandarin and Hokkien. The locally-based Li, dressed in gaudy flower-themed gowns, was a livewire throughout. Her contrasted emotions in Mum in the Dream and Ka Ao (Wife) were immediately engaging. The Taiwanese Hao, sporting navy blue hair, was at home in Ah Ma Ei Wei (Grandmother's Words) and Han Jiang Xue (Frosty River Snow). For the latter, he sang falsetto, did a spot of female impersonation, and had listeners in stitches.

Together, the dynamic duo performed three songs including I Really Love You (mixing Cantonese and Mandarin) and finished off with Liang Wern Fook's xinyao classic Old Clothes Are Better Than New Ones. No further encouragement was needed for an encore, with Yang Yao Dong's catchy Mothers Of The World Are The Same clapped along by the full-house.     

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