Monday, 11 December 2017

HITS OF CHINESE MUSIC I: WOODWINDS / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium
Friday (8 December 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 December 2017 with the title "A night where wind instruments shone".

This was an evening of oldies but goodies, familiar favourites which everybody wants to hear again. This took the form of arrangements for solo Chinese wind instruments, nine which featured twelve players of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra: five on dizi, four suona, two sheng and one guanzi.

All of the soloists were consummate virtuosos, bringing a wealth of experience and technical prowess to each piece. Even the non-concertante works, such as Xu Jing Qing's Flowers Blooming Everywhere, which opened the concert conducted by Yeh Tsung, had important moments for dizis and suonas to shine.

Such a programme necessitated that the works performed be short, but there was no shortage of quality. Tan Mizi's Beautiful Jiangnan, arranged by Sim Boon Yew, featured Zeng Zhi, Tan Chye Tiong and Phang Thean Siong on three dizis accompanied by a small ensemble. The flavour of Jiangnan shizhu, traditional chamber music of Suzhou, pervaded this charming work.

The orchestra's wind principals had plum roles, such as suona master Jin Shi Yi (above) in the Minnan-influenced Community Celebration by Ge Li Dao and Yi Kai Xian, and dizi exponent Yin Zhi Yang (below) in the very familiar Journey To Gusu by Jiang Xian Wei in an arrangement by Simon Kong. Both were rhapsodic works which alternated between fast and slow sections, thus displaying contrasting facets of their technique and artistry.

Guanzi principal Han Lei, sporting a gaudy Santa-red blazer (below), had paradoxically the most unremittingly sorrowful work on show, drawing a cathartic veil over the Northeast Chinese folksong Tears Of The River, also orchestrated by Sim. Its story was of a woman who went in search for her dead husband, but in vain as all she heard were sobs from a flowing river.

Far more cheerful were solos by Liu Jiang (suona), Lim Sin Yeo (dizi), Kevin Cheng and Guo Chang Shuo (sheng), who had just as demanding tasks to fulfil. These included tricky articulations and stretches requiring prolonged breaths, which were overcome with consummate ease.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of solo wind playing was the mimicry of birds, accomplished to a tee by Chang Le and Meng Jie on two suonas (above) in the famous Shandong melody Hundreds Of Birds Adoring A Phoenix, which took on a modernistic look in Simon Kong's arrangement. Both suonas approached from opposite side of the hall, and converged for a blow-for-blow duel in a comedic act which had the audience in stitches.

The concert closed with the full orchestra in three movements from Jing Jian Shu's Amorous Feelings For The Yellow River. Two solo dizis dominated the central movement, Ever-Flowing Waters, and the finale By The Fire saw dizis and suonas in full blast, dancing to the raucous beat of percussion. Prolonged applause prompted an encore in the popular Hua Hao Yue Yuan, which drew a rare standing ovation from an appreciative audience. 

Photographs by the kind courtesy of Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

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