Tuesday, 6 March 2018

HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR CONCERT 2018 / Ding Yi Music Company / Review

Ding Yi Music Company
China Cultural Centre Theatre
Sunday (4 March 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 March 2018 with the title "Chinese New Year spirit resonates at concert".

It is a few days past the official Chinese New Year period but the spirit lingered on in this festive Ding Yi Music Company concert conducted by Assistant Conductor Dedric Wong De Li. Neat symmetry distinguished its programming, as each half began with an instrumental prelude, followed by a concertante work before closing with vocal selections.

The concert began with See Chee Hang's The Battle Of The Snake And Bee, a fine showcase of counterpoint combining Nie Er's Wild Dance Of The Golden Snake and Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight Of The Bumble Bee. Both pieces were familiar, but whoever thought of bringing the hissing and buzzing together?

Ding Yi specialises in putting a new spin on Chinese classics, and this also transpired in the second half's opener, Gao Jia's jazzy arrangement of the Taiwanese favourite Ladies Of Alishan which had Desmond Soo and Fred Chan on erhus accompanied by double-bass, vibraphone and drums. 

A nod to the Chinese zodiac was found in Su Wen-Cheng's The Garden After Rain which was inspired by a downpour when the composer was playing with his canine pet. Soloist Kenny Chan on zhongruan cast a spell in its slow first half, which sounded much like Spanish guitar music.

At its climax, disaster struck when one of his strings snapped. He was fortunately prepared, as a spare ruan was whipped out for the fast and busier conclusion, thus avoiding a dog's breakfast and achieving a brilliant finale.    

There was a world premiere in Zhong Zhiyue's Metaphysical North with cellist Chee Jun Sian in three short connected movements. Over a morass of bleakness and scraping dissonance, the cello sang a plaintive song, its lyricism later morphing into tension and agitation in a closing shaman's wild dance.

The vocal segments were arguably the selling points for the sold-out pair of concerts. Classical singer He Cai Xia provided the rustic resonance to Folk Song, Spring River from the famous musical film Liu Sanjie. Her two other songs came from television dramas, Zhang Qian Yi's The Beautiful Tibetan Plateau (from The Road To Heaven) and Zhao Ji Ping's  Love From Afar (Qiao's Grand Courtyard), the passion of which tugged on the heart-strings.

Altogether different were the musings of jazz singer Joanna Dong, celebrated finalist of Sing! China, who provided a popular vibe. Love Tunes 1990 was initially dogged by a microphone malfunction during her entry but she maintained a coolness and composure that made the final version even more alluring.

Comfortable singing in both Mandarin and English, she alternated between languages and idioms effortlessly in Jay Chou's Simple Love and Jon Hendrick's I Want Your Love. Memorable too was her stock-in-trade wordless “trumpeting” which would have made Louis Armstrong proud. Her encore of Chinese New Year staple He Xin Nian was so jazzed up as to be almost unrecognisable and sexy to boot. Shopping in Chinatown will never be the same again.

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