Thursday, 20 December 2012


Ding Yi Music Company with I-Sis Trio
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tuesday (18 December 2012)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 December 2012 with the title "Bold explorations".
There are several qualities that unite the Ding Yi Music Company with its senior counterpart the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, one of which is its zeal to collaborate with musicians from different cultures. The I-Sis Trio, comprising harpist Katryna Tan, violinist Cindy Yan and cellist Natasha Liu, was its latest guest in a 90-minute long exploration of widely disparate musical idioms.
Each soloist performed separately with the ensemble of Chinese instruments, conducted by Quek Ling Kiong, beginning with Tan’s own Water Dance which juxtaposed dissonances with lyricism. Although inspired by the popular Chinese tune Flowing Water, Tan’s score also paid heed to the rugged landscapes and rocky outcrops through which streams flowed, which accounted for its seemingly uncompromising modernism.
Yan and Liu’s individual solos were more conventional, the former in the familiar Fishing Boats at Dusk with its slow-fast rhapsodic schema, and the latter in Liu Zhuang’s Romanza based on a Xinjiang folksong, a Central Asian-flavoured elegy that could have come from the pen of a Russian composer. Close your eyes, and the ensemble’s plucked pipas and ruans sounded like balalaikas.
The trio then performed Reminisce by young Singaporean composer and arranger Phang Kok Jun, also a zhonghu player of Ding Yi. This is one of those unremittingly lush pieces the melody of which lingers on long after the work has ended.
All three were joined by the sheng and percussion for Jia Da Qun’s The Prospect of Coloured Desert, an atonal work even thornier than Water Dance. The sonorities of this instrumental combination were however most interesting, the gentle throbbing marimba and harp sharply contrasted with more penetrating tones from the sheng and bowed strings.  
By now, the audience had its fill of contemporary music, and the mood lightened considerably for Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel and Lecuona’s Malaguena, Latino standards of the I-Sis repertoire. The supporting orchestrations by Lu Heng and Wynne Fung respectively were subtle, the presence of the Chinese instruments coming to bear strongly only during their climaxes.
There was a bizarre-sounding Variations on Jingle Bells in a gamut of rhythmic styles, including a waltz, swing, rock and roll, which called for the obligatory audience clap-along. This left an odd taste in the mouth, like cheese-coated durian pastries. All was forgiven when Piazzolla’s vibrant Libertango was offered as an encore, which worked like a charm and sent everyone home with a kick in the step.

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