Monday 7 August 2017

DING YI'S 10TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT / Ding Yi Music Company / Review

Ding Yi Music Company
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (5 August 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 August 2017 with the title "Grand celebration".

In the short ten years that Ding Yi Music Company has existed, the ever-resourceful Chinese chamber ensemble has never been content with just playing the classics. In its book, music is not a relic to be admired behind plate-glass, but rather a living and evolving organism that continues to challenge and surprise.

For its 10th anniversary, ten new works by ten composers based in Singapore and China received  either World Premieres or first Singapore performances. Conducted by Quek Ling Kiong and Dedric Wong, the concert opened with Phoon Yew Tien's Homeward Bound, a fantasy on Zubir Said's once-popular Children's Day song Semoga Bahagia. The song was never quoted in full, but its deconstruction provided whiffs of nostalgia for the alert listener.

Several of Ding Yi's players were put under the solo spotlight, beginning with Fred Chan (huqin) and Soh Swee Kiat (sheng) in Liong Kit Yeng's Far, Far Away: Wandering Deities. This was another fantasy, one which imagined Chinese mythological gods meeting, clashing and resolving their differences to modern harmonic progressions.

Chee Jun Hong was the impressive double bass soloist in Eric Watson's Building The Rainbow Bridge, a lively depiction of the famous Qingming scroll painting of Tang Dynasty Kaifeng. His mastery included crafting deep sonorous voices, ethereal harmonics and an agile cadenza to close.      

In Sim Boon Yew's Impressions Of Xiang Tunes, melodies from Fujian operas were given a modern and Latin-flavoured update. Liu Chang's Steering Your Own Destiny made more sense in its Chinese title Chen Feng Puo Lang, which describes a ship harnessing the wind to break through the waves. It was a metaphor for Ding Yi's artistic struggle, well-portrayed in its tempestuous pages with brilliant percussion bookending a plaintive pipa solo in its central section.

The concert's second half was lighter, with works taking on more contemporary and popular slants. Liu Qing's Yarkand Over The Strings featured two percussionists Low Yik Hang and Derek Koh. Recounting Uighur Queen Amannisa's invention of the muqam musical form, it culminated with a jazzy vibraphone solo from Koh which relived the groovy Sixties.

In Wang Chenwei's Ruan Kebyar, Jonathan Ngeow's ruan was prepared so as to make its plucking sound like the clangour of gamelans, aided by a battery of similar orchestral effects. Its Balinese tune later gained in pace to become a fast minimalist pop song. Yuan Peiying's Song had Yvonne Tay's guzheng as skilful protagonist in the fanciful transmogrification of a Chopin Nocturne (Op.48 No.2).     

The variety of compositions showcased the ensemble's virtuosity and versatility, and there was never a dull moment. Even in Liew Kong Meng's Hymn Of The Spring Wind, the only slow and quiet work on show, the level of concentration never flagged. The two-hour-long concert closed with Composer-in-Residence Phang Kok Jun's Ten Years A Minute, a feel-good work that steadily built in confidence from a diffident start. Its moral was obvious: Practice makes perfect!   

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