Monday, 29 April 2019

HOMECOMING III / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall
Saturday (27 April 2019)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 April 2019 with the title "Rousing finale for SCO's Homecoming concert".

Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s Homecoming series of concerts is a showcase of local musical talents who have established international careers, mostly while plying their artistry overseas. Past editions have included pianist Melvyn Tan, violinist Kam Ning, wind soloists Kwok Chin-chye and Choo Boon Chong, and the T’ang Quartet. This latest concert conducted by Yeh Tsung featured three SCO percussionists and America-based violinist Siow Lee-Chin as soloists.

There were two major concertante works by Singaporean composer Ho Chee Kong, Head of Composition at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Both works integrated solo parts so well into the orchestral fabric that these could be considered symphonic poems rather than actual concertos. The Way Of Play (2005) saw percussionists Xu Fan, Tan Loke Chuah and Benjamin Boo placed behind the orchestra but they generated enough volume and pulse to drive this work of extreme energy.

There was also a pan-Asian air to its palette of symphonic colours, leaving one to wonder whether the inspirations were Japanese, Javanese or from Jiangnan. Notions of temple and courtly rituals were conjured, but it was when conductor Yeh stepped off the podium to admire the threesome’s cadenza that one realised this was actually a virtuoso’s paradise.

More Chinese in feel was There And Back, a double concerto receiving its World Premiere by Siow and cellist Qin Li-Wei. Here, Ho crafted an atmospheric and cinematic score that evoked the rigours of a journey through China’s vast loess plateau. Siow’s ethereal violin opened the slow introduction, answered by Qin’s mellower and deeper plaint.

Before long, soloists and orchestra were swept into a rugged but exhilarating dance of the steppes. The most poignant moments transpired when the lights were further dimmed, revealing only Siow and Qin in an intimate duet, one of rapt stillness and seeming finality for the ages. This new work deserves to be heard in SCO’s future overseas tours.

Tagged on after the intermission were two solo works with Siow. Despite the obvious show of bravura, Henryk Wieniawski’s famous Polonaise in D major sounded unwieldy in its guise with Chinese orchestral accompaniment. Much better was Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita, with Siow’s flowing lyricism backed by shimmering huqins in Phang Kok Jun’s excellent arrangement.

The balance of the concert was a extroverted display of the Chinese orchestra’s wealth of instrumental colours and textures. Liu Qing’s Puppetry, which began the evening, was finely balanced between modernity and tradition. Concertmaster Li Bao Shun’s jinghu solo, like some suspended character from puppet theatre, served as a focal point.    

Zhao Ji Ping’s Homeland Nostalgia from Silk Road Melody was Debussyan in mood, with Zhao Jianhua’s erhu as protagonist while including the popular melody Chai Yun Zhui Yue (Colourful Clouds Chasing The Moon) as one of its motifs. Wang Danhong’s eclectic Macau Capriccio, more Western (with ideas from Tchaikovsky and Dave Brubeck) than oriental in feel, closed the evening on a rowdy note.   

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