HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR CONCERT 2021
Ding Yi Music Company
China Cultural Centre
Saturday (27 February 2021)
An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 3 March 2021
There has been no live classical music during this Lunar New Year period, but trust Ding Yi Music Company to mount four sold-out concerts in the space of two evenings. The chamber outfit’s well-received programmes of festive fare at the China Cultural Centre have been de rigueur but after last year’s cancelled gigs, it rebounded with a vengeance.
Conducted by Dedric Wong De Li, the concert opened to the raucous strains of Li Bo Chan’s Festive Overture, where a celebratory dance of Central Asian flavour jostled for attention with a soothing serenade. This was followed by a procession of works based on popular Chinese oldies but updated to the present day.
Ding Yi composer-in-residence Phang Kok Jun dressed up Liangxiao in the blues, with Chia Wan Hua’s erhu accompanied by an ensemble with electronic keyboard, bass and drum-set. There was some improvisation in this Liangxiao Jazz Ballad before the sentimental number revved up its pace to close emphatically.
Sulwyn Lok’s Eternal Shanghai Divas was a medley in tribute to legendary chanteuses like Zhou Xuan and Bai Guang, with melodies Shanghai Nights, Rose Rose I Love You and Ja Jambo paraded quite unabashedly. Upping the ante was Eric Watson’s Hard Rock Fight, based on Li Minxiong’s A Well-Matched Fight, pitting Chinese and Western drums in a take-no-prisoners duel. Percussionists Low Yik Hang and Cheong Kah Yiong did the honours with smashing aplomb.
Quite different in mood was Qi Hao Di’s Tunes Of Zhejiang, a rhapsodic concertino for yangqin (Chinese dulcimer). Here, Tan Jie Qing’s mastery of rippling effects and piquant harmonies held sway in a substantial work that explored modernist idioms alongside the traditional.
It was no secret that singer-songwriter Nathan Hartono, Singapore’s star finalist of Sing! China 2016, was the big sell of the event with three songs. His own Insomnia began with a yawn and the trademark crooning that has made his name, in a Mandarin song that expressed his ennui in lockdown. Oozing charm from every pore, he made a cover of the Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love his own, while displaying wide emotional range in The Longest Movie, arranged by Edmund Song.
The finale was a poignant short film Yu Sheng Mo Yu (A Silent Toss) directed by Jet Ho with music by Yvonne Teo. Set in the HDB heartland, its premise was a celebration of “lohei” in pandemic times, about how tradition may transcend constraints of social distancing and health precautions in a socially responsible way. When cheers and salutations fall silent, kindness, considerations and good thoughts take over.
No seasonal concert would be complete without the obligatory CNY songs, and Hartono returned to lead the proceedings. However, there was to be no communal singing but simply clapping along to the familiar music made the day.
All photographs by the kind courtesy of Ding Yi Music Company.