Chinese orchestra and string quartet to share stage

Melvyn Tan will be playing at the concert alongside the T’ang Quartet (above).
Melvyn Tan will be playing at the concert alongside the T’ang Quartet (above). PHOTOS: OLIVIER CRUCIATA, EOIN CAREY
Melvyn Tan (above) will be playing at the concert alongside the T’ang Quartet.
Melvyn Tan (above) will be playing at the concert alongside the T’ang Quartet.

The SCO and T'ang Quartet will perform two commissioned pieces which showcase both Western and traditional Chinese instruments

For years now, the T'ang Quartet and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) have been looking to perform together, but could never find the right material.

The orchestra's music director Yeh Tsung has since taken matters into his own hands. Last year, he commissioned two pieces composed specially for the string quartet and the SCO, which showcase the textures and timbres of both Western and traditional Chinese instruments.

These compositions will make their debut at the Homecoming II concert on Saturday, where the SCO will share the stage with Singapore's string quartet and pianist Melvyn Tan.

T'ang Quartet's first violinist Ng Yu-Ying, 48, says: "It's a project that the quartet and maestro have been wanting to do for quite a few years, but finding the right material to collaborate on was quite a task. Finally, maestro Yeh did his magic and commissioned two pieces specially for the Quartet and SCO."

It is the Chinese orchestra's first collaboration with a solo string quartet, says Yeh, who has been with the SCO for 14 years.

  • BOOK IT / HOMECOMING II

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Saturday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $30to $70 from Sistic

    INFO: Call 6349-555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg

One of the two compositions is Pastorale In Five Episodes, by China-born Zhu Lin. It will be performed by the quartet and the orchestra's wind and percussion ensemble.

The second is Fantastical Landscape Of Rainforest - Reflections Of Points And Lines by Chinese composer Gao Weijie, which the quartet will perform with the SCO's plucked strings and percussion ensemble.

Yeh, 65, says: "The tone quality of the string ensemble and Chinese instruments contrast with each other. But, at the same time, when they're performed together, they are complementary."

One of the challenges in this collaboration, says T'ang Quartet violist Lionel Tan, 52, is tuning, as Chinese instruments are far more sensitive, and fluctuate more in pitch than the quartet's Western ones.

Cellist Leslie Tan, 50, says: "Maestro's idea of pairing Western bowed instruments with Chinese plucked instruments was an interesting one. It was a great idea to pair opposing techniques to make a harmonic ideal."

Meanwhile, Singapore-born British pianist Melvyn Tan will perform French composer Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto In G Major, adapted for the Chinese orchestra by its composer-in-residence Law Wai Lun.

Tan, 59, says: "This particular piece of Ravel lends itself very well to the arrangement of the orchestral part for Chinese instruments, as the language of the music is actually quite Eastern, combining Chinese and other Asian elements which Ravel loved, and also incorporates jazz, that other love of his."

Saturday's concert is the second in an annual series that will see the SCO share the stage with Singapore musicians who have made a name for themselves abroad.

Yeh says: "These musicians have made a name for themselves, and I had the idea of bringing them back home so they can share their music both here and abroad."

Both the T'ang Quartet and Tan have worked up an international reputation for themselves, he adds.

Melvyn Tan, who moved to the United Kingdom at age 12, says: "In many ways, every concert I perform in Singapore is a kind of homecoming, but this one might be a special one in the sense that the combination of piano and Chinese orchestra will be a first for me."

And for the T'ang Quartet's Leslie Tan, homecoming in this case is a sense of returning to cultural roots.

"Even though Chinese music may seem more of an alien culture to us, it is nevertheless the traditional culture - together with Malay and Indian culture, of course - of Singapore," he says.

"It is the diaspora come home to its roots. And this is what we will be bringing to the stage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese orchestra and string quartet to share stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe