Showcase of Nanyang music

REVIEW / CONCERT

NANYANG IMPRESSIONS

Singapore Chinese Orchestra & Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Chinese Orchestra

Lee Foundation Theatre

Wednesday Chang Tou Liang

Nanyang music by nomenclature is a new genre, coined by Yeh Tsung and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO). It had an official inauguration in 2006 with the First Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition.

But Nanyang music has always existed as indigenous music of South-east Asia or works of local composers. Nonetheless, the notion of incorporating South-east Asian elements in Chinese instrumental music has taken root, becoming a discrete artistic entity that cannot be ignored.

This joint concert by the SCO and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) Chinese Orchestra was a showcase of this music.

The SCO, conducted by Quek Ling Kiong, opened with young Singaporean composer Wang Chen Wei's Confluence, a short and colourful work that utilised the gamelan pelog scale in its principal melody. First heard on the guan and later on dizi following a yangqin cadenza, the Indonesian character of its graceful sashays was unshakeable.

More subtle was Chew Jun An's Colours Of Rain with its impressionistic hues in two discernible sections. The first was dissonant, with a torrential storm looming over pelting ostinatos.

This contrasted with the second which approximated light precipitation, with a plaintive melody from the dizi and sheng gliding over the harp's accompaniment.

The Nafa Chinese Chamber Ensemble performed without conductor, opening with Phoon Yew Tien's Divertimento On Malay Folk Songs. Lightly scored, plucked and bowed strings sang out short motifs and whole tunes from the popular Lenggang Kangkong, Rasa Sayang and Dayong Sampan.

A larger ensemble then offered Law Wai Lun's A Walk In The Rain, which is a sympathetic treatment of a Hakka folk melody.

The SCO and Nafa Chinese Orchestra joined forces for the final two works of the concert.

The first was Jiang Ying's Hot Melody Of South-east Asia, a pretentious piece of kitsch. The term "hot" referred to the jazzy Afro-American idioms that captivated Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.

What was heard was a watered- down imitation of Leroy Anderson's various light pieces, played with little regard to jazz harmonies or nuances. And its selling point from South-east Asia? Perhaps the music is fit for a go-go club.

Far better was Sarawakian Simon Kong's Izpirazione II, an orchestral suite inspired by three thick-skinned Malaysian fruits. Its movements - Durian, Rambutan and Tarap - corresponded to a prelude, scherzo and danzon.

Durian was premised on a recurring short motif that spelt anticipation of an aromatic feast, while the fast and piquant Rambutan was built on the repetitive rhythms inherent in its spelling.

For the finale, conductor Quek got the audience clapping and stamping their feet to the raucous dance of Tarap (a fruit native to Borneo) while he filled in with guttural tribal chants.

The encore was a nod to last Thursday's Mid-Autumn Festival, as Hua Hao Yue Yuan (literally Beautiful Flowers, Full Moon) made for a celebratory send-off.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Showcase of Nanyang music'. Print Edition | Subscribe