Ushering in Chinese New Year with raucous music

REVIEW / CONCERT

SPRING BLOSSOMS

Nafa Chinese Chamber Ensemble

Lee Foundation Theatre/Thursday

As Chinese New Year draws closer, one is reminded that much Chinese music heralding the onset of spring exists beyond the usual suspects. This 80-minute concert by the excellent Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Chinese Chamber Ensemble was a showcase of its celebratory colours.

The first three works were led by Singapore Chinese Orchestra resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong, beginning with the ubiquitous Spring Festival Overture by Li Huan Zhi in Sim Boon Yew's arrangement.

An elaborate display by the drumming section ushered in the furiously paced opening that did not let up until its lyrical second subject was heard on solo sheng.

Equally busy and raucous was Peng Xiu Wen's Lantern Festival, which depicts the feeling of anticipation on New Year's Eve. Suonas, de facto brass of the ensemble, led the way through its gaudily lit procession to a rowdy conclusion.

The sole concertante work featured young guzheng virtuoso Yvonne Tay, winner of numerous awards and prizes, in Zhou Yu Guo's Robe Of Clouds. This is a rhapsodic piece which begins with an evocative slow segment, before taking off in a fast leaping dance.

This culminated in a showy cadenza exhibiting the full gamut of the plucked instrument's sonorities, which Tay brilliantly explored to best possible effect.

The undergraduate, who is principal guzheng in the Ding Yi Music Company, augurs a bright future for Chinese instrumental music in Singapore.

The same could be said about young conductor Moses Gay, who helmed the balance of the concert. His casual stage demeanour belied a serious musician who had something vital to say. Lo Leung Fai's Spring was perhaps the most eclectic work on show, its pivot being a big tune that sounded like a variation of the familiar Molihua.

Accompanying figures that resembled those in the West End musical Les Miserables and a finale whose theme reminded one of Dvorak's American Quartet were probably coincidental, but the end result was the same - jolly good fun for all.

Wang Fu-Jian's arrangement of A Moonlit Night On The Spring River, sensitively played, provided genuine reflective moments before all of old Middle Road broke loose.

Ten singers in festive costumes fronted the Spring Festival Medley, which erupted with popular seasonal favourites Da Di Hui Chun, Ying Chun Hua and the inevitable Gong Xi Gong Xi Ni. The hapless nightclub-like arrangement paid no regard to harmonic subtleties, instead letting the percussionist on the drum-set go on a rampage.

Conductor Gay cheekily quipped that an encore would be played "whether you like it or not" and that turned out to be the cheerful Hua Hao Yue Yuan (Beautiful Flowers, Full Moon), which saw synchronised clapping from the audience.

In the tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic, the performers hollered a hearty Gong Xi Fa Cai and there can be no more auspicious greeting than that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Ushering in Chinese New Year with raucous music'. Print Edition | Subscribe