Making music history

Maestros (above from far left) Yeh Tsung, Choo Hoey and Hu Bing Xu at a concert to mark the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's 20th anniversary.
Maestros (above from far left) Yeh Tsung, Choo Hoey and Hu Bing Xu at a concert to mark the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's 20th anniversary.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

Veteran conductors Choo Hoey, Hu Bing Xu and Yeh Tsung shine at Singapore Chinese Orchestra gig

REVIEW / CONCERT

MAESTROS EXTRAVAGANZA

Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall/ Last Friday

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and this concert was a major event in the anniversary season.

It was led by three veteran conductors who have defined the history of the orchestra, and they took their turns on the podium in increasing order of seniority.

First up was the orchestra's present music director Yeh Tsung, who has been at the helm since 2002. Under his baton, Yang Qing's arrangement of Tao Jin Ling was as festive as one could have possibly hoped for. The parade of percussion and suonas stole the show and put an indelible stamp of pomp and ceremony on the proceedings.

Equally upbeat was Hong Kong composer Gordon Fung Dic-Lun's Arise, You Lion Of Glory!, a pipa concerto that was awarded first prize at last year's Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition.

The demanding solo part received a virtuosic performance from the orchestra's pipa principal Yu Jia. The work was more percussive than lyrical and its ritualistic beginning built up into a rowdy lion dance in full flight before immersing listeners in the tranquil rings of singing bowls.

The youthful and ever-exuberant Yeh made way for Hu Bing Xu, who was the orchestra's first music director from 1997 to 2000. His demeanour on stage was more measured, defined by broad movements of the baton, although his musical direction was no less vibrant.

He led the orchestra in Heroine Mu Gui Ying (also known as Lady General Mu Takes Command), which was composed by four composers from the Beijing Central Philharmonic Orchestra and orchestrated by Yeo Puay Hian.

It was the longest work in the concert and its four linked movements depicted the courage and heroism of the eponymous Northern Song dynasty woman general who not only spared the life of her captive but also married him.

The programmatic and rhapsodic nature of the piece made for eventful listening as it worked itself into full battle cry with the general unleashing her forces and leading them to final victory.

The concert's second half was directed by Choo Hoey, who is better known as conductor emeritus of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. An ardent advocate of Chinese orchestral music since the late 1970s, he was instrumental in the formation of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and was a founding board member of it.

Two movements from Liu Wen Jin's Great Wall Capriccio provided an airing of erhu principal Zhao Jian Hua's solo prowess. Memorial For Patriots was a long-breathed, elegiac movement culminating in an exquisite solo segment without orchestral accompaniment.

Recalling its theme, the finale Looking Afar broke into a cheerful dance filled with whimsical moments.

Choo, who is 81, showed no hint of fatigue as he continued to direct two movements from Law Wai Lun's epic score Zheng He: Admiral Of The Seven Seas. The Voyage depicted the eunuch explorer's overriding ambition and his entry into Nanyang, filled with exotic Indo-Malay themes and bird calls from the woodwinds.

In The Vow, the elaboration of Nanyang music included gamelan- like motifs on marimba and vibraphone and the music turned celebratory in the manner of a cross-cultural wedding.

As with the other conductors, the orchestra responded to Choo in full voice and the concert closed on a expectant high. Prolonged applause at the end led the maestros back on stage to take their bows and receive the audience's acknowledgement that a little Singapore music history was made that night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Making music history'. Print Edition | Subscribe