Book and concert featuring late Chinese composer

One of China's best-known contemporary composers, Xian Xinghai, who had his early music education in Singapore, is being remembered in a just-published book and a concert on the 70th anniversary of his death. The book in Chinese is written by retired paediatrician Ho Nai Kiong.

Yellow River!, a concert, by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) tonight and tomorrow at the SCO Concert Hall, will feature Xian's works. All tickets, including those for tomorrow night's performance which was booked exclusively for Bank of China's guests and clients, have been sold out.

Dr Ho, 77, is an old boy of Yangzheng Primary School, where the late composer also studied and learnt music about a century ago.

He started researching and writing the book, titled Xian Xinghai's 10 Years in Singapore: 1911 - 1921, in 2005 when the school celebrated its centenary.


The portrait of Xian Xinghai as a young man is on the cover of his book, Xian Xinghai’s 10 Years in Singapore: 1911 – 1921. PHOTO: LINGZI MEDIA

Xian left Singapore to become the first Chinese to study music at the Paris Conservatory in 1929, and composed many works before he died of illness in Russia in 1945, aged 40. Dr Ho said: "The book took me so long to complete because there were too many inaccuracies in past records about the composer, including a 2009 movie made by a Shanghai film studio, and I had to spend time verifying and correcting them."

He felt that Singapore, particularly Yangzheng Primary School, should be proud to have an old boy like Xian, who is one of China's best-known contemporary composers, especially for his Yellow River Cantata, a 40-minute-long choral work he composed in 1939.

SCO will perform the work, which inspired the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese war between 1938 and 1945, together with Chinese soprano Liu Fei and baritone Tao Kuo, who will be supported by the 16-member Shanghai Opera House Chorus Ensemble and the 48-member Nanyang Khek Community Guild Choir.

Other highlights include the popular Yellow River Piano Concerto, which originates from Xian's Yellow River Cantata, which SCO will perform with pianist Sun Yingdi, who is also from China.

SCO executive director Terence Ho, 45, said: "It is a concert not to be missed because of Xian Xinghai's connection with Singapore and it is also Yangzheng School's 110th anniversary this year," he added.

Dr Ho's book is available at bookstores at $15 (before GST) and also at the concert today and tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'Book and concert featuring late Chinese composer'. Print Edition | Subscribe