Concert review: Singapore Chinese Orchestra's walk down memory lane

SCO25 Our Shared Memories: The SCO Yesteryear, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's 25th anniversary concert. PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

SCO25 Our Shared Memories: The SCO Yesteryear

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall/Last Saturday (Oct 2)

It is hard to believe that the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) is 25 years old.

Its history, however, goes further back to 1974, when the People's Association Chinese Orchestra (Paco) was established as the first professional ensemble of traditional Chinese instruments outside China. Several musicians from that outfit still perform in the SCO.

This 90-minute concert was a fond reminiscence about SCO's forebears and a tribute to pioneers who showed the way.

The first part, The Melodies We Used To Play, showcased chamber music performed without a conductor. The Beautiful Zhuang Brocade, arranged by Wu Houyuan and premiered by Paco 40 years ago at the same venue, was a soothing serenade with a lively dance-like end.

Equally animated was Pan Yunchong and Zhu Xiaogu's The Bustling Docks, a 1970s paean to progress in communist China, which could easily have symbolised Singapore's rise as a shipping hub during the same period.

Renowned Chinese percussionist Li Minxiong's Striving For A Bumper Harvest mined the same vein, with young percussionist Benjamin Boo impressively leading the ensemble from his set of drums.

Boo was following in the footsteps of his percussion teacher, SCO resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong - a student of Li - who led the piece's first Singapore performances decades ago.

The second part, Those Classic Concertos We Grew Up With, featured two substantial concertante works.

Liu Bin's Haw Par Villa Myths, led by associate conductor Moses Gay, was a colourful four-movement suite that curiously united Chinese mysticism with modernist styles, recalling the science-fiction movie scores of Bernard Herrmann.

Paco veteran Lim Sin Yeo showed mastery of four wind instruments - the paixiao (panpipes), the dadi (long flute), the taoxun (ocarina) and the xiaodi (piccolo).

Liu Wenjin's The Great Wall Capriccio was arguably the evening's most familiar music. This four-movement erhu concerto, a worthy counterpart of the Yellow River and Butterfly Lovers concertos, was premiered by late erhu virtuoso Min Huifen in 1981. Her student, SCO erhu principal Zhao Jianhua, reprised the demanding solo part with Quek at the helm.

The work encompassed epic landscapes, heroism, sacrifice and commemoration, with its most poignant moments in the slow third movement, Memorial For The Patriots. Here, Zhao and Xu Zhong's cello solo crafted a moving elegy that left an indelible impression.

SCO music director Yeh Tsung conducted the final work, three movements from Torrent, by the late, lamented SCO musician and composer Yeo Puay Hian.

SCO25 Our Shared Memories: The SCO Yesteryear, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's 25th anniversary concert. PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

Inspired by tales of rivers and the sea, the work paid tribute to hard work, sweat and toil, aptly accompanied by black-and-white photographs of pioneering SCO members in their youth.

Its final movement, Pass On The Light, also featured the recorded voices of the Vocal Associates Chamber Choir, with the message that if we do not remember the past, we might as well forget about the future.

SCO25 Our Shared Memories: The SCO Yesteryear (Live stream)

Where: Online

When: Till Oct 10, 8pm

Admission: $15, $18 for bundle via Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to Sistic's website)

Info: Singapore Chinese Orchestra's website

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