Concert review: Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra display exuberance

The Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra.
The Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

REVIEW / CONCERT

EXUBERANCE OF YOUTH

Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre

Last Saturday


Fresh from its successful concert tour of China, the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra gave a two-hour-long concert that exhibited prowess and versatility, both as a large ensemble as well as in smaller groups of players.

The evening began with Feng Xiao Quan's The Soaring Chinese Music, a mini concerto for orchestra which displayed the full potential of the ensemble's various sections, while being a primer of the myriad colours and timbres of Chinese orchestral music. Led by Chinese guest conductor Sun Peng, it made for an impressive rousing overture.

The next two works were performed without a conductor. Young Malaysian Chow Jun Yi's Momentum featured just 10 players in a John Adams-styled minimalist piece based on a motif from Purple Bamboo Tune. Repetitious but never boring, the work gained in velocity and volume, while precise pacing and timing - not an easy feat - were being maintained.

Young Singaporean Phang Kok Jun's Storytellers On Ann Siang Road utilised six players and two erhu soloists. This apparent duel between Chinese and Malay melodies pitted Li Siyu (backed by pipa and sanxian) against Low Likie (supported by ruan and yangqin) and was an ingenious showpiece of musical repartee, resolved when both erhu rivals arrived at a happy confluence of thoughts and deeds.

The sections of bowed and plucked strings also had a field day, conducted by Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra music director Quek Ling Kiong.

Li Bo Chan's Eagle Totem opened with an expansive melody not unlike those of John Barry film scores, before launching into a fast and percussive Mongolian dance, like a soaring flight over the steppes.

In Wang Dan Hong's Dynamic Plucked Strings, Latin and Caribbean rhythms accompanied by maracas ruled, with solo dizi sustaining melodic interest.

There was a return to full orchestral pieces, with Zhao Ji Ping's Impressions Of Macao being a mix of Western and Eastern influences. Rapidly bowed strings helmed its bookends, with Glinka's Russlan And Ludmilla Overture and Shostakovich's Festive Overture being inspirations, while a Chinese melody and gentle Portuguese- styled dance served as its soft centre.

Veteran Singapore Chinese Orchestra player Sim Boon Yew's excellent variations on the Malay folksong Suriram is already a favourite. Its raucous and rowdy strains were lent an especially authentic air by infectious kompang drum rhythms and striking coconut shells.

It was left for solo suona and a heady chorus of suonas to herald Wang Dan Hong's The Spirit Of Jin from Impressions Of Shanxi, the noisiest work and closing piece of the evening.

This highlighted a most enthusiastic yet disciplined showing from the eight-person percussion, which unleashed thunder and cannon roars into the atmosphere.

The title Exuberance Of Youth could not have been more apt, as the youngsters polished off an encore on their own and issued birthday greetings to a pleasantly surprised conductor Quek.

The ensuing taking of selfies and congratulatory pats-on-the-back were hugely deserved.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'An exuberant display of youth indeed'. Print Edition | Subscribe