Old-meets-new mash-up



Ding Yi Music Company

Esplanade Recital Studio/ Last Saturday

Conducted by Lim Yau, the Ding Yi Music Company presented the Singapore premiere of Zhou Long's Rites Of Chimes, a work first performed by Yo-Yo Ma and the National Traditional Orchestra of China in New York in 2000.

Reprising the Ma role was Lim's cellist son Lin Juan, but this was not a cello concerto in the traditional sense.

Scored lightly for cello, six Chinese instruments and a battery of percussion, the Western cello was no interloper but one tightly weaved into a web of sound that was both traditional and modern.

It was as if the cello were a traveller in time, gazing into the past like an outsider looking into a faraway and exotic culture and telling its story as one with the ensemble.

Lin was not an overtly showy soloist, but a highly dependable one to blend in. Yet he expressed a voice of his own all through the work's six separate parts that played for 70 minutes.

Spirit Of Chimes was the first piece, one which imagined a scene from prehistory, with sounds from bone flutes (represented by Ng Hsien Han's ocarina) and assortment of percussive sounds.

It was into this primordial fray that the cello's tones, microtones, plucks and slides were thrown into and the result was an old-meets- new mash-up.

Much more traditional was Impressions Of Wintersweet, based on the old melody Meihua Sannong (Plum Blossom), with just Ng's dizi, cello pizzicatos and discreet percussion creating an intimate spell.

Tipsy Improvisation showcased Chin Yen Choong's erhu with cello and ensemble in a fast and inebriated dance with frequent changes in meter as the title suggested. Inspired by Tang poet Du Fu's Eight Unruly Tipsy Poets, a favourite subject of the composer's, it took all of conductor Lim's directorial nous to keep the forces in check and time.

Tang Court Music could be said to be the heart of the work. Its loud and portentous chords, filled with dissonances and sustained tensions, stood for the pomp and ceremony of Tang dynasty royalty.

It is from this cacophonous banquet of sound that Japanese gagaku was derived, one which came to an end with a smart snap of two wooden strips.

It was back to earlier rusticity in Dunhuang Pipa, a melodious evocation of the ancient Silk Road, with Chua Yew Kok's pipa running in unison with huqin, cello, dizi, Soh Wee Kiat's sheng, Kenny Chan's zhongruan and Yvonne Tay's guzheng, each taking its turn, if not all together.

The final piece, Tales From The Cave, introduced the shrill high- pitched banhu (Chin) and three- stringed plucked sanxian (Chan) for a wild final dance.

One that celebrated the Buddhist iconography of the land, of graven images, sculptures and frescoes etched into history, an extended cello cadenza from Lin brought the work sharply into focus.

As if emerging from a dream, the ensemble of 10 virtuosos concluded Zhou's masterpiece of Chinese music with masterly aplomb.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Old-meets-new mash-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe