Pondering nature and universe in aural feast

In this concert led by its resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) performed six works, including two world premieres and two Singapore premieres.

All conceived for Chinese instruments, there were neither arrangements nor transcriptions in sight, making for an aural spectacular greater than the sum of its parts.

Taiwanese composer Liu Wei-chih's The Calling From The Distant Hills opened with an evocative paean to nature, based on simple Hakka melodies sung across the countryside. An erhu solo was the call of the wild.

Sabahan Simon Kong Su Leong's Nocturnal Bamboo (World Premiere) used a solo dizi as a lyrical and virtuosic vehicle through its musical "night safari". A true work of Nanyang music, Indo-Malayan motifs and rhythms dominated. While there were moments when Lim Sin Yeo's dizi was nearly submerged by dense orchestral textures, its inexorable procession was hard to resist.

Kuala Lumpur native Chow Jun Yi's Kampung And The City (Singapore Premiere) took the form of a travelogue, beginning with a slow crawl through open pastures as morning stirred. Tempo and volume were soon upped with percussive ostinatos as the landscape transformed into an urbanised one. The rapturous feel of a fast ride in a fast machine was in the exuberant manner of American minimalist John Adams.

Chinese composer Kong Zhi Xuan's Trace Of Singapore's Brilliance (World Premiere) was commissioned last year as part of The Stories Of Singapore, works accompanying moving images also featuring pieces by Eric Watson and Law Wai Lun. This seven-minute piece was a witty natural history documentary, sympathetically capturing the flora and fauna of Sungei Buloh and Bukit Timah nature reserves.



    Singapore Chinese Orchestra

    Singapore Conference Hall

    Last Saturday

If the preceding four works were planted on terra firma, the concluding two pieces pondered on the universal and metaphysical. Chinese composer Wang Yun Fei's Infinite Nothingness (Singapore Premiere) could be viewed as a high point of the concert, inspired by Taoist philosophy encompassing everything and nothing simultaneously.

Erhu exponent Duan Aiai was obliged to traverse extremes of dynamics, from serenity to hyperactivity and from beatific to chaotic. The work unfolded like an epic, culminating in a dance of celestial bodies. Coming back to earth, Duan and earlier soloist Lim performed an encore: a popular Jiangnan sizhu melody, harmoniously blending silk and bamboo.

SCO composer-in-residence Law's The Celestial Web completed the programme. In this purely orchestral version, all narration and chorus were eschewed, enabling listeners to focus wholly on the music.

Its opening was a knowing tribute to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Instead of the vigorous Ode To Joy, Law's big melody was a gentler and more subdued one, with the essence of Schiller's ode to the brotherhood of man retained. The incorporation of the bianzhong (bronze chime bells) at its climax was a quintessentially Chinese touch.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'Pondering nature and universe in aural feast'. Print Edition | Subscribe