Virtuosity celebrated



Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall/ Last Saturday

The title of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's programme seems to imply the prowess of its guest soloists, who are celebrated in China. It also applies to composers of the works performed, two of whom were present at the concert conducted by Yeh Tsung, which was streamed live to a worldwide audience.

The first was Luo Mai Shuo, whose Prince Yin Zhen's Paintings Of The Fair Lady was a suite in four movements inspired by 12 paintings of Qing dynasty empress Na La Shi. Each movement comprised three portraits, each illustrating courtly activities undertaken by the royal.

Luo's sumptuous orchestration relied on instrumental colour and the use of cellos and basses, essentially Western instruments. The result resembled film music, the kind which Occidental composers use to evoke the exotic Orient. This was, however, no pastiche, but cleverly crafted mood music to accompany the imagery of domesticated Manchus.

Dizi soloist Dai Ya then displayed a veritable arsenal of techniques and devices in Hao Wei Ya's Flowers Blooming On The Paths In The Fields. His was not the dainty timbre of pretty gentility, but a full-throated variety which encompassed colours scarcely thought possible.

A slow, meditative introduction soon gave way to an animated dance that got progressively faster to a breathless conclusion. His no-holds- barred virtuosity also lent the nostalgic feel of antiquity. One imagines a Chinese version of the late great Jean-Pierre Rampal in his heyday.

The other guest soloist was huqin exponent Jiang Ke Mei, who played on three instruments in rising order of pitch. On the erhu, she delivered Zhao Ji Ping's Love, the third movement from Qiao's Grand Courtyard, a slow romance that built up to a festive high before receding to calmness. For Liu Yuan's arrangement of Hebei opera tune Hua Bang Zi, the shriller banhu held court with an authority that was commanding.

The highest pitched huqin was the diminutive jinghu, with a theatrical voice that mimicked the Beijing opera denizens in Wu Hua's arrangement of Night Thoughts, a scene from the popular Farewell My Concubine. Its big tune was carried in spectacular fashion and all that was missing were the outlandish costumes.

Also making his appearance was Liu Chang Yuan, whose 2011 composition Hope Of The Future closed the concert. Here was an unabashed programmatic work in six sections that celebrated the centenary of the Chinese republic. The sad melody first heard on low dizi in the third section Tears transformed into a celebratory paean in a galloping finale. Whether that was glorifying nationalism, socialism, pluralism or capitalism, it was difficult to say.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Virtuosity celebrated'. Print Edition | Subscribe