Impressive youth performance



Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall

Last Saturday

If one needed to gauge the level at which Singaporean youth applied themselves to the arts, there are worse ways than to attend a Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO) concert.

Led by its music director Quek Ling Kiong, the standard displayed by players ranging from 11 to 26 years old impressed and the show of commitment was staggering.

This sense of frisson was immediately felt in Kuan Nai-chung's The Sun, the rousing 1st movement from Millennium Of The Dragon Year.

Beginning with a fanfare for the suona, solo percussionists Lim Rei and Nicholas Teo commanded the stage, hammering out rhythms on timpanis and a variety of drums.

There were also quieter and lyrical moments, when marimba and slung gongs were employed, culminating in a fugue for strings before a dramatic and rowdy finish.

The massed sound of suona, woodwinds and strings created a festive atmosphere in young Taiwanese composer Wang I-Yu's Impressions On Bei Guan, a fantasy on a theme associated with Chinese new year.

The Bei Guan, or northern reed, refers to suona music in all its guises, whether heard as a plaintive solo or a stentorian chorus ringing out loud and true at its climax.

Princess Wencheng, written by a committee of three composers, was a virtuoso sheng concerto showcasing the clear and incisive tones of soloist Zhou Zhixuan.

The work celebrated the union of Tang dynasty princess to Tibetan monarch Songtsen Gampo, but its music featured only one phrase simulating the Tibetan long horn.

The eventful work, which touted the "friendly and cooperative relationship" between Han Chinese and Tibetans, came across more like propaganda, a cover-up for brutal occupation of a sovereign state.

Almost as jingoistic was Liu Wen Jin's Brave Spirits Of The Slow Mountain, featuring erhu soloist Low Likie who was equal to its technical and rhapsodic demands.

Here, its three continuous movements commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Red Army's Long March, with musical references to the struggle, suffering and sacrifice of comrades.

Far more succinct was talented young Singaporean composer Benjamin Fung Chuntung's Variations On A Hainanese Folk Song, which conjured a pastoral air.

Closing the concert was Law Wai Lun's classic of Nanyang music, Prince Sang Nila Utama And Singa, based on the legends of Temasek.

Indo-Malayan scales and themes were created for this lush tropical sea piece which, at times, hinted of Ravel's ballet Daphnis And Chloe.

The orchestra cooked up a storm, placated by the prince's relinquishing of his head-piece and the sighting of the mythical lion closed the work on a raucous high.

For the encore, guest of honour Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth, was invited as guest percussionist for Ary Barroso's Aquarela Do Brasil, which prompted a free-for-all on stage as the orchestra headily greeted the Rio Olympic Games to come.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Impressive youth performance'. Print Edition | Subscribe