IT is perhaps a rare thing for an audience to experience a concert that, from start to finish, is one of charming music, virtuosic playing, delightful orchestrations and sheer joy. The concert by the Huaxia Chinese Orchestra, under the direction of maestro Kuan Naichung, was one such experience.
On entering the hall, one might have thought we were in for a standard orchestral offering. The staging was as for a symphony orchestra, with the familiar horseshoe setting, the conductor’s podium and the usual array of percussion. There even were cellos and double basses lying in their places, at the ready.
But then the players came onto the platform. And here may be a lesson or two for our own symphony orchestras. Rather than ambling onto the stage like Brown’s cows, the orchestra, dressed in attractive but understated costume uniforms, came on as one and took their chairs in an orderly fashion. Then, instead of incessant last minute phrasepractising and instrument-tuning, the orchestra sat quietly, awaiting the orchestra leader.
The leader directed the tuning, which took all of five or ten seconds, after which they waited quietly and respectfully for the conductor’s entry. What a breath of fresh air!
And then there were the instruments. The cellos and doubles basses proved the exception rather than the rule, for there was a vast collection of bowed, blown, plucked, tapped, clapped and drummed traditional Chinese instruments. They all combined in masterly orchestrations of traditional and contemporary Chinese compositions to enchant the audience from the opening notes.
The program consisted mainly of shortish pieces, but did include a number of “concertos”, one of which was by Erhu soloist, Song Fei, so called Queen of Chinese folk music, whose playing was simply captivating. Another featured some truly virtuosic playing of the Di (transverse flute), with the soloist switching seamlessly between two flutes of different pitches. Still another was a Suona, a kind of trumpet, which, even though small in stature had an amazing range and extraordinary dynamics.
A particular crowd-pleaser was “White Clouds Floating on a Blue Sky”, which included a delightful introduction by the conductor. He told us the tune was based on a Chinese folk song with the hint of an Argentinean tango and a surprising twist. He said that the white clouds resembled sheep and that both China and Australia have expansive open country, perfect for sheep. Then began the music, perfectly attuned to its title, but with the surprise coming from a very clever transition to a lively “Click, Go the Shears”, again with great orchestration requiring highly-skilled playing.
The Huaxia Chinese Orchestra gave us a remarkable concert of expressive melodies, foot-tapping rhythms and great charm and was well-deserving of the sustained standing ovations. After exhausting his repertoire of encores, which included a reprise of “Click,
Go the Shears”, maestro Kuan Naichung took the orchestra leader by the hand, leading her and her colleagues from the stage. It was an inspiring and uplifting experience.