CIMF Review / Charm abounds in Chinese concert

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The China Orient Orchestra’s zither ensemble. Photo by Peter Hislop.

THIS charming concert of Chinese traditional music, presented by the China Orient Orchestra, together with guest artists, soprano Shu-Cheen Yu and instrumentalist Nicholas Ng proved to be as visually engaging as it was aurally intriguing.

Originally scheduled for presentation in the Chinese Embassy, the concert was moved to the High Court, where the soft acoustic, enhanced by glimpses of stunning autumn foliage through huge windows provided the perfect ambience for the music, much of which was inspired by the beauties of nature.

Nicholas Ng performing with the China Orient Orchestra. Photo by Peter Hislop

Placed high above the heads of the audience, Nicholas Ng provided a dramatic opening with a haunting solo on a two-stringed alto fiddle called a zhonghu. Following which, the 10 attractively costumed women of the China Orient Orchestra performed a series of items on large Chinese zithers, arranged in various combinations, ranging from duets through to sextets. Five of the 15 items were composed by celebrated contemporary composer Wang Tianyi, who also did the arrangement for another lovely composition, “The Butterfly Lovers”.

Particularly striking from the outset was the highly developed technique of each of the players, impeccably groomed and captivating as they interpreted the music, with dance-like, unison bobs and weaves, serene expressions and soft, graceful wrists. With evocative titles such as “Autumn Meditation at the Dressing Table”, “Riding Joyfully to Nadam” and “Spring, River, Flowers, Moon, Night”, the exotic compositions quickly conjured up visions of a different time and place.

Later in the program, the serene expressions changed for a dramatic item entitled “Sad Songs on the River Wu”, where the harp-like plucking sounds of the six zithers, were replaced by drumming effects to evoke a sense of stormy turbulence, demonstrating the versatility of the instruments and the virtuosity of the players, led by Prof Jiang Miao. The professor also featured in another dramatic item, a duet for two zithers entitled “Defeating the Tiger on the Mountain”, which demonstrated the impressive tonal range of the zithers.

Soprano Shun-Sheen Yu, performs at the High Court. Photo by Peter Hislop

Taking advantage of the dramatic architecture of the High Court, Shu-Cheen Yu enchanted the audience with the crystalline purity of her unaccompanied voice as she sang a traditional song, “The Swallow”, from a balcony, high above the audience. Later she sang a light-hearted traditional Yunnan folk-song, “Herdsman’s Mountain Song”, not too far removed from “The Lonely Goatherd” in “The Sound of Music”, which elicited appreciative chuckles and applause from the audience.

Elsewhere, Nicholas Ng provided the opportunity to experience the melancholy tones of gourd pipe in a solo entitled “Flight of the Dragon” and a luscious solo on a four-stringed lute called “The Waves of Qinghai” to round-out a fascinating program of traditional Chinese music.

Chinese zither group performs at the High Court. Photo by Peter Hislop

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