Concert review: Ding Yi Music Company and Chen Le & Friends explore intricacies of Chinese tunes

3 weeks ago 88

Plucked Strings Ding Yi Music Company

Esplanade Recital StudioApril 17

Double Feature Chen Le & Friends

National Library BuildingApril 19

There is no better way of getting close to Chinese musical instruments than attending concerts from Ding Yi Music Company’s chamber music series, which often involve an interesting and unusual repertoire that stimulates and empowers the listener.

Seven contrasting works in this 90-minute concert offered a deep dive into the world of plucked strings. The guzheng is haunting on its own, as Yvonne Tay proved in Liu Le’s serenely beautiful Sound Of Emerald. Even in the plain heterophony of The Deep Night (arranged by Liu Dehai), five instruments in unison – two pipas, along with a zhongruan, guzheng and yangqin – provided a satisfying simplicity.

Sonic textures varied when more instruments entered the fray. The world premiere of Cao Wen Gong’s Sweetness In Every Step upped the ante, accompanied by cello and percussion. In Liu Xing’s Dance, Chua Yew Kok’s pipa and Wong Wai Kit’s zhongruan gave rhythmic impetus, with unusual results. This animated romp had a beat closer to Western jazz than Chinese music.

Two concertante works were showcases of solo virtuosity, with Tan Jian Qing’s yangqin first putting a shine on Wong Fei Yun’s Ten-Mile Red Dowry. This dramatic work opened slowly, then gradually ramped up to a fast dance before receding into quietude.

Zhang Ying, pipa principal of Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, was the memorable guest in Luk Wai Chun’s Moments Between Ledges And Frets. Belying its mundane title, this was an imperious display of pipa as both string and percussion instrument. Accompanied by 14 players and conductor Dedric Wong, its ten minutes of contemporary idioms defied expectations by providing a visual spectacle and an entertaining listen.

The work that truly summed up the evening was Li Bo Chan’s Sorrowfully And Quietly. Five plucked instruments (including two ruan) placed centre stage coursed through ruminative and playful moments before a surprise. It was Bekhzod Oblayorov’s cello that had the big tune at its conclusion.

Unlike Ding Yi’s clear intentions, the world premiere of Double Feature (2024) by Nanjing-born and locally-based composer Chen Le was left nebulous, perhaps deliberately. Was this a concert wo...

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