Chinese Orchestra — 《梦》/ Dreams

By Fabian Chiang and Hannah Poh (both of 12A01C)

Last Saturday, the Raffles Institution Chinese Orchestra performed their highly anticipated annual concert, this year’s revolving around the theme ‘Meng’, Mandarin for ‘Dreams’. The abstract yet alluring theme promised a night of beautiful melody and music, which the Orchestra delivered in spades.

One of the opening pieces that certainly captivated the audience was ‘The Sky of the Sea’, not least because it was composed by Raffles’ own budding virtuoso Dong Heng. Through judicious use of instruments, the gushing music was set against the backdrop of the sounds of waves crashing rhythmically onto the shore, the gentle drizzle of chilly rain and the torrent of a sudden storm. It made for an extremely ambient and harmonious introductory piece.

Of the dozen songs on the menu to tempt the audience’s voracious musical appetites (evident from their constant cheering), a solid six may be crudely lumped under the theme of East and West. The theme might sound corny after the umpteenth GP essay, but it didn’t stop the Raffles Chinese Orchestra from putting on an unforgettable show. The exotic melodies and cadences of ‘Journey to the Western Regions’ and ‘Fantasia of the Western Regions’ affected a visceral surge of emotions in the audience. Both about Xinjiang and the Silk Road that snakes across it, the pieces conjured up images of peregrine lands richly steeped in history. Ye Luman in particular, playing the Guzheng solo for the latter piece, greatly impressed while intoxicating the audience with a heady brew of tribal music.

Next, we had the traditional: Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D’. During this piece, the simple bass motif was improved and improvised upon several times, keeping the less musically inclined delightfully mesmerised with its regularity. Providing a heavy ground bass which traditional Chinese Orchestra music often lacks, the cello and double bass were refreshingly soothing, and ‘Canon in D’ was a good counterpart to its following, lighter piece: ‘The Cello Song’. Perhaps the only discordant note was the occasional moment one questioned the placement of Western instruments in the Chinese Orchestra repertoire.

‘Hedwig’s Song’ was the most popular piece of the night. Hauntingly delicate, the tinny percussion introduction had a startlingly oriental charm to it, which only enchanted the audience further. One could almost imagine the ghost of Hedwig (R.I.P) sweeping serenely into the auditorium. When the full orchestra accompanied the percussion, the vibrant wash of sound enchanted the entire auditorium, as all held their breaths, bewitched, to savor the richness of a childhood melody.

The eponymous title piece, ‘The Butterfly Dream’ was a masterpiece, baiting and calming the audience at every turn of its colourful score. Eyes were affixed on the animated conductor, Mr Liu Bin as he energetically led the orchestra into one magnificent crescendo after another, building up the momentum until it seemed like he was engaged in a fierce duel. The whole orchestra played flawlessly, giving it their all after what must have been a grueling night. The piece, based on an old Chinese essay ‘Zhuang Zhou Becoming a Butterfly in a Dream’, extols the message of discarding all the mundane worries of a banal life through its central leitmotif of butterflies fluttering freely. Wistfully, this final piece’s message seemed ironic, as two hours of aural heaven ended, ushering back the stressful realities of school life.

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