by Alex Tan (16S03B)
Pictures by Esther Chin, Victoria Ang and Nicole Lai
The full-house concert entitled “Splendour”, put up by the Raffles Institution Chinese Orchestra (RICO) last Saturday (16 April 2016), lived up to its name not only because it was, in brief, splendidly enjoyable, but also because it marked two splendid milestones for the performers: it was the first time that the Year 5–6 side of RICO was jointly staging a show with its Y1-4 counterpart, and it was the first time that alumni were invited as guest soloists. This huge, connected family kicked off the night on a scale befitting the occasion, playing the traditional imperial composition “The General’s Command” (将军令) with energetic virtuosity, conveying the enthusiasm of the soldiers within their even, regimented ranks.
A series of solos, duets and ensemble pieces ensued, designed to showcase the peculiarities of each instrument and section. Sunshine on Taxkorgan (阳光照耀在塔什库尔干) by Wallace Oh Wei Hao on the Yangqin, Orchids of Spring (幽兰逢春) by Tan Yan Quan on the Dizi, Fire – The Maiden in a Vibrant Dress by Chen Zhi’ang and Tan Jin Tao (火 － 彩衣姑娘) on the Pipa and Erhu were all testament to the unmistakable flair of the soloists. Varying from the melodiously festive to the understatedly elegant, the well-picked chain of songs built on each other and made for an interesting and certainly refreshing range. Chen Zhi’ang (16S03E) reports, “For my duet, somehow I felt less nervous on stage than I did during the rehearsal. There was this odd sense of calm. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, as all the effort we put in had finally paid off – I truly enjoyed every moment of it!”
A Well-Matched Fight (龙腾虎跃) by the percussion and woodwind sections was a highlight of the night, jolting many an audience member into heightened awakening. The fight between the dragon and tiger alluded to in the title was embodied in the instruments’ insistent battle for dominance. Despite being a staple in RICO’s repertoire, this performance was anything but stale. Russell Ong (17S03A), one of the percussionists, tells us, “龙腾虎跃 is a vigorous piece which requires a lot of discipline, focus and energy on stage.” The channelled, focused dynamism and passion were nowhere more visible than in Russell’s strong, charismatic movements, who stridently beat the drums and deservedly occupied the centre of the stage.
The soaring climax of the concert was no doubt reached during “Impressions of Chinese Music” (印象国乐), which turned out to be a grand and sweepingly epic exploration of Chinese ethnic music. Jiang Ying, the composer, is notable for her poignant and competent use of layering techniques, beginning with soft small melodic strains and introducing different instruments in succession (the suona being particularly poetic), eventually achieving a pleasurably powerful feeling of completeness. Yet the composition was not chaotic or full of fanfare, containing instead a vast grace and aptly-positioned moments of quiet dignity that did not fail to fully display the orchestra’s collective musical force.
“One Night in Beijing” (北京一夜), a well-known Chinese pop song specially rearranged for Chinese Orchestra, was similarly stunning and marvellous. Alumni players Ng Rui Jun, Tham Jiang Jun and Teh Su Chen were cast in the limelight, delivering impressive solos that smacked of Chinese urbanity mixed with local flavour, buttressed by the groovy, penetrating beat of the drums. Audience member Bryan Tay (16S03B), who judged this piece to be the best of the night, explained, “I liked the interplay between the solo instruments and the use of diatonic harmonies and pop idiom.”
Indeed, part of the concert’s seductive appeal stemmed from its diverse choice of repertoire and the judicious sequencing of songs. The upbeat, catchy phrases of “One Night in Beijing” contrasted with the spacious grandeur of “Impressions of Chinese Music” so that the audience at no time experienced boredom or the nausea that comes with the sickening, consecutive use of a similar style. In short, there was consistent entertainment, as the pieces elastically bounced off one another and amounted to something more than the sum of their parts.
Regrettably, the concert concluded on a less than satisfying note. “Legend of the Dragon” (龙的传奇), of course, possessed the merit of being nearly as large and monumental as “Impressions of Chinese Music”. Yet, towards the end it seemed slightly over-the-top, excessively grandiose, as the song kept embarking on crescendos and thwarting them mid-way. Notwithstanding the very fitting image of the dragon, steeped in its majesty and mythical imperiousness, the piece appeared to pale in comparison to what had preceded it. We felt that “Impressions of Chinese Music” might have been a better choice as an ending piece, more adequately tying up the loosely scattered knots and ends.
The encore pieces, however, suffused the sternly grand atmosphere of the concert hall with saccharine sentimentality and boisterous hilarity, in that order. The audience cheered and swayed languidly to the popular theme song “小幸运” from the movie “Our Times”, while Chen Tian Wen’s “Unbelievable”, the final song, was received with much laughter and people mouthing the words, “I so stunned like vegetable …” On stage, Joash Ho, the electric guitarist, sported a pair of sunglasses, and was joined later in the song by various others, also masked by sunglasses and carrying small stalks of broccoli. These props were thrown from hand to hand, across the stage, as the conductor grooved to the beat and turned around, inviting the audience to do the same.
It was a night of splendour. Summing up the experience, conductor Mr Yang Ji Wei expressed his pleasurable sense of fulfillment from having put up a successful concert, saying, “The concert went beyond my expectations. The practice leading up to the concert was hectic but the students committed themselves wholeheartedly without any complaints. No pain, no gain; last night we proved to our audience that a student orchestra can sound as good as a professional one. The sky’s the limit!”
- The General’s Command (将军令) composed by Peng Xiuwen
- Sunshine on Taxkorgan (阳光照耀在塔什库尔干) composed by Chen Gang, arranged by Xu Pingxin
- Orchids of Spring (幽兰逢春) composed by Zhao Songting
- Fire – The Maiden in a Vibrant Dress (火 － 彩衣姑娘) composed by Liu Wenjin
- Libertango composed by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Tan Kah Yong
- A Well-Matched Fight (龙腾虎跃) composed by Li Min-Xiong
- Dance of Light and Shadows (舞之光影) composed by Zhu Lin
- Impressions of Chinese Music (印象国乐) composed by Jiang Ying
- One Night in Beijing (北京一夜) composed by Bobby Chen and Liu Jiahui, arranged by Liu Sha
- Legend of the Dragon (龙的传奇) composed by Chen Ningchi