By Jessica Zhu Yunjie (24A01E), Johnathan Lim (23S03M), Siaw Min En Alena (24S03O)
Photos courtesy of Faith Tan Xin Ning (23S03C)
“Craziest project we’ve ever done.”Mr Yang, emcee and conductor, by Branson Tan’s recount
On the 21st of April, the Raffles Institution Chinese Orchestra (RICO) (Y1-6) collaborated with the Raffles Girls’ School Chinese Orchestra (RGSCO) and RICO alumni, coming together to deliver their third iteration of ‘In Youthful Company’ at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. There were packed theatres, along with lovely sunsets, but of course, there was a cheerful spring repertoire to top off our Friday nights.
With this being RICO’s first public performance since the pandemic began, pent-up excitement from audiences and performers alike was evident from the overflowing turnout and an oversubscribed list of performers.
But before we officially start, let’s rewind about 7.5 hours before the performance. Our dear RICO performers were dismissed as early as 1130, to allow them time for some light practising, instrument-transporting and stage-setting.
RICO preparing for their performance at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre.
You wouldn’t be able to tell, but this collaborative concert was pulled together in the matter of two weeks, right after RICO had finished their Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) performance. Of course, they had to compensate for their short runway with frequent “extended practices until 8pm.”
The Performance Before the Performance
Maybe it was the flashy instruments, or maybe it was the striking orchestration that captivated passers-by to take time out of their day to sit and listen to a sound check.
Even though the sound check might seem like just a few excerpts of songs and fine-tuning, if you passed by the theatre during their sound check, you would think an actual performance was going on with the considerable crowd that amassed. In retrospect, this foreshadowed what was to come.
Against the backdrop of slow sailing boats, and under the shelter against the sweltering midday sun, many chose to colour their afternoons perched restfully upon the steps, listening to “lively and chipper” orchestration, as some would call it.
Set 01 (1900-1930)
Squeezed into their bargained-for seats, everyone sat in anticipation, waiting for the clock to strike 7pm and the performance to start. An announcement introducing RICO plays, leaving us in a flurry of leg-shaking excitement.
With their first piece, Dauntless, the orchestra held nothing back, immediately launching us into what seemed like a fast and intense battle theme, with its instrumentation evoking the feeling of a jump scare. Fun fact: Dauntless was actually composed by a Singaporean composer and RI alumni, Wang Chenwei.
“It felt so moving and powerful… the joy of life was pulsing through me.”A ‘Dauntless’ enthusiast
Up next was “红军哥哥回来了” (The Return of the Red Army), a suona solo performed by Tan Jin Heng, Branson (24S06M). Accompanied by the rest of the orchestra, Branson, in true musician fashion, embodied the enthusiasm of the piece, with its intricate melodic patterns, through his animated eyebrow raises and head-swaying.
Of course, performing a solo piece is a big feat, but this is especially so for a suona player. “The suona’s loud and piercing sound makes any mistake extremely obvious,” explained Mr Yang.
If you asked us about the performance, it would be difficult to leave out any mention of the charming emceeing by the conductor himself, Mr Yang. “RICO just had their first SYF performance just two weeks ago.” pausing, leaving our breaths held at his incomplete sentence before he cheekily added “I’m pleased to announce that we scored a distinction.”
Mr Yang then invited the soloists for the next piece, Tian Enzhi (dizi), Grace Zhan (pipa) and Xu Ruihan (24S04N, erhu) centerstage to perform 炫彩江南 (Colours of Jiangnan), adding on that two of the soloist were only 13 years old, much to the surprise of everyone.
Upon the raising of the conductor’s baton, the orchestra took us on a trip to the of Jiangnan city, playing an energetic melody reminiscent of resplendent life in Jiangnan. Towards the end of the piece, the melody took a turn for the nostalgic, with thicker and more solemn orchestration, painting a more sentimentalised image of the streets of Jiangnan.
“It feels like I’m at the airport, leaving.”Ernest Goh (23S03M) at the performance
To say the soloists held their own would be an understatement. Such poise in front of a public crowd doesn’t come naturally to most people. And it only makes sense that the soloists for this piece picked up their respective instruments as early as Primary 1.
The first segment ended with “印象国乐”, (Impressions of Chinese music) which is interestingly enough, a throwback to an earlier iteration of ‘In Youthful Company’ the orchestra performed back in 2019, and was brought back by popular demand.
Interlude: “A breather”
As the orchestra finished their first performance and exited the stage, they were met with a wave of applause from everyone. Whilst making their way to the backstage area, the performers were swarmed by parents and friends who were eager to show their appreciation.
Friends and family snatching the performers during the interlude
Whilst getting swept up in the hectic nature and joyous atmosphere, the hour’s break between segments seemed to fly by before the performers were back in their original seats, ready to give it their all on stage once again – this time carrying with them the warmth and love of everyone who showed their support.
Set 02: (2030-2100)
The concert picked up once more with an apt change of scenery, the darkened sky adding a unique flare to the melody of several nostalgic songs. Across the aisles of the audience, the rows of familiar faces from the first segment was a testament to how charming RICO’s music had been, and they certainly did not disappoint with their following performance.
As the orchestra eased into into a playful rendition of a classic Chinese folk song “茉莉花” (Jasmine Flower), it was difficult not to sway along. Soft plucking painted the perfect image of bouncing water droplets which eventually crescendoed into a storm. Sprinkled with spontaneous tempo changes and shifting moods, it left us on the edge of our seats.
Following this, the soloists for 炫彩江南 (Colours of Jiangnan) assumed their positions on centre stage for the second time that evening. Having had a taste of what it’s like to perform live in front of such a large audience, they seemed to get in the zone quicker and delivered yet another show stopping performance of “炫彩江南”.
“That dizi soloist played the best dizi I had ever heard: his notes were extremely pronounced, with incredibly clean variations in tone!”Chen Yi-Chen, 24S03B
Last (but most certainly not least) came the return of the long-awaited “印象国乐” (Impressions of Chinese Music). This piece – a stark juxtaposition to the other more chipper ones – pulled on our heartstrings with its soulful melody that spoke of countless sorrows. Just from hearing the anguished high notes and grave melodies, it was almost as if we were looking at the wreckage after a war.
Speaking of sorrows, this marked the completion of the official concert setlist. Watching the performers bow, we have to admit – post-concert depression kicked in, at least just a little.
Just when the applause had subsided and content murmuring ensued, shouts from the audience for one more performance escalated into a crowd chant of “Encore!” Mr Yang gladly conceded, and announced their encore piece to be Dauntless, a nice throwback to the start of their performance.
As the uplifting rendition of Dauntless ended, we could not help but cheer once more in celebration of an incredible night watching RICO perform such breathtaking pieces. Everyone was ready to leave, with many starting packing up their belongings.
That is, until the conductor announced a second encore piece, Chan Mali Chan! With its bright, catchy rhythm, it didn’t take much convincing for us to start clapping along to the beat. Of course, in typical Rafflesian fashion, we couldn’t resist putting our own spin on it, namely shouting “Raffles!” in place of “Hey! Hey!”.
Amidst the flashing orange and purple spotlights, everyone also began to lighten up. From random air guitar ‘performances’ by Mr Yang, to the winds section standing up to better jive to the music, the performance met its fitting end at a drumroll, marking the close to an eventful night, with hopefully more interactions of ‘In Youthful Company’ to come.