Thursday, May 4, 2017

RED DRAGON - the Power of Tradition - Concert 7

Members of the China Orient Orchestra performing in The High Court

Canberra International Music Festival – Concert 7
High Court of Australia – 1st May 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM

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 of Australia, 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 playing the Gourd pipe

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 ten 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 fifteen 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 like “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 Professor Jiang Miao. Professor Miao 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.
Shu-Cheen Yu performing "The Swallow" 

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 light-hearted traditional Yunnan folk-song, “Herdsman’s Mountain Song”, not too far removed from “The Lonely Goat-herd” 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.

Members of the China Orient Orchestra performing in the High Court

                                                  Photos by Peter Hislop

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 2nd May 2017