Reliving ancient music and poetry

10 November 2014
The Straits Times, Life!, Page C10

OF POETRY AND MUSIC by  Ding Yi Music Company at Esplanade Recital Studio/Last Saturday 8 November

The Song and Tang dynasties represented a golden age of the literary arts in China, which flourished until its conquest by the warlike Mongols of the Yuan dynasty. Its poetry inspired no less than the likes of Gustav Mahler in his autumnal lyric symphony The Song Of The Earth. This concert last Saturday at the Esplanade Recital Studios by the Ding Yi Music Company conducted by Lim Yau (Head of Music at NAFA), with music by Zechariah Goh Toh Chai (Head of Composition Studies at NAFA), was somewhat less ambitious while attempting to encompass similarly epic subjects. An added dimension to this production was the projection of calligraphy by former Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts president Choo Thiam Siew, who is also chief executive of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre. Narrator Lee Yong Tick read the poems in Mandarin as a prelude to each of the sung movements.

The first part comprised three poems, beginning with Butterflies Over Flowers, with hushed plucked strings (ruan, pipa, cello and bass) creating a suitably serene atmosphere for tenor Jeremy Koh’s impassioned song and recitation. Women’s voices from the Nafa Chamber Choir were unaccompanied in Li Bai’s Qing Ping Diao (Pure Serene Music) and a mixed choir incanted the word fei (Chinese for flight) countless times in Peng, a segment from Zhuang Zi’s Xiao Yao You (Carefree Wondering). Of course, such polyphony in composer Goh’s scores was foreign and even non-existent in those times, but his intention was not to recreate ancient music, but to relive its spirit through modern compositional techniques. He succeeded with a combination of idiomatic choral writing and coherence in conception, even if the choir was at times not always spot-on in intonation.

Soprano Su Yiwen provided the most glittering display of vocal prowess in Reply To Xiang Yu, the concubine Yuji’s song of anguish and despair. The closing Song Of The Rising Wind for full choral and orchestral forces was a glorious paean to ultimate victory, but a nuanced one where reflection stood in parity with celebration. This 30-minute work could be considered a Singaporean-Chinese answer to Prokofiev’s war inspired cantata Alexander Nevsky and that is saying quite something.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

View the full article here.