Reported by Ng Xue Lin
Saturday 10th of May, pre-event: The enthusiastic chattering and lively atmosphere was more than apparent. Many had gathered in the JC Hall and were anticipating getting to watch the Chinese Orchestra’s Annual Concert. Established only in July 2018, the Sunway University Chinese Orchestra already has achieved Gold with Honors Award in the Chinese Orchestra Ensemble Competition category at the Red Sonata Fiesta International Arts Festival 2018, which is no easy feat. Practicing since the beginning of the year, the Chinese Orchestra Ensemble was prepared to put up a good show. The event began with a speech from Dr Elizabeth Lee.
The musical kicked off with the full ensemble, performing The Coal Miner’s Song.The piece was adapted from the original Chinese song and inspired by the unique characteristics of Shandong’s “Liuqin Opera”. The song was aimed at portraying light, cheerful and happy moods. With the audience already deeply engaged and engrossed in the performance, it definitely set the tone for the musical.
The song was followed by a Disney medley, which consisted of six soundtracks from Disney- “Circle of Life”,” Can you feel the love tonight”, “A Whole New World”, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, “Reflection” and “Beauty and The Beast”. The music style varied with each song, projecting an endless stream of energy and hopefulness. The beautiful medley left the audience enthralled, as though they had transcended into a magical fairytale. Members of the audience were also mouthing the words to the familiar medley subconsciously, swaying to the magical tunes. In the moment, everyone was reconnected to their younger, wide-eyed selves – enchanted by the wonders of Disney movies.
After the medley, the audience was treated to a piece titled New Scenes in Dunhuang. New Scenes in Duhang is a piece that skillfully uses Chinese musical instruments to combine Western and Indian cultures, reflecting the multi-cultural heritage of Dunhuang. Shortly after, Sometime after Midnight, 2am., was performed. This piece was composed by Sun Pei Li, who was inspired to produce this after staying up and listening to the radio late into the night. He said, “The time is two o’clock in the morning, pop songs are playing on the radio… In the quiet night, only the people in the photo are smiling affectionately at me…”. The sorrowful piece echoed throughout the JC hall as it touched the hearts of the audience. These two songs in particular, were performed to bring out the sound of the string quartet, which it did brilliantly.
The following piece, was performed by the plucked string ensemble. It was titled Night of The Torch Festival. This piece by the string ensemble described the scene of the Yi Clan celebrating their annual Torch Festival. Night of the Torch Festival was split into three sections; the first embodied Yi Clan heritage style, played gently and melodiously. The second; a more cheerful mood. The last; a reflection of the opening theme, full of charm and beautiful.
Next, the guzheng ensemble took to the stage with the piece South Silk Road. It is based on Yunnan folk songs with strong ethnic influences. It incorporates the Yunnan melody with the Gu Zheng’s charm. The nimble but graceful plucking of the guzheng strings left numerous in awe as the audience relished the soothing piece.
Subsequently, the dizi soloist, Thye Wen Yi took command of the stage, along with a pianist. Everyone’s gaze became fixated upon her. She performed a piece titled The Legend Of The White Snake-(1) The Unity Of Xu and White. The piece tells the soulful story of Bai meeting Xu, who saved her in her past life at West Lake, and of them falling in love and marrying eventually. It was absolutely difficult to tear their eyes away from her as she poured her heart and soul into the song. By the end of the performance, she was received with loud cheers and thunderous applause.Without a doubt, their performance had delivered.
Next, the string ensemble performed The Olive Tree, adapted from the song “Olive Tree” by Taiwanese singer Chyi Yu. The song expresses the true feelings of a person and depicts how the lyricist San Mao misses his free and unrestrained life. This piece perfectly conveyed the feelings of yearning and longing. It was mesmerizing to see how they pulled away with such astounding synchronization – a testament to their months of hard work.
The Olive Tree was followed by a pipa solo performance by Lee Kai Huang, who was accompanied by a pianist. They performed a piece titled Clouds and Flowers Fantasy, which was inspired by Li Bai’s poem “Qing Ping Le”, which is famed for its phrase “Clouds Want Clothes and Flowers”. The rapid and intricate plucking and sliding of the pipa left the audience starstruck by the skilled fingers of the pipa soloist. Despite the sweet rhythm of the song, the pace of the song still kept the audience at the edge of their seats, as they leaned forward to keep up with each staccato beat. The piano complemented the pipa seamlessly, without a single flaw.
After the solo performance, the musical drew near to a closure. This was graced by the entire ensemble coming together once again to perform the last two pieces, The Beautiful Fern Leaf Hedge Bamboo and The Bamboo Song. The origin of the piece, Beautiful Fern Leaf Hedge Bamboo comes from Xishuangbanna, a place on the southwestern side of China which is famous for its forests, springs, peacocks, the Dai Clan and the fernleaf hedge bamboo “Feng Wei Zhu” named such because of its resemblance to a phoenix’s tail.
As for the final piece final piece –The Bamboo Song, illustrated a tranquil, peaceful and intimate morning scene in one’s hometown. Imagine the sun shining through the green bamboo forest and the sight of hard-working peasants belting their lungs out to folk songs as they carried on with their day’s load of work. The entire ensemble played with impeccable unison and harmony. Even until the very last moments of the piece, members of the audience were transfixed by their performance. Watching the ensemble members groove to the beats while playing so zealously with their respective instruments, it was clear the love and passion they had for the music they were playing and no doubt it rubbed off the audience. Each and every one of the audience left captivated and inspired. The chemistry between the members were unquestionably evident and it was a sight to behold. Certainly, their efforts had paid off.
“Encore, encore, encore”, the deafening cheers of the audience echoed incessantly for another performance from the talented ensemble. Defeated by the audience, the ensemble picked up their instruments one last time and melodious sound of the guzheng, pipa, string quartets and flutes altogether reverberated for the last time through the walls of the JC Hall. It was nothing short of a stunning and grand performance to conclude the musical.
In a nutshell, the musical was both enriching and exciting. It has definitely given more people insight as to the various instruments involved in Chinese Orchestra and has allowed for enjoyment of the various pieces of performance, even if there may be no prior knowledge to the songs itself. In Dr Elizabeth Lee’s opening speech, she quoted Plato, with the line that music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. With that in mind, everyone should strive to attend such events when an opportunity arises, not just to add value to our lives but to also learn more about music as a whole.
Stunning piece of work!