GREAT MASTERS OF CHINESE MUSIC / Ding Yi Music Company / Review




GREAT MASTERS OF CHINESE MUSIC
Ding Yi Music Company
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (25 March 2012)


This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 March 2012 with the title "League of extraordinary gentlemen".


Not since the coming of the Berlin Philharmonic has Esplanade Concert Hall been filled to the rafters for a classical concert. This concert by the Ding Yi Music Company, a young semi-professional group of Chinese instrumentalists, was graced by four venerable soloists from China, all of whom are legends in their own right. It was as if Chinese music’s equivalent of Menuhin, Segovia, Rostropovich and Richter had all turned up, with an audience eating off their hands.




The concert began with sanxian player Feng Shaoxian, looking dapper in a cowboy hat, playing Sui Lijun’s Song of the Black Earth. Accompanied by percussion that resembled oars and washboards, Feng’s act on the banjo-like instrument punctuated by a curious combination of song and oratory was reminiscent of a minstrel singing the blues.




Then dizi master Lu Chunling, all of 91-years, charmed with the popular Jiangnan melody Xing Jie (Walking on the Street), which ambled from a stroll to a brisk jog. His next act was a change in outfit and his own Festival Dance Song, delightfully played on a bawu, a flute-like ethnic instrument with a lower pitch and mellower timbre.





On the guqin, the most ancient of Chinese instruments, Gong Yi demonstrated a quiet authority in his arrangement of Flowing Water. Its range of tempered sonorities had the uncanny resemblance to that of a modern piano, and it is not so far-fetched to imagining both instruments to being related.




Completing the quartet of virtuosos was erhu specialist Wang Guotong (above), whose sleek sound rose above the accompaniment for the upbeat Joyous Harvesting and nostalgic Mountain Ballad, both compositions of his. The ever responsive musicians of Ding Yi were conducted by the Cultural Medallion winner Tay Teow Kiat.




All four exponents were subjected to mini-interviews on stage, helpfully translated into English, before resuming with more music. It was the animated Lu, a former rickshaw puller turned musician, expressing the greatest excitement and gratitude being on this stage, who seemed to touch the audience most. He and 16 young flautists, aged 10 to 33, closed the concert with his classic Happy News (above).




There was an impromptu encore of Guan San Yue, uniting all four masters (above) in unison for a familiar melody. That was probably the least convincing item of all, but this league of extraordinary gentlemen had already earned their deserved standing ovation.

All photos courtesy of Ding Yi Music Company.