Musical homage to Chinese culture

money-glitz | Bonnie Chen 10 Jun 2019

The aesthetics and atmosphere depicted by some of the well-known Chinese poems reached a whole new level when prolific composer Zhao Jiping accompanied them with musical notes. The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra demonstrated this by performing a selection of Zhao's works earlier.

Instead of performing Zhao's notable scores for films and television dramas such as "Raise the Red Lantern", and "Farewell to my Concubine", the HKCO selected works inspired by "Shijing", or "The Book of Songs", which is the earliest anthology of China dated more than 1,000 years ago, as well as Tang and Song dynasties poems.

Three quaint tunes were featured and they were sung by soprano Zhang Ningjia.

The first one was familiar to the Chinese people: "Quiet Night Thought" by Li Bai.

"Moonlight sheds on my bed,

Perhaps it is frost on the ground.

Raise my head to see the bright moon,

Droop my head and I think of my home."

While carrying a mood of desolation, the expressive character of Li, coming from today's Kyrgyzstan, manifested through the music. This sense of gloominess was escalated through the repetition of the verses and the music crescendo, achieved by the orchestra.

In another piece, "Farewell to Dong Da", written by Tang dynasty poet Gao Shi, the melancholic mood of seeing off a friend in a bad weather and the bond of friendship was reflected through the change of keys within a short piece of music.

"The bright sun has burnt the clouds thousands of miles ahead,

The wild geese fly in the cold wind amidst the drifting snow.

Worry not about not having any bosom friends in the future,

You are so famous, so how can anyone not know you?"

In "Tang Duo Ling - Parting with Sorrow", Song dynasty poet Wu Wenying depicted a dejected man parting from his friend.

"Why are all the sorrows gathered here?

The parting one has the forlorn autumn in the heart...

Flowers bloom in vain as the misty river flows on...

The willow does not cling on like my waistband...

The long wait is ahead, if only it would stay the sailing boat."

Starting with the arias, the piece then joined by the the whole orchestra gradually building up the mood, before a decrescendo bringing to the end.

Before continuing with a series of pieces inspired by ancient Chinese literature, "Pipa Concerto no. 2", a melange of Chinese and western concertos as well as a Chinese regional musical genre, was performed.

It was jointly commissioned by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra of Australia and the National Centre for the Performing Arts of China and a premiere was staged at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

Suzhou Pingtan, a musical/ oral performance art form popular in the Jiangnan region, was adopted in this piece. It mainly comprises two parts with a singer telling the story while a pipa player plucks the rhymes. It dates back to the Song dynasty influenced by the Wu culture.

It featured pipa virtuoso, Wu Man, who is known to have brought the lute-like instrument to the West. She was the first artist from China to perform at the White House.

Wu's nimble fingers flew across the pipa and outlined the musical contours, accompanied by the harmonic ambience achieved by the orchestra. On the other hand, the huqins performed the role of those of the violin family in the Western orchestra.

With only a single movement, this piece exemplifies the Western music influence of Zhao, who likes to explore the musical idioms and compositional techniques of scores written by maestros in the West and in China.

In the "Feng, Ya Song Symphony", five movements were written under the inspiration of works in "Shijing", or "Book of Songs". It began with a blazing prelude, followed by four works from "Shijing".

They include the well-known love poetry "Guan Ju".

"The modest virtuous young lady, for our prince a good mate she," sung by soprano Zhang in a sad but beautiful way.

"The Mythical Bird" is about a Song dynasty emperor offering sacrifices to ancestors. The use of percussion instruments brought out the ritualistic mood.

"Melody of the Secluded Orchid" was written by Chinese philosopher Confucius, depicting himself being born at a wrong time, while upholding virtue and nobility. The regretful and lonely feeling was highlighted by the solo performance of the erhu and the bell sound.

The last movement, "Guo Feng", which is more like a pastoral piece that depicts those who lead a humble life but look forward to a brighter future. High spirits filled the concert hall with the Hong Kong City Choir and the HKCO performing together.

During the encore, maestro Zhao got the baton from HKCO artistic director and principal conductor for life, Yan Huichang, to perform the main theme of TV series "Water Margin", an adaptation of one of the four great classical Chinese novels.

Inspired by some Chinese folk music, Zhao wrote the piece, that echoed the beginning of the concert with the performance of "Festival at Chang'an", illustrating celebrations of local people of old Xi'an on feast days.

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