Last Saturday, on 30th of November 2019, UNM Chinese Orchestra held their 6th annual concert. Themed “Journey Through the Seasons”, the concert presented beautiful pieces of contemporary arrangements and modern pop songs with an oriental twist as the audience experienced the seasons of the year.
The event started with an opening speech from Ong Qian Yee, president of Chinese Cultural Society; everything was presented in Chinese and English, opening up opportunities for the non-Chinese to explore the world of Chinese orchestra. In total, 4 conductors took turns in leading the orchestra.
The first piece, Matsuri, was Composed by Kitaro for his album Kojiki was the first piece, Ma Matsuri, meaning “festival” in Japanese, reflects the excitements and joy of a celebration. Starting with a slow and steady trance-like rhythm, accompanied with a soft tune, the drums grew steadier and the pattern changes made it more exhilarating. The image of a shrine packed with people enjoying themselves filled the mind. A few chants towards the end set up the mood even more so, showing the spirit of festivities.
Followed by a very light-hearted Kaze ni Naru, this song is perfect for reminiscing on the good old days. Composed by J-pop singer Ayano Tsuji, this was the soundtrack for Studio Ghibli’s ‘The Cat Returns‘. The song title means “Becoming the Wind”, showing the protagonist’s journey of finding her true self. With a cheerful and bouncy feeling, combined with tinkling and a few drums, this song is very pleasing to the ears.
Next up is Amparito Roca, a classic Spanish march traditionally used for military troops. This is the first time this influential piece has been arranged for a Chinese orchestra. Dr. Sergio Camacho, Head of Uni Per Arts and Director of UNM Performing Arts, both arranged and conducted this lively song, giving it a distinct sound as it was played on Ruan (moon guitar) instead of mandolin.
Widely known in Chariot Drum opera and Hakka tea-picking opera is Peach Blossom Takes the Ferry in a Nanguan play. An exciting ensemble with a prominent string duet, this tells the story of Peach Blossom who met a ferryman and had a light-hearted singing competition. Presented in a complementary male and female role, this song relies on instrumentation techniques to separate the identities.
Then, a soulful rendition When You Believe was played. This gospel song comes from the musical film “The Prince of Egypt”. Accompanied by subtle Gu Zheng and Sheng, the song went through a lively phase, before going back to soft, touching tunes.
Libertango, the next piece, was tango music that merges Western classical and jazz style. Composed by Astor Piazolla, this piece symbolized his break from traditional tango music, hence the title, a portmanteau merging “Libertad” (liberty/freedom) and “Tango” It was an enticing, fast-paced performance with a beautiful cello solo by Tan Elynn.
Followed by Jasmine Flower, a Turandot and Jiangsu folk-themed song. The pleasant, linear melody follows traditional Chinese music characteristics, portraying the beauty of oriental women. Together with eminent percussion and strings alternatingly, this piece will take you through a variety of emotions, before a grand climax, marking the end of the first half of the concert.
Wandering in Quemoy started the second half of the performances with cheerful melodies and strong percussion. Originally named Wuzhou, Quemoy was a military centre and a coastal defence town. Accentuated with Suona and Dizi, this piece started with an energetic atmosphere you would feel during festivities like Chinese New Year. As the song progress, it told a tale on history and the golden age of Quemoy with slower, graceful melodies, and about the people living there. To show the experience, and hope for a better future, it played the beginning melody, with a more prominent percussion, before a majestic ending.
After that, The Sound of Falling Snow, an original theme song for the drama “The Story of Yanxi Palace” was played. Originally composed and sung by Lu Han, this song is incredibly melancholic and heart-wrenching. This song told a story about unrequited love between Ying Luo and Fu Heng. With a gentle and delicate tune, this was truly one of the most exquisite song in the concert.
Next up is Spring, composed by Lo Leung-Fai for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. It is the first movement of “The Four Seasons”, consisting of three sections of “Dawn of Spring”, ”Spring Outing”, and ”Ode to Spring”. The song is delicate, praising the beauty of springtime as it brought the hope of a plentiful summer after a cold and harsh winter.
The 4th movement in the First Chinese Symphony composed by Leong Han Kuei, was Song of Winter. The beginning described the snow’s radiance and the chilly atmosphere that comes with the season using bells and tinkling sounds. As the song picked up its pace, the lovely melody it expressed the delightfulness of winter.
Train Toccata is the Chinese orchestra version of Liu Yuan’s symphony orchestra piece, with influence from Lo Ta-yu’s son, “Train”. Played in a steady rhythm, this piece managed to simulate the sound of a speeding train with a vibrant feel. Complete with a train conductor hat and whistle to replicate the horn, this piece relied heavily on percussion and drums.
After all those amazing shows, the Chinese orchestra still had two more songs to perform. The first one was The Avengers by Alan Silvestri, the soundtrack of Marvel’s “The Avengers”. Still staying true to its original tune, this rendition offers a slightly different -and probably better, feel compared to a Western orchestra. A very enjoyable song and frankly, a wonderful choice for an encore song. Finally, the concert ended with Tequila by the Champs. Video of Andy Rowell’s rendition in America’s Got Talent went viral as the song was a spoof, with “Tequila” as its only lyric. Personally, I think it was a great way to end the performances with light and entertaining song/joke. They still put a lot of effort into it, even making signs saying “TEQUILA!”.
As a first-timer in the Chinese orchestra, this whole experience had been amazing. Through the songs, the audience learnt more about Chinese culture. The fact that they include contemporary piece and renditions of popular Western/Spanish song is admirable; this could be a stepping stone to introduce Chinese orchestra to a more diverse audience. I can’t wait for the future performances, it’s going to be great!
For further information regarding UNM Chinese Orchestra or Chinese Cultural Society, please click the links below:
Photos taken by Kelvin Tan, from KTSZ Studio
Written by Gabriele Kepartono