City Chinese Orchestra

Sunday 27 May, 2001 – Singapore

Storms, thunder, lightning and heavy rain early in the morning gave way to just heavy rain through the day. After a long lie in bed and lingering about the house at Stevens Road over numerous cups of coffee and breakfast, the rain finally stopped. Visited both the National Museum and the Asian History Museum. Like the Art Gallery, they are both quite new institutions and had the feeling of the paint being scarcely dry.

Wandered to the Victoria Theatre to hear the City Chinese Orchestra in concert. This was a really exciting performance, featuring a famous female player of the gaobu – the Chinese fiddle. She performed a sort of recital in the first half, accompanied at first by just a player of a sort of stringed xylophone-cum zither instrument, then with an increasing number of instrumentalists playing an assortment of lutes, ‘uhus’, wind instruments sounding like organs.

I’m afraid I can’t say much more about the program, which was musically quite varied and fascinating, because the program and all the concert announcements (a compere ‘hosted’ the concert) were in Mandarin. During the interval there was a reception at which green tea and steamed dumplings were served, and various invited guests mingled and met with the soloist.

Liew introduced me to Mr Choo, Chief Executive of the National Arts Council. The second half of the concert started with a major work, featuring the soloist and the entire orchestra. It was a remarkable sound. Interestingly the orchestra uses western cellos and basses, and a combination of traditional and western percussion instruments.

Sculptures at Haw Paw Villa, Singapore
Sculptures at Haw Paw Villa, Singapore

Unfortunately Mr Liew said we needed to leave before the end of the concert as there was an SSO Chamber Series concert at 7.00pm on the other side of town that we needed to attend, so I missed the last work. However another Chinese orchestra is playing in the Arts Festival, so hope to hear them as well.

The chamber concert featured several SSO musicians performing trios and a quartet by Brahms, Mozart and Poulenc – another varied program. The clarinet soloist, Vincent Goh, seemed to be having some difficulty with his reed and continued to fiddle with it throughout the first half of the concert. The venue was the somewhat dry auditorium of the Young Musicians Association, with very cramped seats (even by Singapore standards).

All in all, the performance struck me as somewhat passionless, and I’d have preferred to hear the end of the Chinese orchestra concert, but as they say, them’s the breaks! The nice thing about Singapore is that, even at 9.00pm after a concert on a Sunday night, you have plenty of choices places to eat, and afterwards you can still go to the supermarket, as they stay open until around 10.00pm.

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