Riding on Drive and Vitality – the Young and the Vigorous
The presupposing consideration in putting together this concert programme, which comprises five pieces of music, understandably is to demonstrate the accomplishments of four Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts alumni, the crème de la crème of Hong Kong's new crop of musicians. As such, the selected works would aim at showcasing their unique feats as home-grown talents. For the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra as ‘host’, one can anticipate that it would make certain adjustments in order to create a satisfying music-making experience with these ‘featured artists’; and for the audience who are here to encourage these young stars, this is also a good premise before entering the concert venue.
For both the opening number - Go Straight Ahead by Shi Wanchun - and the finale - Spring Tide in Gansu by Liu Wenjin, the audience's expectation would likely focus on the content and presentation style of the music out of sheer habit of appreciating programme music. While the vitality and high-stepping flow in Shi’s Go Straight Ahead and the vivid imitation of the surging water and its awesomeness in Liu's Spring Tide in Gansu may be fitting depictions of the sanguine envisioning of the younger generation today, the complex polyrhythm of the former (alternating 2/4, 3/4 and 6/8 time signatures) and the dynamic flow of the latter may tax conducting expertise. Given the fact that the other three pieces in the programme would focus more on the soloists, the quality of the concert as a whole may still depend large on the conductor.
Although Spring Tide features interpolating passages of the high-pitched dasuona and the dance-like erhu, the two instruments come under the limelight in two other works: the gaohu in The Butterfly Lovers concerto, and the suona in Cháo (or The Tide) written by Hong Kong composer Tang Lok-yin. When Ng Tai-kong (1943-2001), former conductor of HKCO and himself a virtuoso in gaohu, first adapted the violin concerto The Butterfly Lovers by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, for gaohu and Chinese orchestra, the effect was so good that it surprised the music world which raised its thumb of approval. The arrangement for gaohu has long been considered to have a stronger ‘Chinese flavour’ than the original. But having said that, one must admit the success of any rendering of Ng's arrangement still rests largely on the virtuosity of the soloist, a factor that poses considerable challenge to any gaohu performer.
While The Butterfly Lovers is based on content drawn from the Yue Opera popular in the Greater Shanghai region, the inspiration for Tang Lok-yin's Cháo is Chiuchow (Chaozhou) music. For the soloist, bringing out the charm of traditional Chiuchow music is only one of the challenges of the new work, the other being the liberal dose of American experimental music and postmodern jazz. There is even a passage that requires the suona player to improvise à la jazz. This compositional device greatly expands the range of the instrument’s repertoire. The audience, therefore, should not be surprised on hearing it morphing into its saxophone counterpart, or at the crossover effect of colouring traditional Chiuchow music with a period American touch. The work is definitely a test of the suona player's perception and bridging of both Chinese and Western cultures.
In fact, the blending of Eastern and Western cultural backgrounds can also be seen in Tang Jianping's percussion concerto Cang Cai - A Memorial for 2003 which, creatively-speaking, is derived from Peking Opera – ‘cang’ being an onomatopoeia of Chinese gongs, and ‘cai’, the cymbals. Both Chinese and Western percussion instruments are used in the music. Behind the purpose of making this a bravura piece for a percussionist, there is the composer’s message of turning crises into opportunities through rigour and strength.
The East-West background is what shapes the young featured artists of this concert as they have all grown up in Hong Kong. While the five works in the programme highlight this East-West aspect, they also share one common theme, and that is, the adaptability, dynamism and indomitable spirit that make Hong Kong what it is today, and the core strengths that place Hong Kong on the international map. If such qualities are passed onto our future generations through music and spur them to ‘surf the surge’, as the title of the concert suggests, it would be a great cause to celebrate.