Review: Chiming Notes That Resonate Through Two Millennia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 9:27am

Chiming Notes That Resonate Through Two Millennia
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Reviewed: September 13

No one knows what music the b ianzhong played when they were struck 2,400 years ago.

But in last Friday's concert, new compositions revealed an astounding variety of sounds from soft chimes to deafening clangs, and shades of harmony in the 65 bronze bells' complex overtones and 12-tone scale.

The audience was left with the distinct flavour of the ancient Chu culture (during the Zhou dynasty).

With Chinese orchestras, occasionally the attempt to blend traditional and Western styles is awkward, but in the hands of the Chinese Orchestra and Chinese Chime-bells Orchestra of Hubei, the colourful instruments and virtuoso playing more than make up for it.

In the first piece, Tang Jiangping's Imprints of Ancient Chu, the vibrations of the bells and drums hit us in our seats, drowning out the full orchestra with a glorious noise. They were also exquisitely delicate accompanying the xun in a haunting solo. The orchestra has a new seating arrangement with the gehu section, or cello-like instruments, sitting in the front. They sounded radiant.

Moonlight on the Spring River was performed elegantly by the orchestra and singer Ma Yaqin. Her pure pitch evoked a peaceful landscape far from downtown Hong Kong.

A Beautiful Night by Liu Tianhua has a justly famous melody. The accompaniment showed this to advantage.

John Howard's Making War, Seeking Peace captured the bitter harmony of the bells, as well as calmer sounds. There was a striking moment of singing and humming by the gehu section.

The Broken Bridge in the Snow by Liu Xijin was expertly played by Zhang Hongyang on three dizis, while Resounding Chimes by Lao Luo integrated folk-like chants seamlessly with hints of jazz. He used reed instruments, including suonas wailing at the top of their range.

Finally, Opus in Celebration of Prosperous Times by Kuan Nai-chun, had a massive beginning with a powerful organ.

Alexis Alrich