Wind and Silk give traditional instruments new voices

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 5:12am

Concert by Wind and Silk


City Hall Theatre

The ruan, invented 2,000 years ago, is a four-stringed Chinese lute played with a plectrum, and its crisp tones make it an ideal solo instrument.

So when 18 of them, in five different sizes, are played together, significant skill is needed to blend the volume into a cohesive ensemble sound.

Tuesday's concert didn't disappoint, giving a new voice to one of our oldest instruments.

The performance began with the world premiere of Fantasia on Thunder in the Drought, written by Chang Yung-chin, who arranged it for Ruan Music, a local group set up in 2006.

The work played up the differences of the five ruan sections through counterpoint and modulation. The sections, akin to the violin family in Western music, consist of three sopranos, three altos, seven tenors, four basses, and one double bass, covering a range of six octaves.

Under conductor Bosco Kwok Kin-ming, a prize-winner at the Hong Kong conducting competition 2011, the dialogue between the sopranos and the tenors on left and right was refreshing, although the bass, despite its size, came off as weak, especially in tutti passages.

In Sketches of Life in the North, a four-movement work arranged by Chang, percussion added colour to the plucked strings, such as in Horse Race and Hunting in Winter.

The pianissimo vibrating sound of the strings in Fishermen's Song was probably the best moment for the instrument's new voice, thanks to Yuen Shi-chun, the mastermind behind the project.

Yuen, a prize-winning expert in plucked instruments from the ruan to liuqin, performed on other revived instruments in a series of chamber works.

In Pear-shaped Cloud and Meditation in Spring, he played on a Tang-style ruan which harmonised with Ho Kang-ming on Ming pipa to great effect.

He played the lead in Three Variations on the Weeping Willows, a trio for ruan, flute and huqin.

With a fancy-looking Qin lute, he led a series of favourite Cantonese melodies arranged for quintet in Qing-style, resulting in thunderous applause.

The surprise of the evening came after a stunning performance by yueqin virtuoso Lui Kwan-on with the ruan ensemble.

She then shifted instrument by bowing a handmade jinghu by Yuen, who played the yueqin to harmonise - a breath-taking duet for music-lovers to behold.