Conductor shows depth of talent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 3:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 3:10am

Pan Asia Symphony Orchestra

A Troika Concert - Cello Concerto by Yip Wai-hong

Sha Tin Town Hall


It takes exceptional talent to get a community orchestra to deliver a full concert of classical and contemporary works, including a world premiere.

In just three rehearsals, Lio Kuok-man, incoming assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, turned the Pan Asia Symphony Orchestra into an effective body of musicians navigating challenging scores.

Lio's beats are effective rather than showy. His stick technique is clear and always inviting, inspiring the 60-plus players to give their best to the collective sound despite sporadic intonation problems with the brass.

In Beethoven's Egmont Overture, the feeble opening in the brass was lifted by sumptuous strings. Crescendos leading to climaxes were meticulously prepared; the coda clean and biting.

Lio showed in Copland's Appalachian Spring suite why he won the Philadelphia position through this work in the audition. The eight-movement work featured different moods in the music about pioneer life in America. Lio tapped the unsophisticated sound of the Pan Asia musicians, especially the woodwind section. The clarinet in the atmospheric opening had that once-upon-a-time effect. The way it sang Simple Gifts after a serene transition brought heads up in the audience, and the tutti of that famous Shaker hymn was maestoso.

Before the world premiere of the cello concerto, its veteran composer and educator Yip Wai-hong dwelt on the work he wrote 59 years ago to express his love for the motherland. Scored in three movements and in traditional sonata form, the work was full of energetic vigour characteristic of national sentiment in the 1950s. The opening fanfare was reminiscent of Soviet composer Aram Khatchaturian. But the delicate Chinese folk melodies in the sub-themes were certainly Yip's.

Between the two was the solo cello, and Chu Yibing, of Beijing's Central Conservatory, took up the daunting task. Aside from difficult solo lines, Chu had to survive the loud orchestral backdrop and fast tempo. The slow second movement was a respite with enchanting folk melodies in duet between cello and woodwinds, disrupted only by a powerful orchestral march on snare drums, a way perhaps to tell of the composer's political misfortune that led to the work's hibernation for nearly 60 years.