Copland in Hong Kong

Fanfare for the Common Man
Piano Concerto
John Chen Kwok-Ping
I am from earth
Suite – Billy the Kid

Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestraconducted by Yip Wing-Sie

Andrea Lam (piano)
Lung Heung-Wing (percussion)

Reviewed by: William Turner

Reviewed: 22 October, 2000
Venue: Kwai Tsing Theatre, Hong Kong

As a preface, it would be useful to set the scene for the prospect of attending a concert, any concert, in Hong Kong. This is a city of noise, of bustle, of incredible energy. One feels it is worth entering a concert-venue just to escape. This concert was billed as ’Orchestral Fun: Copland Centennial 1’.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic is a government-supported professional orchestra that plays around 200 concerts each year. Copland’s Fanfare was played with essential precision, in a spirited performance under Yip Wing-Sie, who may be of diminutive proportions but she has a presence and control that mastered the players, as the lively and accurate playing of Billy the Kid demonstrated. Andrea Lam, the very young, Australian-born soloist gave a satisfying performance of Grieg’s ever-popular Concerto that may have lacked fresh insights, but was enjoyable and danced along with a youthful momentum.

Local composer John Chen’s new percussion concerto begins with a movement, Air, of quietly tinkling chimes, possibly of random notes. Progressive interjections from strings, brass, and from direct contact with the piano’s strings, brought a chaotic development not really recognisable as wind (at least to my ears).

However, with tropical storm, typhoon-threatening Yagi just a few hundred miles off the coast, Chen made it clear that wind here is more violent and potentially destructive – so, a believable notated impression of this element, one made musically interesting by bursts of atonal melody interrupting pure percussion. Perhaps predictably, the ’storm’ dissipated to end quietly with a tap on a resonating bowl.

With quietly rippling harp and xylophone, Water began as a calm, seductive episode picked up by flute and, then, the full orchestra with a variety of textures, ones frothy and others rhythmically interesting. The ensuing cadenza was a tour de force, the tune interrupted, with vivid images created to illustrate the ever-changing nature of this matter.

The third and final movement, Earth, is, according to the composer, deliberately ambiguous – both another element, and our planet. This was a magnificent, bold movement with four percussionists placed across the back of the stage; the soloist, Lung Heung-Wing, placed front-centre, surrounded by a treasure house of instruments. Various musical styles, including jazz, were embraced, with violent and aggressive passages smoothed by more tranquil interludes. I am from Earth was exciting and challenging – its fresh, innovative invention deserves a wider audience.

With Billy the Kid closing an evening of exciting music, the only letdown was that on leaving the concert-hall, anticipating entering a scorched desert, I found myself once-again in the urban jungle that is Hong Kong.

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