Flow, mighty river

The yel­lowRiverCan­tata’s iconic sta­tus was un­der­lined yet again at de­wan Fil­har­monik Petronas.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By RE­VATHI MU­RU­GAP­PAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

IF THERE is one or­ches­tral com­po­si­tion the Chi­nese com­mu­nity can recog­nise, it’s got to be the clas­sic Yel­low River Can­tata. The can­tata – de­scribed as the most im­por­tant and in­flu­en­tial sym­phonic work — was com­posed in 1939 by Xian Xing­hai, based on the pa­tri­otic poem Yel­low River by Guang Weiran. It was in­spired by the epony­mous river and meant to eu­lo­gise the strug­gles of the people who lived on its shores, bat­tling both the mighty wa­ters and the Ja­panese in their daily strug­gle to sur­vive.

Ap­par­ently, the Paris-trained young com­poser churned out this eight-move­ment cho­ral piece known as a can­tata, on a rough­hewn desk in a Yanan cave, in six days. Xian in­tended the work to be per­formed by the many cho­ruses that had sprung up at the Com­mu­nist base camp – so re­mote that it was ac­ces­si­ble only by foot, mule, or air­plane. The ide­al­is­tic young people from around China who had flocked to Yanan to sup­port the Com­mu­nist cause fre­quently sang en masse to pass the time, boost morale, and fos­ter a fight­ing spirit.

Last week, Malaysians got to sam­ple Xian’s work in seven move­ments at the De­wan Fil­har­monik Petronas (DFP) in Kuala Lumpur.

The one-night sold out Yel­low River Can­tata per­for­mance by the Xi­a­men Univer­sity Cho­rus and Sym­phony Orches­tra was or­gan­ised by Xi­a­men Univer­sity and Malaysia-China Cul­ture and Arts As­so­ci­a­tion. It also marked the 40th an­niver­sary of the Malaysia-China diplo­matic re­la­tions and the es­tab­lish­ment of the univer­sity’s first over-

With sym­phonic splen­dour and in­for­ma­tive sur­titles, the

con­cert held re­cently at de­wan Fil­har­monik Petronas was a treat for fans of Chi­nese clas­si­cal mu­sic. (In­set) The show an­chors (from left) Wang Hong and Ruan Chunli telling the poignant story of the yel­low River. seas cam­pus in Malaysia.

The show was an ad­di­tion at­trac­tion to DFP’s re­cently con­cluded sea­son. The 100mem­ber en­sem­ble, un­der con­duc­tor Gui Wei, de­lighted with the new ar­range­ment of the can­tata, amidst a video pro­jec­tion of the rag­ing river and lyrics of the poem in English sur­titles flash­ing on a screen in the back­ground.

As a pre­lude to the Yel­low River Can­tata, we were in­tro­duced to Ode To The Red Flag, an apt open­ing pas­sage com­posed by Lu Qim­ing, with two an­chors pre­sent­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the river, widely con­sid­ered as mother river of the Chi­nese na­tion.

The can­tata’s first move­ment, Song Of The Yel­low River Boat­men, which be­gan China’s chap­ter of civil­i­sa­tion, kicked of Xian’s mas­ter­piece. The nar­ra­tive el­e­ments came to life with bari­tone Zhang Yalun, who urged the boat­men to keep row­ing to win the bat­tle. Take care, don’t be lazy, strive hard and fear note, he seemed to cry out in his beau­ti­ful voice be­fore he took on a calm ap­proach af­ter the storm. His pow­er­ful voice and clean dic­tion hu­man­ised the cho­ral move­ment.

Zhang has been praised by the late tenor Lu­ciano Pavarotti as a “true Verdi bari­tone”, and he is equally adept in the mu­sic of Richard Wag­ner in in­ter­na­tional opera houses.

In Ode To The Yel­low River, the vo­cal ar­range­ment with sus­tained notes for the choir, cre­ated a spine-tin­gling evo­ca­tion of vast dis­tances in the ru­ral land­scape.

There was a strange mix of un­usual colours and tex­tures through­out the can­tata. For ex­am­ple, the au­di­ence clearly loved Di­a­logue At The River Bank, which fea­tured two tenors, Chen Yan­fang and Liu Tao.

The move­ment be­gan with a touch of per­cus­sion, and pro­ceeded on to a full out med­ley. When the mu­si­cal con­ver­sa­tion be­gan, the tenors took turns to speak of their long­ing for their home­towns. The im­ages of the forces of na­ture raged in their minds, as they de­cide to fight their way home, bat­tling the guer­ril­las and the mighty river.

So­prano soloist Wu Xiaolu was par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive in the Yel­low River In­dig­na­tion, where she gave voice to a tor­mented char­ac­ter who sang of loss, rape, and the de­ci­sion to drown her­self in the Yel­low River to re­unite with her fam­ily. She sang with so much fer­vour, I could feel her an­guish.

Xian (or the re-ar­ranger) had in­cor­po­rated some tricky con­tra­pun­tal pas­sages for the cho­rus, and in sev­eral places, the text moves by speed­ily, but the en­sem­ble did well to tackle these chal­lenges.

For the fi­nale, the sym­phony per­formed the poem Ode to Peace, which was orig­i­nally writ­ten by Gao Zhanx­i­ang and read aloud from the space travel of Shen­zhou VI space­craft. Mezzo so­prano Feng Shuo de­lighted with her haunt­ing voice.

To cap off the night, the youth­ful-look­ing Gui Wei whipped out his ba­ton for a med­ley of lo­cal favourites, Chan Mali Chan and Rasa Sayang, be­fore wrap­ping the per­for­mance up with a recog­nis­able pas­sage from the Yel­low River Can­tata.

The young en­sem­ble showed plenty of talent, and are en­route to more tours around the world.

Golden beauty:

Can­tata

yel­lowRiver

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