klpac Orchestra: Lost in Celebration


A Celebration of Chinese Music

klpac Orchestra
4-6 March 2016
Pentas 1, klpac


Review by Ondeh Ondeh

klpac Orchestra and music director/conductor Lee Kok Leong are to be commended for their work in putting the concert together, especially in tackling such a diverse selection of pieces under the meaty title of A Celebration of Chinese Music. A well-established amateur orchestra, klpac Orchestra has grown well since its founding and it is a pleasure to see them so well-received especially in performing the Chinese classic ‘Butterfly Lovers’. klpac Orchestra is also important on a community level because it brings musicians from very diverse backgrounds together in a way that is giving, both to themselves and to their audience.

All-rounder violinist Fung Chern Hwei is well-known for his work in the contemporary sphere, and recently performed with composer Ng Chor Guan as the improvisational duo FUGU. Back in New York City where he is based, he is part of Sirius Quartet, a contemporary classical music outfit. This concert at klpac proved to be a great success for and because of Fung, as his spirited and sensitive interpretation not only won the hearts of his audience, but also that of his fellow musicians on stage – they were a wonderful complement to his beautiful musical narration of the classical story of lovers separated by class difference.

This success, however, was dampened by the inadequate programming of the concert. The concert program seemed to aspire to a representation of a musical map of China: opening with a piece inspired by the folk music of the minority ethnic groups in the country’s southwest, and concluding with an orchestral suite depicting the celebration of Chinese New Year in the Shanbei (northwest) region. Despite its weighty title, however, A Celebration of Chinese Music appeared anti-climactic and even disappointing, as the only piece worthy of the title was ‘Butterfly Lovers’. Indeed, with ‘Butterfly Lovers’ as the central piece of the program, it is strange that the piece was performed in the first half of the concert, and not the second.

The performance of the musicians, too, centered on that enormously popular piece, with little enthusiasm left for the remaining pieces in the program. ‘Slighted’ pieces include the final piece of the concert, the ‘Spring Festival Suite’ by Li Huanzhi, commonly performed at festive occasions in China. This is a piece that should have been as well-received as the ‘Butterfly Lovers’ due to the popularity of its first movement, the ‘Spring Festival Overture’. However, the weight and colour of the final piece as performed by the klpac Orchestra did not prove to be a satisfactory conclusion to a night of Chinese music.


The obvious difference in enthusiasm may have affected the spirits of the other soloist, soprano Angela Chock. Her performance, while beautiful, was a lackluster one: the songs chosen for her did not adequately demonstrate her virtuosity; the songs seem to have little relation to the theme (with the exception of ‘Orchid Blossom’, a folk song from the same region as the one depicted in Li Huanzhi’s ‘Spring Festival Suite’, Shanbei), and when accompanied with a lack of sensitivity in terms of the acoustics of the concert, did not help make a favourable impression of both music and performer. Angela Chock, however, remains a household name; she definitely can and will move on to more interesting projects, eagerly awaited by music lovers.

The real impact, therefore, was on the musicians, as they are an orchestra with potential but which seems to be lacking in a certain passion. This passion seems not difficult to unearth as they demonstrated it quite well with ‘Butterfly Lovers’; it therefore comes as a surprise that the rest of the pieces were not treated with the same enthusiasm.

klpac Orchestra has great potential and should endeavor to transform itself from an amateur orchestra to professional. The gradual progress of this orchestra becoming professional would be beneficial to both its musicians and the audience they attract within their own personal circles. On the most basic level, the improvement of an orchestra indicates the improvement of the individual musicians, and that is a great success in itself. On another level, the orchestra’s progress can affect the audience, as the quality of a performance can influence the quality of its audience. Audiences are shaped by the performances they consume. In attending performances that compel them to be kind instead of being properly appreciative and identifying both interesting points and flaws of a performance, they will slowly lose their sensitive, appreciative eye for art.

In the context of A Celebration of Chinese Music, the audiences seemed mostly family members and friends. While many of them may be music lovers in their own right, because of their connections to the musicians in the orchestra they were also usually rather forgiving in their judgment of the performance. When the klpac Orchestra becomes committed to improving itself with enthusiasm, it will also be an uplifting force that can elevate the appreciation of arts within our community.


Photo credit to Tang Chun Cheuh and Ridzuan Rashid, courtesy of klpac Orchestra.

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