HKICMF: Modern Masters - Ghost Opera Review

Cho-Liang Lin
TimeOut Hong Kong

By Satoshi Kyo

APA, Jockey Club Amphitheatre, Sunday January 14

From the 3rd Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival came this concert that juxtaposed Bela Bartok with Chen Yi and Tan Dun, an ingenious programme that not only emphasize their commonality but also their distinctiveness in their use of folk music. Furthermore, the programme also demonstrated how inspiration from folk music has developed from Bartok’s time to today, and from the west to the east.

The concert, Modern Masters – Ghost Opera, opened with six (of 44) pieces from Bartok’s Duos for Two Violins B.B. 104 (No 2, 10, 28, 35, 42, 44). Originally composed for didactic purpose and all based on folk music, the pieces are numbered in increasing order of difficulty. Clara-Jumi Kang and Henning Kraggerud played the pieces finely, displaying the technical and artistic considerations needed as the pieces progressed. Chen Yi’s Fiddle Suite for Erhu & Quartet is an exploration of the erhu sound, coaxing it into Singing, Reciting and Dancing (three movements). Erhu virtuoso Wong On-Yuen superbly played three different types of the traditional Chinese instrument, while the Shanghai Quartet provided a landscape of tactile sounds for the erhu’s to inhabit. Back to Bartok, the Shanghai Quartet gave a stellar performance of the tightly constructed String Quartet No 3 and was perfectly unfazed by the extended instrumental techniques it called for.

From concert to theatre, the second half was the stunning staging of Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera. While Chen Yi’s suite brought the west to the east, Tan Dun’s opera brought the east to the west. Shakespeare was interpolated with chanting of the monks and Bach was alternated with a simple folk song, created parallel worlds slipping in and out of each other, dissimilar yet attuned to a common energy. The piece can’t ask for a better ensemble than Cho-Liang Lin, Zhu Bei, Andrew Ling, Li Xiao-Lu and Zhang Ying. The eastern sensibility that they brought to the piece was moving and central to its full realisation.