BWW Reviews: Oz Asia Festival 2013: T'ANG QUARTET: SECRETS AND SONGS Delight the Audience with Contemporary Music from East and West
Reviewed Wednesday 18th September 2013
The T'ang Quartet, comprising Ng Yu-Ying, first violin, Ang Chek Meng, second violin, Lionel Tan, viola, and Leslie Tan, cello, presented a very varied concert of six pieces by four contemporary composers from markedly different countries, Franghiz Ali-zadeh, Hu Xiao Ou, Kelly Tang, and Elena Kats-Chernin.
This is the first time that this quartet has played in Adelaide, although they did once play in a festival in the Barossa Valley. From the audience response, it was clear that further visits would be most welcome.
Mugam Sayagi, by Azerbaijani composer, Franghiz Ali-zadeh, was the first piece and featured cellist, Leslie Tan. The cello begins and ends the work alone, representing the Imam calling people to prayer, with the other instruments adding their voices offstage before entering to sit for the central part of the work, this process reversing towards the end. There are middle-eastern rhythms and tonalities, and a good many contemporary playing techniques in this work, which also uses a gong, a triangle, and a djembe, the West African drum, for added colours. It certainly showed the enormous skill and talent of the musicians in their insightful playing of this very complex piece based on the idea of a secret language, Mugam, used by 16th Century Islamic lovers, expressing their love of God but meaning their love for one another.
Mo Xie for String Quartet, by Chinese composer, Hu Xiao Ou, is inspired by the minority Naxi peoples, who live in Yunnan province, who were originally known as Mo Xie. This is another very difficult work, again using modern playing techniques and containing considerable tonal complexities. It even includes the drone of an electronic tanpura, familiar to those who enjoy Carnatic music, the traditional music of south India. The quartet negotiated all of this richness and complexity with what appeared to be great ease, a sign of the skill and flexibility of these four musicians.
At this point Leslie Tan, who introduced the works, jokingly remarked that the remainder of the evening was to be the more "easy listening music" part of the concert.
Concert Suite from "Feet Unbound", by Kelly Tang, who was born in Singapore, takes music from the documentary film about the women of China who were subjected to the barbaric practice of having their feet bound tightly, crushing them into horrifically mangled appendages on which they could barely walk, in order to satisfy the fetishist fashion ideal that tiny feet were considered beautiful. More specifically, the film is about the many women with bound feet who were forced to join the Long March of the mid 1930s, members of the Red Army who retreated from the nationalist forces, walking 6,000 miles, or 10,000km on those crippled feet for several years, over all types of terrain, in all types of weather, many of whom perished en route from either the struggles of the march or attacks by Nationalist forces..
There are martial themes running through this piece, and some very sad sections, some harsh passages, and some gentle sections, all of which reflect aspects of this forced march. The quartet brought out the emotional highs and lows in superb detail, engaging the audience fully with the plight of these women.
Born in Uzbekistan, and now an Australian, Elena Kats-Chernin is a prolific and popular composer. Three short compositions of hers closed the concert. The first, For Rosa is a tribute to Rosa Zerfas, commissioned by her daughter Joyce Evans, with the request that it include two melodies that her mother sang to her, a lullaby and a Polish folk song. This it does, in a joyous celebration of the life of this strong, generous, and determined woman.
This was followed by Eliza's Aria, from her Ballet, Wild Swans, based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson. This is a lively piece, with very effective use of pizzicato in maintaining a lightness that befits the Princess who rescues her eleven brothers who have been turned into swans by their stepmother, who is a witch.
The third and final piece in the concert was Grotesk , a piece that was composed as music for a German theatre production, Return. This short piece starts very strongly, with the cello providing a solid blues inspired foundation throughout for the other three to complement and soar above.
These three contrasting works gave this excellent quartet a chance to show their versatility in different styles and moods, providing a fine ending to a marvellous concert of contemporary music with Asian and Australian influences. It is to be hoped that, now that they have finally made it to Adelaide, they visit us again, and often.