BWW Review: BUTTERFLY LADIES BAND – CHINESE NEW YEAR CONCERT 2017 at Dunstan Playhouse

The Butterfly Ladies Band - Chinese New Year Concert 2017, a fifteen member ensemble selected from the Zhejiang Traditional Orchestra, is making its Adelaide debut in the Dunstan Playhouse, presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre and the China Cultural Centre Sydney. The ensemble plays on traditional instruments, performing both traditional and contemporary music. To be accurate, of course, it is not exclusively the Chinese New Year; it is the Lunar New Year, celebrated throughout Asia.

The members of the ensemble look as good as they sound, wearing the most beautiful outfits, the stunning red dresses worn for the last few numbers, even drawing applause from the audience. Western chamber orchestras are generally led by the first violinist but, in this case, the orchestra was led from the yangqin, a hammer dulcimer, and there were up to five players of the erhu, the Chinese fiddle, creating wonderfully full sound.

Several players were multi-instrumentalists, which allowed for extended timbres, and the various numbers went from employing the full orchestra, down to small groups for intimate works. The guzheng, a type of zither, the sheng, a free reed mouth organ instrument, the pipa, a lute, the ruan, or moon shaped lute, and the dizi and xiao, transverse and end blown flutes are commonly featured instruments, all present here. Drums cymbals and frames full of tuned gongs, the bianzhong, and the pinyin, finger cymbals, add their driving rhythms, and the laba, a valveless brass trumpet provides another sound to a couple of tunes.

The tunes themselves depict nature, and rural daily life, common themes in Chinese music, going back many centuries and dynasties. This can be seen in titles such as Tea Picking Dance, Melody of Waterside Village, Fishing Boats Home from Harvest, Fighting Typhoon, and Blooming Flowers and Full Moon. We even had a singer presenting a charming rendition of Waltzing Matilda, and a fast full orchestra version of Click Go the Shears, to close the concert.

Before each tune there was a brief video explaining the piece to be played, establishing the historical context and enabling the listener to relate the music to what is being depicted. This is a big advantage, but also cleverly covers the changes on stage. The playing throughout was faultless, passionate and very moving, and the audience certainly showed its appreciation after every number.

It was a privilege to hear such venerable instruments played so extremely well, the audience absorbed in the rich cultural traditions. The long, enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of the concert actually seemed to catch the musicians by surprise. Hopefully, we will see them again in Adelaide, and often.


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From This Author Barry Lenny

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