Performing Arts

Australian Chinese Music Ensemble

OzAsiaAustralian Chinese Music EnsemblePresented by the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble and the OzAsia Festival
Reviewed Friday 24th September 2010

Venue: ArtSpace, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Only one performance
Duration: 1hr

The group was formed in 1989 and is led by its founder, Wang Zheng-Ting, who plays the sheng, the Chinese mouth organ, a complex instrument with a wind chamber at the bottom, filled by blowing into a tube on the side, on top of which sits a large bundle of bamboo resonator pipes of various lengths, each of which has a metal reed at the bottom, the same as the free-reeds found in accordions, harmonicas and concertinas. It dates back, however, long before any of those instruments were thought of and was probably the model for all of them and more. It is played by covering and opening holes at the bottom of the bamboo pipes. It is capable of single note melody, chords and even of playing countermelodies.

Dong Quiming plays the dizi, a bamboo transverse flute with six finger holes, with a thin membrane over another small hole that gives it a distinctive sound. Dong Quiming had a collection of these in various sizes, each playing in a different key.

Jian Jiamin plays the erhu, a two stringed fiddle with a cylindrical hollow wooden body over which is stretched snakeskin as the sounding board. The two strings are very close together and the hairs of the bow passes between them. Like the dizi, the erhu is one of the main solo instruments and is used in all forms of Chinese music.

Jeremy Witkowski plays the ruan, an early form of plucked lute with a long neck, four strings and a large round body. It serves in much the same way as a bass in western music, providing a rhythmic single note line beneath the solo melody instruments.

The concert began with a short explanation of the instruments and their history, each musician playing a short solo piece to demonstrate the way that the instruments are played and the sounds that they create. This was then followed by a number of pieces, encompassing both traditional and contemporary Chinese music, and included a couple of pieces written by Wang Zheng-Ting, who is a composer as well as a master of the sheng. The group are also engaged in creating a fusion of Eastern and Western music.

Their musical style is based in what is known as Jiangnan Sizhu, coming from the Jiangnan region on the southern side of the Yangtze River, and allows for more ornamentation and improvisation than northern styles, within certain limits imposed by the written score. The concert included pieces for the full ensemble through to solos, and so there was plenty of variety both in this, and in the range of music played.

On a personal note, the concert took me back a quarter of a century to my time at the Elder Conservatorium of Music when I studied Chinese Music as an elective that was offered at that time in the music degree course. These instruments, played at such a high level, are seldom heard in Adelaide and so it was a great pleasure to attend this fine concert by these truly superb musicians. We can only hope that they will return soon and grace us with more of their wonderful playing.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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