Neil Chua (left) and Heng Xi Ying mesmerised the audience with their performance, which gave a modern twist to classical Chinese pieces.
IT seemed like a brilliant idea when China-based homegrown musicians Neil Chua and Heng Xi Ying decided to find a new direction through the Chinese classical landscape. Driven with the desire to push the boundaries between classical and modern, the musicians have proven that with imagination and creativity, classical pieces can be tweaked to give it a contemporary feel while preserving its original essence.
At their recent performance Les Melodies 4+21 at the newly set-up Theatre Lounge Cafe (TLC) in Kuala Lumpur, Chua, who plays the ruan, and gu zheng player Heng, showcased their versatility and gave a refreshing twist to classical compositions with a modern edge. Classical pieces such as Drunken Madness, The Blossom of Spring and The Fishing Boats At Dusk were re-arranged, uplifting the benchmark for classical Chinese classical fusion pieces.
On stage, the musicians didn’t disappoint with solo re-compositions either. Chua mesmerised the audience with his subtle rendition of The Sword, The Water Lily and The Folk Tune. The Klang, Selangor-born artiste, who is the only homegrown musician to be conferred a Master’s degree from the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music, cleverly reinterpreted some tunes by varying the tempo to give it a melancholic modern touch. For The Folk Tune, he even jazzed up the tune to the point it was hard to tell if the original piece was actually classical.
Heng also left everyone in awe, as her nimble fingers plucked along the silken strings of the wood zither playing popular classical tune High Mountain Flowing River, intense piece Battling The Typhoon and carefree composition, The Spirit Of West Regions. She had the crowd eating out of her palm as she showcased her versatility in bowing, hammering and plucking the strings to evoke the sense of thunder and flowing waterfalls.
What made the showcase even more interesting was TLC curator Pun Kai Loon’s efforts to give a brief description of each piece before the musicians took centrestage. This enabled the audience to better understand the complexity of each piece and also each instrument, including its origin, design and uniqueness.
It also proved to be quite an eye-opener for many (including the writer) who just discovered that the gu zheng is tuned to a pentonic scale and requires the player to tune different scales by sliding each movable bridge.
Theatre Lounge Cafe is the latest business venture by Pun and Khor Seng Chew of award-winning Dama Orchestra. Set up to last month, the experimental space provides additional avenue for artists and technicians to supplement their income in between theatre projects. Their programme includes Chinese & Western Oldies Series, Chinese & Western Play Series, Chinese and Western instrumental series, Music Theatre Series, Western Opera Series as well as Chinese Opera Series.
For Heng, the space is the perfect platform to showcase classical instruments with a modern twist.
“People tend to associate Chinese classical instruments with the older generation. Given the avenue, young musicians can promote Chinese instruments and fuse it with other instruments. Hopefully, showcases of this sort will also inspire a new younger generation of musicians to pick up classical Chinese instruments too,” said Heng, who is pursuing her Master's degree in Guzheng at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.