Friday, 29 August 2014

Gongs for Tchaikovsky, praises for Hands

Hands Percussion's ambitious "Tchaikovsky On Gamelan" concert turned the Russian composer's familiar ballet scores into an otherworldly experience.

Hands Percussion's ambitious "Tchaikovsky On Gamelan" concert turned the Russian composer's familiar ballet scores into an otherworldly experience.

Hands Percussion's ambitious Tchaikovsky On Gamelan, recently concluded at KLPac, was technically ingenious, artistically monumental, and sonically sublime.

The premise of Hands Percussion’s latest stage production Tchaikovsky On Gamelan, which finished its two-week run at the KL Performing Arts Centre on Aug 24, is simple enough to comprehend: Play some of the most well-known compositions by one of Russia’s most renowned composers using a gamelan ensemble.

It’s when the thought sinks in and one starts imagining how on earth such music would sound like that the concept sort of skids into absurdist territory. Like Smoke On The Water played on spoons and kazoos, Tchaikovksy on gamelan just sounds so wacky, if not downright sacrilegious.

But it’s also hugely exciting. To my limited knowledge, no one has ever attempted to interpret Tchaikovsky on gamelan before. And in all my years of listening to music, I’ve yet to come across a gamelan ensemble perform Western classical music … until now, that is – and what an experience!

From the first notes to peal from the gamelan and Chinese percussion instruments – augmented by marimba, cello, violin, bassoon and clarinet – to the swells of the final crescendo, I find myself at the end of the concert completely energised and unnerved by what Hands Percussion has achieved.

Brilliance: Hands Percussion's players have expanded their sonic palette and show off the results brilliantly in Tchaikovsky On Gamelan

With a set that borrows heavily from Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores – The Nutcracker Suite, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake – the players, who arranged the pieces themselves and played brilliantly, not only replicate Tchaikovsky’s phrases and melodies faithfully, they also manage to bring out the composer’s Russian romanticism – a quality that one doesn’t normally associate with the arch, bell-like tones of the gamelan.

Two highlights from the show include the waltz from Swan Lake, which features a spirited performance by guest violinist Jae Sern, and a delightfully uplifting Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker. Who would think that the gamelan could waltz? Hands Percussion proves that it can.

My only gripe about the show is its staging. The visual projection that accompanied some of the pieces was distracting and some of the lighting design needs dialling down. But these are of little consequence to the total sum of the show’s achievements.

From its beginnings as a Chinese percussion troupe that built its reputation on increasingly elaborate stage extravaganzas, Tchaikovsky On Gamelan confirms Hands Percussion’s reputation as one of this country’s most exciting contemporary arts companies, and adds not only to its own repertoire, but also to the groundbreaking work pioneered by Rhythm In Bronze more than a decade ago.

Kudos to the ensemble and the entire company – under the guidance of artistic director Bernard Goh, artistic producer Susan Sarah John, and co-music directors Ng Siu Yee and Jack Wan Wai Keat – for pulling off this ambitious endeavour and making it look so effortless.

Tags / Keywords: Entertainment , Arts , On Stage , Entertainment , Arts , On Stage , Tchaikovsky On Gamelan , Hands Percussion , KL Performing Arts Centre , KLPac , review


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