Cross-cultural musical treat

Pung holding the poster for the

THE Penang Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming concert titled ‘Farewell My Concubine’ will surely be an intriguing cross-cultural affair.

Combining Western and Chinese music, the performance should resonate with locals.

It will start at 7pm on Saturday in Dewan Sri Pinang.

A 75-piece ensemble will play renowned Chinese composer Guan Xia’s titular piece along with Lee Huan Zhi’s ‘Spring Festival Overture’ and Robert Schumann’s ‘Symphony No.1 in B-flat Major, Op.38’.

The emsemble will be under the baton of Pung Aik Khai, an all-round conductor, educator and multi-instrumentalist.

Pung was born and bred in Penang but is now based in the United States.

An alumnus of Chung Ling High School, he is currently director of music for the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music’s Concert Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Seven Hills Sinfonietta and Sound of Joy Choir.

Pung said he was delighted to be back in his hometown after helming another Penang Philharmonic concert two years ago.

“That time, it was all French music.

“My parents, who both grew up playing the erhu, said they enjoyed it though the music didn’t speak to them so much.

“I grew up conducting the Chinese orchestra in Chung Ling and studied in Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music for seven years.

“I have long wanted to do something that brings together the East and West.

“Penang has a large Chinese community so we believe this concert will appeal to many.

“The multiculturalism of the upcoming show also encapsulates Malaysia,” Pung said.

The 80-minute performance will feature Singapore-based Chinese soprano Huang Ping, Penangite Sara Heng on the guzheng (zither), Taiping native Win Tan Boon Choon on the xiao (a vertical flute) and China’s Jiang Hong on the jinghu (a bowed string instrument primarily used in Beijing opera).

Pung said the main piece ‘Farewell My Concubine’ was composed by Guan Xia in 2005 for famed Peking opera soprano Mei Lanfang.

After the latter passed away, the composer adapted it for a Western symphony orchestra, using Chinese instruments to represent some of the characters’ singing.

Penang Philharmonic administrator Ramesh Sharma said this will be the first time the orchestra is tackling the cross- cultural genre and if crowds love it, there may be more such shows to come.

“Response has been very encouraging.

“The way tickets are moving, it looks like we’ll have a good turnout,” he said adding that the tickets are priced at RM60 for adults and RM40 for students.

Interested parties can purchase them from Penang Philharmonic at the second floor of The Star Pitt St. or at the entrance on the day of the show.

For inquiries, call Ramesh at 016-473 5520 or email

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