When musical worlds collide, politely

Wed May 20, 2009 at 3:24 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Chinese Music Virtuosi performed with Fulcrum Point Tuesday night at Thorne Auditorium.

Under the energetic and imaginative leadership of artistic director Stephen Burns, Fulcrum Point has been breaking down barriers between musical genres for over a decade, finding common ground between classical and  rock,  jazz, dance, and non-Western music.

Many varieties of stylistic hybrid were in play for “Hong Kong at the Fulcrum Point,” a concert presented Tuesday night at Northwestern Law School’s Thorne Auditorium.

The evening was part of a month-long Hong Kong Comes to Chicago festival, an initiative equal parts commerce and culture. The former was manifest Tuesday with an opening speech by Hong Kong trade official Donald Tong and a slick, if somewhat heavy-handed infomercial extolling the virtues of Hong Kong for business and recreation.

The program featured an array of music by Hong Kong-based composers as well as works by Western composers of Asian descent. Fulcrum Point was joined by the Chinese Music Virtuosi, six musicians performing on traditional Eastern instruments.

The evening led off with the Hong Kong  ensemble in Thunder in Drought and Autumn Moon Over the Placid Lake, traditional works that made a worthy introduction to the bracing sonorities and exotic (to Western ears) timbres of the Chinese instruments.

Fulcrum Point’s bridge-building between different genres was manifest in two works. Ng King-Pan’s Semblance of Invisible, heard in its world premiere, combines Chinese and Western instruments in music that is accompanied by a Tai Chi master. Dong Xia-fei’s fluid gestures reflected the music, highlighted by the haunting high sound of the huqin, a body-less stringed instrument. And Law Wing-Fai’s Yi Zhi Shan offered duo virtuosity as Lam Tsan-tong’s bravura solo pipa backed the vibrant improvisational dance of Mollie Mock, a dauntingly flexible member of the Thodos Dance Company.

Stephen Burns

The most individual work was Vivian Fung’s Chanted Rituals, heard in its Midwestern premiere. East really does meet West in the Canadian composer’s chant-based work for trumpeter and two percussionists, and  Burns displayed  impressive chops as soloist in the jazz-inflected opening Dance, switching to flugelhorn for the atmospheric central Prayer.

 Loo Sze-wang was a forceful soloist in Tang Lok-Yin’s It is What it is, a  scherzo-like concerto for the woodwind sheng, though much of the music felt like vamping without a strong idea.

The program was certainly offbeat and well performed by all the musicians. Though considering Fulcrum Point’s reputation for edgy, envelope-pushing programs—the group presented Antheil’s icon-smashing Ballet mecanique two months ago— much of the music sounded merely piquant and tame.  

Aenon Jia-En Loo’s a bliss: day in, day out, composed specifically for the occasion joins all the musicians together. One kept waiting for the Fulcrum Point brass to explode at some point, but Loo’s work is content to have the Western instruments double the repetitive, easy-going lines of the Chinese players, making a rather anti-climatic coda to a diverting if over-polite musical evening.

 Fulcrum Point will perform a free concert 6:30 p.m. June 15 at Millennium Park. 312-726-3846; www.fulcrumpoint.org

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