Chinese Fine Arts Society serves up a delightful sampler at Millennium Park

Tue Aug 27, 2013 at 12:26 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Violinist MingHuan Xu and pianist Winston Choi performed at the Chinese Fine Arts Society concert Monday night at MIllennium Park.

A good-natured collection of music by contemporary Chinese composers made for a well-paced and enjoyable hour-and-half at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion Monday night.

Presented by The Chinese Fine Arts Society, a Chicago institution soon to celebrate their 30th anniversary, the “Rhythms of China” program evoked a Silk Road-like spirit of East-West collaboration and occasional conflict featuring first-class performances from artists including violinist Rachel Barton Pine, Third Coast Percussion, flutist Eugenia Moliner and co-curators pianist Winston Choi and violinist MingHuan Xu.

With many of the pieces—some excerpts from larger works—clocking in at less than five minutes, there was little opportunity to establish much of an identity for the individual composers. Still, the fragments were played with such refinement and precision that the result was stimulating and engaging. The running commentary by the society’s president, Julie Tiao Ma, was brisk and informative and neatly filled up the breaks between the works.

The first work, YanKo, was a carefully chosen sampler by the prolific composer Chen Yi. Her short piece pitted MingHuan Xu’s violin rendering of Chinese themes against Third Coast’s vocalized effects and subtle touches of Eastern-sounding percussion.

Rachel Barton Pine joined MingHuan Xu for Three Humoresques by Yang Bao-Zhi. These brief contrasting canonic movements veered gracefully from traditional Chinese pentatonic melody to a very western-sounding finale.

Lakescape II by the Chinese-American Lei Liang offered Third Coast Percussion a dynamically varied work with bell-like effects and chimes against a bowed silvery line.

Barton Pine joined pianist Choi in two movements from Pei Lu’s Legend of a Chinese Hero, a more substantial piece, which reflects the composer’s Chinese and American musical training. Choi’s faultless pianism mixed western technique with Chinese themes and supported Barton Pine’s dynamic virtuosity in a dramatic concluding Scherzo.

Vivian Fung is a well-respected Canadian composer who turned away from her usual Western style of composition to take on the challenge of writing for Chinese traditional instruments in Night Impressions.

Two movements were conducted by Emanuele Andrizzi. The artists included Yihan Chen on pipa (a Chinese lute), Hong-Da Chin on dizi (flute) and Betti Xiang on erhu (the two-stringed Chinese fiddle). Along with members of Third Coast Percussion, they produced some stunning virtuosity particularly in the last movement, the impulsive “Celebration,” which captured the mood of the evening perfectly.

A fascinating duet for violin and erhu was a fine vehicle for Barton Pine and Betti Xiang highlighting these artists in a cross-cultural work written by pianist-composer Conrad Tao, who was all of twelve years old when he penned it for Xiang in 2006. Throughout the performance, violinist Pine showed her admirable devotion to musical integrity across all borders and Xiang’s virtuosity on erhu was a sheer delight.

The final piece, Sojourner’s Song by Daniel Lo Ting-cheung was the most substantial and longest piece of the concert. Emanuele Andrizzi conducted an ensemble that spotlighted Chen’s pipa against an ensemble of western instruments including flutist Moliner, pianist Choi and bassist Jeremy Attanaseo. Third Coast Percussion provided atmospheric percussive effects throughout.

Abstract and at times aggressive in a modernist style the work provides many opportunities for the pipa’s virtuosity and an East-West dialogue with an equally virtuosic flute is a highlight.

The performance was bookended by the dynamic drumming of Chicago’s Cheng Da Drum Team, and they produced some heavy thundering that resounded over Millennium Park as the substantial audience made their way home.

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