We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


The Yu Bing Ensemble in "Warlord"--part of Shanghai Week (photo by Liming Guan)

A number of tempting events were planned this week as part of a festival--"Happy Chinese New Year--Shanghai Week"--and we were delighted to attend a performance of "Overlord" at the Asia Society on Park Avenue.  This work is a multi-media exploration of the life of the infamous and ruthless warlord of Western Chu, one Xiang Yu, who led rebel forces into battle against the Xin Dynasty over two millennia ago.

The piece utilized a dancer, a percussionist, and several players of string instruments that were just as thrilling as they were exotic to Western ears. The leader of the group, Yu Bing, seems to have a special relationship with his pipa, holding it in close embrace and plucking the strings gently or brutally according to which aspect of the legendary Xiang Yu's character was being given aural representation.

Similarly the bass drum contributed various complex rhythms with the same intention. The subtleties employed were impressive both by texture and dynamics.

The beautiful young woman who played a succession of bamboo flutes elicited dulcet tones that wove in and out of the musical textures.

Adding to the textural beauty was the Gu Zheng, a type of zither that we heard recently at another Chinese concert, and the Zhong Ruan, an ancient Chinese string instrument that is also plucked.

We would have loved to credit the individual players who brought so much beauty to our ears but no printed program was provided. Suffice it to say that this was a beautiful introduction to contemporary Chinese music. The piece premiered just a few months ago and was commissioned by the 19th China Shanghai International Arts Festival’s R.A.W (Rising Artists’ Works) program, a creative initiative to commission and present new works by bright young artists from across China.

There will be one more performance today at 3:00 at the Asia Society.

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