Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

Concert a temple of Asian music
Thursday, February 2nd, 2006
By Gwenda Nemerofsky
WESTMINSTER United Church transformed into a temple for an Asian-inspired concert on Tuesday by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. From the opening act, we knew we were in for something unusual and special.
Grabbing the audience's attention immediately was Fubuki Daiko, the Winnipeg-based Japanese drum troupe. Their highly physical performance featured blood-curdling yells, jumps, twirls and drumbeats of a volume that nearly shattered the stained glass in the historic edifice. Exciting? You bet. If your heart didn't beat a little faster, you'd better make an appointment with your cardiologist.
Soulmate for cello and strings by Hong Kong-born Canadian composer Chan Ka Nin was a wonderful showcase for talented principal cellist Yuri Hooker. His playing full of emotion, this work could have been written for him, he played it with such sensitivity and honesty. The music has ebbs and flows, keeping one's interest. This very moving work received an equally moving performance.
Guest conductor Scott Yoo was in his element in the Concerto for Pipa and Strings by Tan Dun, best known for his music in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. With soloist Liu Fang, they stretched the minds and ears of the audience -- always a good thing -- by introducing us to this versatile instrument and fascinating piece of music.
The pipa is a four-stringed, fretted, pear shaped instrument, sometimes called the plucked lute of China. In the expert hands of Liu Fang, it is versatile beyond belief, capable of producing a myriad of sounds. It can have a pure, sweet tone, then mimic a cat's whine, be banjo-like, and even highly percussive.
The work called for orchestra members to get completely involved -- shouting, making sounds like the wind, as well as doing some string-popping bowing. The music had romantic qualities to it, with an ever-present Asian melody running throughout. Wearing a traditional dress and maintaining a calm demeanour, Liu played with strong musical assuredness.
Yoo stepped into the role of violin soloist for the tuneful Rondeau from Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A. This fellow has star power. Not only did he play with ease and energy to spare, he conducted between solos, flailing and bouncing all over the stage. The orchestra never sounded so good, playing with more passion than in recent memory. Dynamic and entertaining, Yoo had the audience shouting their appreciation.
Earl Kim's Illuminations for Soprano, Harp and Strings provided a touching finale to this vibrant evening. Winnipeg-born soprano Valdine Anderson's fine voice graced this piece, written the day before the composer died. While challenging to the listener, Anderson made it as accessible as possible, with an intelligent interpretation and the pristine beauty of her instrument. Every emotion was clear and her stage presence is extremely pleasing.
Westminster United Church never sounded so good.
Concert Review
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
January 31
Attendance: 720
4 stars out of five

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