‘Reimagining Tradition: Women of Teochew Music‘ sees the collaboration between one of Singapore’s most prominent and prolific Teochew Opera group – Nam Hwa Opera • 南华潮剧社, led by Mr Ng Eng Quee, and the MacPherson Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Mr Lester Kong, which will bring the audience through various emotions.
From Hua Mulan’s victorious military service to Wang Zhaojun’s nostalgia for home, and Taohua’s wit in her banter with Dubo the boatman, be awed by how elegantly the Teochew ensemble and the Western symphony orchestra come together in a journey to reimagine tradition.
“In Singapore, musicians and composers have always fused various musical elements together; be it incorporating a solo instrument with a larger ensemble, or when the composer writes and fuses ethnic elements into his or her music.
This is the first time that we are fusing Teochew music with Western orchestra instruments or elements; it is an experiment to combine both groups to create a new sound, a new genre of music, in our hopes to reach out to new audiences.”
The conceptualization and planning of the show began in 2019, but due to the pandemic, the concert was only able to be presented this year. Throughout the preparation process, many challenges were faced, in terms of compositions, music direction, and musicians.
“For this fusion to work, we needed a composer who could understand, see and hear our vision. Hence, we sought the assistance of local composer Sulwyn Lok, whose background in both Western and Chinese orchestral music helped us bring this concert to life.
Our conductor, Lester Kong, played a very important role too. He had to study the scores fully to understand the composer or arranger’s intent, and then paint the image for both musicians and the audience to hear and see where the music is leading us. By familiarizing himself with the new instruments, and knowing the potential of each, he is able to create and help us bring out their best sounds.”
“As musicians, we are often very comfortable in our zones. For any musician to embark on a fusion project, it takes an open mind to hear new sounds, and have courage to be able to try making them. It was not easy to fuse the East and West, as our two groups have completely different ways of practicing and playing. However, as music is a universal language, the magic is create when we come together to play as one.”
Today, Teochew remains the second-largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore.
The Teochew culture is rich, and its heritage has a very wide repertoire which makes it very enthralling, especially in its classical operas and music, which are synonymous with the Teochew identity.
“The uniqueness of Singapore lies in her rich historical background and diverse cultural heritage, culminating in our Singaporean identity. Cultural heritage encompasses not only historical buildings and cultural relics but also our traditional arts.”
“It is most important to protect, preserve and promulgate the Teochew heritage because by doing so, we are also doing the same for Singapore’s cultural identity.”
Cover Photo: John Ho
A contributing editor at TBP.