The connection between traditional Scottish music and Chinese music is something I had given no thought to until this concert, but the Harmony Ensemble changed all that with their evening of ‘Chinese Music Traditional and New’. This loose collective of musicians included Fong Liu (vocals), the Whistlebinkies’ Eddie McGuire (flute), Xian Shan (accordion), Shona Brown (flute) and Julia Somerville (harp).
The opening song left the audience in no doubt of the quality of Fong’s incredible vocal technique and range, accompanied by the soothing tones of McGuire and Brown’s bamboo flutes.The mixed set did what it said on the tin with a variety of traditional tunes and a couple composed by Fong, showcasing her talent for diversity in songwriting style, from traditional through to jazz. A solo section featured the compositions of harpist Julia Somerville, who specialises in the Scottish-Chinese crossover of traditional music at RSAMD. The way that some of the tunes had the quality of a Scottish air, though played on Chinese instruments, was surprising and yet didn’t feel at all out of place.
Just before the interval, the iMAP Community Orchestra performed three numbers, including one Cantonese opera duet. This orchestra promotes the learning of traditional Chinese musical forms and it was a privilege to be party to their burgeoning talents.
The highlight of the concert, however, was from another guest performer, Edinburgh graduate Dong Yi playing the Guzheng - the Chinese plucked zither. Dong has played this ancient instrument since she was a young girl and had her first CD recorded at 16. It was obvious why she is considered to be one of the best in the world at her art. The piece she played, ‘Moonrise’ was composed an amazing 1,300 years ago and Dong’s playing displayed the intricacies and subtle complexities that has helped to keep this piece of music alive and relevant for a contemporary audience.
A cute touch at the end was to have a little boy from the audience drum along enthusiastically to the song that was composed to welcome the pandas to Edinburgh Zoo and the entire audience sang along to the chorus. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes, ‘one sings, many follow.’ It was clear that the Harmony Ensemble had gained a few more followers tonight.