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Monday, 12 July 2010

Musical Chinese kitsch is not average fare although it's certainly entertaining. In this case, it was a symphony concert led by singer Wan Shanhong (pic) doing a medly of old numbers from the 70s and 80s that were based on old stories from novels from the distant past.

So the references were twice filtered, making it difficult to understand. But in any case it was all in Chinese.

The first filter is the 16th or 10th century novel the songs were based on. They're all very famous novels such as Journey to the West, which features Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. On top of this, a second cultural filter from the time the songs were written is applied. So it's a kind of palimpsest.

And it's high camp stuff. The full symphony orchestra adds power and drama to probably simple folk tunes, with swelling arpeggios and thundering finales in the style of the great period of classical Western music, in the 19th century.

There was one Chinese instrument in the orchestra, but the player sat idle for the most part. A multi-stringed Chinese guzheng is no match for a Western-style orchestra in full flight.

There was other drama, too. The organisers had placed decorative flowers around the border of the stage. But they blocked the view for people sitting in the front row. Many of these people simply stood up and took the fowers down, placing them instead on the floor. One security guard had a different idea, however, and replaced several bouquets.

The audience enjoyed the concert, and clapped along when requested by the singers. There were about ten different singers, all with powerful voices and fantastic costumes to match the stories they told. An interesting night out.

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