Orchid Ensemble with Oratorio Chorale

Posted Wednesday, May 2, 2012 in Culture

Orchid Ensemble with Oratorio Chorale

Orchid Ensemble of Vancouver, BC

by Gina Hamilton

BATH -- At the invitation of the Oratorio Chorale, the Orchid Ensemble from Vancouver, British Columbia appeared in Maine for a week, touring at schools and synagogues, and appearing with the Oratorio Chorale on Saturday night at the Montgomery Theatre at Morse High School in Bath, and on Sunday at Woodfords Church in Portland.

The ensemble consists of Lan Tung, vocalist and ehru (Chinese violin) player, Yu-Chen Wang, on the zheng (Chinese zither), and Jonathan Bernard, percussionist.  For most of the program, the ensemble performed alone, joined by the choir for three songs.  After intermission, conductor Peter Frewen announced that one of the choral works, Meditations of Li Po, was being withdrawn, which gave the ensemble an additional piece to play.

Some of the pieces were traditional folk songs and other musical forms, while others were written for the ensemble or were adapted and arranged for the group's instruments by Lan Tung. One or another of the ensemble chatted with the audience while the zheng was being retuned between songs.  It was explained that because some of the pieces were not Chinese, the zither had to be tuned from the pentatonic (five note) scale to the European typical diatonic scale. 

The ensemble was as tight as a jazz ensemble; they worked in complex rhythms and scales that were unfamiliar to many of the listeners in the auditorium. Even so, the majority of the audience was captivated by the sheer musicality of the ensemble's relationship to one another and to their instruments. 

Adding the choir was an experiment in combining an alien world music form with a classically trained western chorale, and it seemed that the choir found it at times a difficult assignment.  In Ting Song, the choir played the role of the instrumentation of an orchestra.  Unfortunately, the human voice does not easily fill any particular instrumentation niche.  A soprano rarely can sing all the notes of a violin, for instance.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting way to use voices, allowing the ensemble to take on the role of lead in the concerto.

In any event, the program was generally very pleasing and certainly provided a unique experience in world music that isn't often heard in Maine.


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