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Scenes of Suzhou, Art of Jiangnan - An Evening of Pingtan Music

Scenes of Suzhou, Art of Jiangnan - An Evening of Pingtan Music

Date: 7 March 2010 (Sunday)
Time: 5 pm
Venue: Victoria Concert Hall

Ticket Prices (not inclusive of SISTIC charges):
Standard - $18, $24
Concessions for students, NSF and senior citizens - $16, $20

Special offers: This show is available for the Keppel Nights 50% subsidy, for Cat 2 ($18) tickets. Whilst stocks last.

Programme Description

Suzhou Pingtan 评弹 is a narrative art form that combines Pinghua 评话 (storytelling) and Tanci 弹词 (singing with the accompaniment of a stringed instrument). A Pingtan performance usually comprises of Pingtan artists singing and narrating stories in Suzhou dialect, self-accompanied on Sanxian and Pipa. It is native to Suzhou and flourished during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. In the course of its four-hundred year history, it has gained much popularity and become a distinguished art form in the Jiangnan area.

The City Chinese Orchestra is privileged to have with us distinguished Pingtan performers Zhang Bi Hua (张碧华) and Cai Xiao Hua (蔡小华). Zhang is an esteemed successor of Lidiao Pingtan 丽调评弹, a specific school of Pingtan, and Cai is a first-rate performer with the Nanjing Military Cultural Unit (Administrative Division). The mother-daughter duo will present classic pieces such as Moon’s Reflection on Erquan Spring 《二泉映月》 and When Will You Return 《何日君再来》.

In addition, renowned local Erhu artistes Wang Gui Ying (王桂英) and Ling Hock Siang (林傅强) will also perform erhu concerto Song of the Li Tune 《丽歌行》 and Shanghainese opera tune Embroidered Pouch 《绣荷包》 under the baton of Cultural Medallion recipient Tay Teow Kiat.


Suzhou Pingtan

Pingtan is also known as Suzhou Pingtan, as it first originated in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province and is performed in the Suzhou dialect. Pingtan is a narrative art form that combines Pinghua (storytelling without music) and Tanci (singing with the accompaniment of a stringed instrument).

Suzhou Pingtan is a subgenre of Shuochang (storytelling that combines singing and narration), which originated from the folk songs and fables that appeared over 5,000 years ago. Pinghua was developed from a speaking art called Sujiang (storytelling in form of Shuochang, in the form of Bianwen – a wording style combining storytelling and singing to tell sutra stories, adopted by monasteries and temples to communicate ideas to laymen) in the Tang dynasty, and Huaben (script for storytelling in Song and Yuan dynasty folk literature). Pingtan emerged later in the Ming and early Qing dynasties when performers started to use the Suzhou dialect while performing.

Pingtan is known for its story telling, joke telling, music playing and aria singing. Wearing Chinese traditional dresses, two singers sit on the stage narrating various stories while accompanied by two Chinese traditional plucked string instruments called Sanxian and Pipa - this is a typical scene from a Pingtan performance in various teahouses and theatres found in East China's Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. As an art with simple elements, Pingtan requires its performers to be all-round developed and possess skills including speaking, imitating, instrument playing, singing and acting, so as to convey the content of the stories.

Traditional tales told by Pingtan performers often follow a historical theme with heroic and epic stories. These stories are often quite long, and thus are divided into many parts. One part is performed over the course of a day and the entire storytelling may last for weeks. There are over a hundred traditional stories left to us by the ancient performers and Pingtan artists are continuously writing new ones that are closer to contemporary life.

Suzhou Pingtan reached its peak during the middle of the Qing dynasty. After the 1970s, the art gradually declined but has been rejuvenated in recent years. Thanks to the performances and promotion created by Pingtan troupes, this fascinating art is being rejuvenated and is gaining more and more recognition amongst people in and outside of China. In the course of its 400-year history, it has gained much popularity and become a distinguished art form in the Jiangnan area.

Lidiao 丽调

Within Pingtan’s many subgenres, Xu Lixian’s Lidiao singing style stands out among with its pleasant yet passionate qualities, and paints a promising picture for this form of art. Its rich and beautiful melodies are capable of conveying the historical themes and yet reflect the realities of modern times. Xu was able to bring music and lyrics together in perfect harmony, while retaining Lidiao’s unique style. Her music has been brought out to good effect with a myriad of accompaniments, including the electric organ, zither and erhu.

Maestro He Luding had this to say after listening to her recording, “This epitomises Chinese music”. Folk music of this type is priceless and musicians should look to Xu as a source of inspiration. Upon realizing that Xu was critically ill, He disregarded his old age and climbed 3 flights of stairs to visit her. Under He Luding’s initiative, the Xu Lixian Artistic Endeavours TV production crew was set up in Shanghai Conservatory of Music to quickly record her representative pieces of each era, in a bid to rescue Xu’s art.

When the news of Xu Lixian’s unfortunate passing reached her hometown of Feng Qiao, the townsfolk were sad for having lost such talent but were proud of her achievements. This led to the county administration’s decision to erect a statue to honour Xu Lixian, which was erected in Feng Qiao’s Heshan Park in 1991. In 2001, the townsfolk built a memorial hall dedicated to Xu Lixian, who would have celebrated her 73rd birthday in that year, to remember her forever.

Moon’s Reflection on Erquan Spring is a classic erhu piece, yet Xu Lixian was daring enough to use it in Pingtan performance. Three lines of lyrics in the piece are characteristic of the Lidiao style, complementing the poem within the melody.
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