Date: May 7, 2010
Location: The National Centre for the Performing Arts (The Egg), Beijing.
Li Biao, one of the few full-time solo percussionists, opened the NCPA May Festival with a feisty display of musicianship and dexterity. Accompanying Li were the percussion section from the Berlin Philharmonic and the piano duo of Mona & Rica Bard.
The first piece, “Ku-Ka Ilimoku”, written by Christopher Rause, was inspired by Hawaiian themes. Rhythmically, it ripped with spice and character. The second piece, “Bridging the World” was mellow, the kind of music one would expect in a picturesque country house sitting next to a gentle stream. The third piece, “Music for Pieces of Wood” by Steve Reich, was written for five pairs of pitched claves. Each percussionist built up his own rhythmic pattern from one stroke to four strokes, and then repeating the four strokes. As these patterns overlapped, the full glory of Reich’s piece was unveiled: an intersection of crisp counterpoints, woven into an exquisite rhythmic fabric. Other pieces before intermission included “Tango Suite no. 1” by Astro Piazzola, and Russell Peck’s “Lift Off!”, which tried to recreate the sound of an airplane taking off. After intermission, the evening turned to more conventional pieces, with Bartok’s “Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion”, and Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story”.
In all, Li Biao and the Berlin group showed plenty of rhythmic energy, explosive yet measured. It was a pity that the house was only about 70% full, and that some in the audience were too eager to show their appreciation by clapping, especially in the middle of “Lift Off!”. The piece had a build-up whose climax would, in my opinion, call for some form of audience appreciation, much like how interludes between jazz improvisations by different musicians would call for appreciation. But here, as if fully anticipated and rehearsed but at least a dozen bars too early, the clapping was premature and, when it happened, quite awkward. CP, was that you?!