Friday, 9 June 2017

Musical Ping Pong

Whoa what a finale! Incorporating table tennis with music. How novel!
This evening YTSL and I had tickets to watch a concert by the Hong Kong Philharmonic called "Ping Pong Diplomacy", harking back to over 45 years ago when the table tennis team from the United States visited China.

It was considered a world-changing event in Sino-US relations, breaking the ice and paving the way for then US President Richard Nixon to come to China and meet with Mao Zedong.

Conductor Yu Long commissioned a piece -- featuring table tennis in the music! -- by Andy Akiho and it was performed for the first time two years ago by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

Were the table tennis players going to use up all those balls?
But before that music. Yu led the orchestra in a rousing Tchaikovsky piece called Serenade for Strings, op. 48. I had forgotten Yu likes a fast tempo but was soon quickly reminded when the opening, which is supposed to be like a sonatina, seemed very rushed.

He tried to make the second movement, a waltz, markedly slower, but it too speeded up towards the end, as well as the finale.

I forgot to add that the musicians weren't dressed in formal wear, but black T-shirts and jeans instead which was a weird look, perhaps to make the audience not feel so bad to be casual either.

There was no intermission, and the stage was set for Akiho's Ricochet: Triple Concerto for Ping Pong, Percussion, Violin & Orchestra with three movements.

We the audience were forewarned that ping pong balls could fly into the crowd. This we had to watch.

The piece starts with a violinist making eerie sounds on her instrument, and then a percussionist stands by the ping pong table and starts playing on drums with it. Two actual ping pong players, both American, but one Caucasian male in a shirt and red bow tie, the other a Chinese woman, in a red sleeveless cocktail dress and black heels approach the table and actually start playing table tennis.

At times they rally, and then they start hitting balls towards the audience. They use tambourines to hit the ball so that they too make music, and she hits the drum on the ping pong table hard as a solo passage.

Imagine writing the music for this piece? Ping pong player hits drum; ping pong player uses tambourine to hit balls five times...

It was unpredictable when they were going to hit balls into the audience. In the end the violinist and percussionist each grab box of balls and dump them onto the table to end the piece. So crazy yet so fun!

Kids scrambled towards the stage to grab whatever orange balls they could.

It was just so interesting to see how table tennis could be incorporated into music and it works. The two ping pong players knew exactly when to hit and when to stop, catching the ball. They had several balls in hand just in case shots didn't work out to keep the momentum of hitting the ball going.

It was fun, lively and unpredictable!

Ping Pong Diplomacy
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, op. 48
Andy Akiho Ricochet: Triple Concerto for Ping Pong, Percussion, Violin & Orchestra


  1. That was indeed a fun concert! So cool that you found that Youtube video. The two ping pong players and percussionists in it look like the same ones as for yesterday's concert! :b

    1. ...but not the violinist. Also, this Shanghai concert version was sedate compared to the HKPO one with regards to the balls into the audience. Too bad there's no video of that... but great that there's at least the one from Shanghai to share. :)