Young, talented, and beautiful, Shanghai's Twelve Girls Band is determined to be one of the first Chinese exports to build and cross a bridge between traditional Chinese music (with its five-note scale) and pop, classical, and jazz from the West.
And even if the band did bait the audience at the Berklee Performance Center Sunday night with a little too much of the sweet and familiar, as easy on the eyes as it was on the ears, the packed house gave the ensemble an inkling that it's reaching its goal.
Arriving on stage without introduction in yellow outfits, perfectly postured and positioned in three rows, the group delivered a smart, accessible, 90-minute show, tailor-made for fans of Riverdance, Trans-Siberian Orchestra (whose "Freedom" served as an encore), and Yanni (the band's inspiration). Though the show was technically exacting, it was the music's charmed innocence, organic and understated, that outflanked that of their role models.
The women applied relentlessly pleasant chirping to John Denver's "Country Roads" and the Carpenters' "Top of the World," yielding a surreal culture warp that was, nonetheless, an audience favorite. The "Theme From Titanic" was wrapped in a new age gloss and traded down a front line of five ehru(two-string violin) players. Speedy runs alternating on the ehru, pipa (pear-shaped lutes), and yangqin (hammer dulcimer) gave "Carnival" a gliding energy, while "Glory" rode atop a similar dazzle of musicianship. Tiny wireless microphones captured every flawless detail, though the lack of a live backing band, prerecorded due to logistics, sapped dynamics.
Despite the glitzy drama of the crossovers, the group's best material was its most traditional, highlighting the distinctive twang and pluck of the instruments. "Shangri-La," with its delicate dizi melodies, and lush runs across the strings of the yangqin on the plaintive "Mountains and Rivers" were early highlights.
A mini-set by gifted singer Giorgia Fumanti and her supple soprano provided a midshow diversion and a truly cross-cultural moment on "La Habanera" from "Carmen": Chinese musicians playing French opera sung by an Italian in a dance-lite arrangement for an American audience.