Making an Effort

To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also. – Igor Stravinsky


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26th July 2016 – Prom 15 – Ray Chen and Sir Andrew Davis

Violin: Ray Chen

Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis

Choir: BBC Symphony Chorus

Orchestra: BBC Symphony Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Symphonic Fantasy ‘The Tempest’

Anthony Payne: Of Land, Sea and Sky (BBC commission:world premiere)

Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor

Vaughn Williams Toward the Unknown Region

A yearly outing to the Proms is something I am usually aiming for in my summer holiday plans. This year, after looking at the Proms that I would be in the country for, I soon decided on an opportunity to see Ray Chen perform again. Funnily enough, it was the Bruch concerto that I saw him perform in Hong Kong several years ago. Since then he has become quite the social media sensation (well, as far as classical musicians are concerned) in terms of getting fellow musicians to participate in funny/silly videos, answering questions and giving tips live online and raising money for music programmes for young people called ‘Musical heroes‘. I then found out that Ray will be performing with pianist Julio Elizalde in the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2017 and he’ll also be the soloist at next year’s White Nights concert in Liverpool next summer with Liverpool Philharmonic and Petrenko.

Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Tempest’ was enjoyable with the melodies depicting different aspects of Shakespeare’s play. The second piece, a BBC commission by Payne was for orchestra and chorus. This was a new composition that was twenty minutes long. So, I was hoping for something more enjoyable than what I have previously heard as ‘new compositions’. Unfortunately for me, like many of these BBC commissions, I have yet to find the ability to appreciate this type of music. To me, these pieces lack melody and are too intellectual for me to appreciate. I can appreciate that it take skill to write this music but that is about all I take away from it. Anthony Payne was present and came down to the stage to take his bow and was welcomed by enthusiastic cheers from the audience.

After the interval, Ray Chen came on stage to perform the Bruch Violin concerto. This was an energetic performance with both soloist and Sir Andrew Davis obviously enjoying their roles and moving to the music. At the end of the concerto, there was rapturous applause which was definitely well deserved. Ray went off stage and then came back on thanking the audience for the positive reception at his Proms debut. He followed up with an encore of Paganini Caprice No.21.

The concert ended with Vaughn Williams ‘Toward the Unknown Region’ which was a return to the chorus and orchestra. This was a welcome change compared to the piece by Payne with easier melodies to follow.

The theme for the programming for this concert was a little hard to comprehend. I’m guessing ‘seascape’ could be the theme and with two pieces including a chorus, it was convenient. I’m am guessing that the concerto was in the second half to prevent people wanting to leave at the interval (I did see a few leave just after the concerto). I found the second half of the concert much more enjoyable than the first and am glad I went for those pieces in particular.

Ray Chen gig 1 of 3 done!

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Ray Chen taking a bow at his debut BBCProm

 

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10th July,2016 – Tine Thing Helseth & Kathryn Stott

Trumpet: Tine Thing Helseth

Piano: Kathryn Stott

Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Arthur Honegger: Intrada

Béla Bartók: 6 Romanian Folk Dances BB68(transcribed for trumpet)

Bohuslav Martinu: Sonatina for Trumpet and Piano

Rolf Wallin: Elegie

Karl Pilss: Sonata for Trumpet and Piano

Edvard Grieg: Haugtussa Op.67 ‘The Mountain Maid’ (transcribed for trumpet)

Ástor Piazzolla: Histoire du Tango – Café 1930, Nightclub 1960

Encore: Piazzolla: Libertango

Every time I have seen Tine Thing Helseth perform, I have absolutely loved it. The first time I saw her perform was with the other nine ladies of her brass ensemble ‘Tenthing’. I have also seen her perform as a soloist with HK Sinfonietta, with her jazz quintet ‘TTHQ’ and two years ago with Ian Tracey, the organist, at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral for a trumpet and organ recital. It was high time I saw Tine perform in recital with her pianist and recording partner, Kathy Stott. I have also seen Kathy perform in Hong Kong at the International Chamber Music Festival, organised by PPHK. Kathy has a career that has spanned decades and she is very well known for her partnership with Yo Yo Ma. Having looked at her rather extensive collection of recordings, I noticed that she has recorded an album with Truls Mørk, another Norwegian that I only just saw at my previous concert last week!

Tine and Kathy arrived on stage with Tine barefoot in a blue lace dress with matching nail polish and Kathy is a gold top and black trousers – both looking elegant and comfortable!

They started with ‘Intrada’ after which, Tine picked up the microphone to give introductions to pieces which gives the audience some insight into the pieces. I know that in a CD review (I think it was for ‘Storyteller’), the critic did not look favourably on her music selection. However, in such a setting as this, it feels like Tine is sharing something of herself; Tine’s selection of pieces have a special meaning for her and she obviously enjoys playing them.

I enjoyed all the pieces with Tine and Kathy performing brilliantly with beautiful tone and expression. I particularly enjoyed the Bartók Romanian dances as I had heard the mandolin version earlier this season performed by Avi Avital in HK. It is full of folk melodies and it was lovely to hear them on the trumpet.

Being Norwegian, Tine included Norwegian composers in the programme. Wallin’s Elegie was a beautiful piece tinged with sadness as it was written for Wallin’s sister’s funeral. He performed it himself at the funeral in Norway. The piece by Grieg is based on a story about a maid courted by a shepherd and the music reflects the ups and downs of the courtship but he finally gets rejected. Tine quipped that the course of true love didn’t run smooth for the characters, just like in real life.

Occasionally, Tine would ask Kathy if there was anything else to add to the music introductions but it was easy to see that Kathy knew Tine had it covered! It was lovely to see warm hugs between the two musicians at both the interval and at the end of the concert that reflects the beautiful partnership and friendship that these two talented ladies share.

Piazzolla at the end of the concert was a wonderful way to conclude, with foot tapping music, including the encore of  Libertango where Tine was swaying and stamping her feet to the music. I definitely left on a musical high after this wonderful performance!

I had the pleasure of going up to the green room after the concert. Thankfully, for me, there wasn’t too much of a queue. I received the usual lovely hug from Tine and had a quick chat and she obligingly signed a CD for my friend’s nephew in Adelaide. (I had wanted to get a signed CD from Tine to give to him as he is a beginner trumpet player and a very lovely boy, so really want to encourage him!) I was then able to see Kathy, who recognised me (due to my incessant tweeting!). She knew I had been sitting on the front row so she had given me some smiles at the interval and end of the concert. So we had a chat and I didn’t know that she had been invited to this year’s HKICMS again, but hadn’t been able to make it. I was able to have my programme signed and a photo with both of the lovely ladies before I left. I am sure I’ll be seeing them perform (together or separately) at some point in the future.

From L-R: Kathy Stott, myself and Tine Thing Helseth in Wigmore Hall’s Green Room.

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7th July, 2016 -Vasily Petrenko celebrates 10 years with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Vasily Petrenko

Cello: Truls Mørk

Orchestra: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Elgar: In the South

Shostakovitch: Cello Concerto No.1

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.3

Vasily Petrenko first conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) in 2004. After this, he was announced in July 2005 to be their principal conductor for the following 06-07 season. Ten years down the line, the relationship between conductor and orchestra seems just as strong as ever. During his time as conductor, his title has changed to Chief conductor, they have made numerous recordings including the Shostakovitch and Rachmaninov symphonies. (They’ve just released a recording of 3 Tchaikovsky symphonies.) Petrenko currently has an open ended contract with RLPO with the conductor needing to give 3 years notice if the contract is to come to a conclusion.

Truls Mørk is a Norwegian cellist born to a cellist father and pianist mother. He won  prizes in several competitions and embarked on a career performing internationally, including a tour with Oslo Philharmonic. Unfortunately, he fell ill and for a couple of years was unable to perform due to a rare form of encephlaitis affecting his nervous system causing paralysis of his shoulder. After treatment and physiotherapy,he returned to the stage. He recorded both Shostakovitch concertos 1&2 with Petrenko and Oslo Philharmonic. He will be performing at the Proms this year with RLPO in prom 53 and next year he will tour Asia with Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic next year in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Seoul.

Elgar ‘In the South (Alassio)’

This piece of music is named ‘Alassio’ after the town in Northern Italy where Elgar went on holiday with his family. He was inspired by the history and beauty of the area and so wrote this piece. Elgar conducted the premiere himself with the Hallé Orchestra at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London at the Elgar Festival.

Shostakovitch: Cello Concerto No.1

Shostakovitch wrote this cello concerto in 1959 for Rostropovitch who performed the premiere with Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. It is considered one of the most difficult pieces written for cello. The first movement is played separately. The second, third and fourth movements are performed continuously.

Sol Gabetta performing Shostakovitch Cello Concerto No.1

Truls Møk performing Shostakovitch Cello Concerto No. 2


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/130740254″>SHOSTAKOVICH'S Cello Concerto No 2 – M&oslash;rk/Roth</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/gothenburgsymphony”>G&ouml;teborgs Symfoniker</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.3

This symphony was premiered by Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936.

This was an amazing performance, each time I come back to hear RLPO perform, I am always surprised about what I hear that is different than what I’ve heard performed live before or from recordings. Having said that I’m probably more distracting doing other things while listening to a recording. The Elgar piece was played beautifully, conjuring images of the Italian Riviera with hints of romanticism. There was a wonderful viola solo in the middle of the piece. Truls Mørk came onstage and performed Shostakovitch’s cello concerto with energy and you could hear the distinct DSCH pattern throughout. The highlight for me was Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.3. I really felt like there were parts of this piece that I had just never noticed before. The transitions from one section to another were seamless, yet made you notice the echo of the melody. The phrasing was precise – a hallmark of Petrenko’s work and conducting. The sections were noticeably tight – musicians working hard to produce a concert of high quality! At the end, Petrenko did his ‘Do you want an encore?’ to the audience, increasing the applause and cheers. We were given a fun encore of ‘Tea for Two’ with Petrenko conducting it in his fun and comical way. After this, there was much applause and the orchestra played ‘Happy Birthday!’ to Petrenko and his beautiful family (wife, son and very cute daughter – all in matching blue outfits) appeared onstage with a cake with four candles (one for each decade) at which point the audience gave him a standing ovation!

This was a great concert, made even better for me as I was able to attend with my best friend from school, Ju and we had also met Irina earlier for dinner at The Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Irina had just flown over that morning from Moscow to attend this concert. As I always say, this orchestra and conductor are definitely worth travelling a great distance for – and I look forward to seeing them perform together next year at the White Nights concert – the ticket has already been bought!


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3rd June, 2016 – BBC Frozen Planet in Concert

Conductor: Benjamin Northey

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Fenton: BBC Frozen Planet (Live music with images)

In 2003, I saw George Fenton conduct HKPhilharmonic bringing us the music and footage from ‘The Blue Planet’. I loved the show and it was a great opportunity to see the composer conducting and talking about the music and how it related to the images. Last year I saw ‘Planet Earth’ performed in Hong Kong, so it was time to finish off this trilogy of concerts.

Although, I was less familiar with the music of this programme, it had George Fenton’s signature all over it. The music always complimented the footage whether it be crashing waves, orcas wave washing a seal to wear it out so they can eventually feed on it or a mother polar bear and her cubs.

The concert shows different aspects of nature where the audience is awed by the magnificence of the views captured, the brutality of predator prey interactions and of course the comical side to bring some light relief. Definitely a favourite part of the concert was watching the criminal penguins – stealing from another’s nest to build their own!


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1st March – Rufus Wainwright ‘Prima Donna’

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Joana Carneiro

Sopranos: Wang Xi, Sarah Fox

Tenor: Antonio Figeuroa

Rufus Wainwright

This was a full house with  people clamouring to see Rufus Wainwright. I had not heard many of Wainwright’s songs before, but was obviously familiar with ‘Hallelujah’ from Shrek. I had read up about this concert that it would be an opera that Wainwright has written, so I was prepared that it would be more operatic than his usual songs.

Wainright came on stage and said his ‘Thank you’s which was a little comical as he was reading out Chinese names, not quite sure of the pronunciation, but we were all amused by the fact that there was someone called Sherlock and an Elvis on his list – classic Hong Kong odd choice of names. He introduced the concert and told us there would be excerpts from the opera that he has written, which also showed paintings and a film on the screens. Then he reminded us to stay for the second half which was when he would be singing songs.

As the concert began, I started to wonder about my choice of seat. I knew at times, especially when Wang Xi was singing, that I really couldn’t hear her very well. This was where I started to question my choice of seat and who the opera singers were. In the end, I knew it came down to the fact that the sound was not supervised well, allowing the orchestra to drown out the singers.

Despite the sound problems, the orchestra played well, although I was surprised at Carneiro’s style being consistently forceful. The imagery on the screen really did not appeal to me. I found it distracting, unappealing and to be quite honest, tacky. I would have just appreciated to be able to focus on the singers and orchestra. (I had been to a concert where there was music and videos, but it was cohesive. See Tan Dun’s ‘Nu Shu’ concert)

For the second half of the concert, a piano was brought out and as I was sitting in the balcony above the piano, we were given seats over to the left, so we would be able to get a better view (although the back of the performer’s heads wouldn’t be what I’d consider a ‘better view’!). Rufus Wainwright came on stage and sang some songs at the piano, and others at the microphone at the front of the stage, occasionally with Sarah Fox. These were mostly hits such as ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate milk’. Some songs were with orchestral accompaniment whereas others were just with Wainwright at the piano. Funnily enough, the chair that had been on stage during the first half of the concert (when it wasn’t needed) had been removed. Several times when the conductor wasn’t conducting, she no longer had a seat to sit on and had to perch on the conductor’s podium. For his encore, Wainwright did bring back all three opera singers back to the stage and sang with them while at the piano. This did reassure me that the singers were of a decent calibre, with their voices projecting nicely. This was a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ which most people are familiar with from the movie ‘Shrek’.

Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah (Live at The Fillmore)

 


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29th November – Clockenflap Day 3

Venue : West Kowloon Cultural District

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It’s true, I said I wasn’t going on Sunday, but I did. I was contacted to help at the market stalls on the Saturday, so thought I’d help my friend out and enjoy another day of good music. This did mean that I had the market handbook to familiarise myself with, which I did, to the amusement of my friend. I even knew the next few market day dates off by heart!

With much excitement, I arrived early at Clockenflap and walked around a little and made sure my friend knew I was around. We went to watch a few acts in the early afternoon and got some food.

My friend knew I wanted to go over to watch Shaolin Fez, so we wandered over to the Harbourflap stage. Sam Ferrer, the bass player had informed me that it would be the same set that I’d seen recently, but with an added song or two. I wasn’t too fussed about that and it’s quite understandable as I’m sure trying to get rehearsal times together is quite an organisational feat when people have different jobs and therefore different schedules. Anyway, it’s always great to see them perform!

Following this we wandered off but came back to see Mama’s Gun who were fantastic. I’d never heard of or seen them before. They’re a five piece London based soul/pop/funk band, but their lead singer was actually born in Kowloon! They were fantastic; entertaining and full of energy. The keyboard player caught our eye as he reminded us of David Hasselhoff (especially the hair) – no wonder his name is  Dave ‘Eighties’ Oliver! He was really fun to watch with his expressions.

I had to go and see Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. I know they’ve been to Clockenflap before, and I really wanted to see what they would be like live. Wow – they were absolutely amazing! Super fun disco songs and brilliant musicians. Nile Rodgers did a great job introducing the songs and letting us know that songs we associate with other famous artists were actually partly written by him such as Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, Duran Duran’s ‘Notorious’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’!

The last band I went to see was Blackalicious, despite New Order being on at the Harbourflap stage. My friend had me listen to probably one of their most famous songs ‘Alphabet Aerobics’ which I’d actually heard before – by Daniel Radcliffe on the Jimmy Fallon show. Unfortunately for this group, there were quite severe sound problems going on with the microphones, so when the main rapper was rapping, we could hardly hear him. The other two were trying to swap microphones with him, and even the sound team came on stage to sort out the mikes but it wasn’t working well. I’m not a Blackalicious fan, but could appreciate their skills and obviously people were loving their set despite the sound problems.

It was quite late when I left, and saw a little of New Order as I walked out. Another excellent day of seeing familiar bands and introducing myself to some new music – roll on Clockenflap 2016!!


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27th November – Clockenflap 2015 Day 1

Venue: West Kowloon Cultural District


  
  
  

I’d never been to Clockenflap before, although I had been tempted on several occasions e.g. When De La Soul performed and when a friend’s band, Noughts and Exes were playing. Why the hesitation, you may well ask. Yet again, it was the notion of attending another event solo. However, we have already established that I am old enough and wise enough for this not to matter anymore despite the style of event, unless it was something like ballroom dancing where a partner is required and my inhibitions would certainly take over once again, that and the fact that this person with Hobbit sized feet can’t dance.

I only bought a ticket for Friday night, as I thought I might have a hockey game on Saturday and might prefer to rest on Sunday. I was fortunate to have the day off on Friday and eventually contacted a friend on the way there. She was also on her way, so I definitely had company!

Entry was easy as our tickets were scanned and we were given a bracelet with a chip as the stalls are cashless so we had to add money to our cards on the bracelet – very convenient as add money booths were located at the entrance and right by the food stalls.

We made our way past the Atrum stage where The Anello were just finishing their set. Our destination was over to the main Harbourflap Stage where Sun KiMoon were performing. I’d not heard of them before, but they were definitely Americana – a group from San Francisco. The lead singer’s voice is good, but the songs were certainly not on the brighter side of life. One song ended with ‘ Grandma died of cancer’. My friend did note that it was strange to applaud after that. Their songs are of the storytelling style and rather depressing in nature, so I won’t be listening to them in a hurry. a nice highlight was that we did get to vote with cheers for a song – MoonRiver was voted over a Christmas tune. I was glad, it’s still not December yet.

After this we went over to  The Atrum stage to see Clean Bandit. We were able to squeeze ourselves in close to the front on the right. As is the nature of these festivals, when people move, leave and jostle, we were able to move forward, until a friend to my left moved forward, but we couldn’t follow, but moved left towards the centre, and I soon realised I was standing right next to high school students from my school, some of which I had taught. Unfortunately, they finally realised and one of them broke the unwritten code by joyfully shouting out my name. Anyway, Clean Bandit were excellent with great lead vocals by Elizabeth Troy. They played plenty of hits which had the crowd jumping, including ‘There’s no place I’d rather be’. I couldn’t fully agree as I would have rather been about 2m over to the right from where I was standing.

Thankfully, we needed to make our way back to the Harbourflap stage to see Damien Rice. It was just him, a guitar and a loop station. He was most impressive live. He started with . It was great to have him involve crowd with Volcano, having one third sing ‘Volcanos melt’, the second third of the crowd had two lines to sing and the last group were assigned a rather high pitched tune, which of course they struggled with, to everyone’s amusement. Definitely a talented man who can captivate his audience with his style, yet varied it enough to keep it interesting. I’m sure that requires a lot of consideration being a solo set.

Back over at Atrum stage, we experienced Lotus, which was a DJ with a lot of visuals. Most of my friends were soon lost in the crowd. I considered staying, but after a while, with the penetrating beat of the music, I decided to grab a bite to eat. Of course during this time,I spotted more students and so averted my gaze and hastily walked away.

I ventured back to Harbourflap to see ‘Ride’ perform. I knew they were Indie – I enjoyed their first few songs, but after a while, I felt that their music did not hold my interest and pretty much was sounding the same. So, standing in confined space with some backache, was not helping, so I moved myself to the side, where I could still see well enough and could watch the rest of the set.

I met up with my friends to leave, and they had gone to see a Japanese band ‘Love Psychedelico’ which they said were excellent. I only found out after I’d bought my ticket that Shaolin Fez will be playing on Sunday afternoon. I’m tempted to go, but I think I will refrain and watch the live stream on TV from home.

All in all, it was an excellent experience, and I do enjoy going to see bands that I’ve never seen before. It’s obviously well run and we also have the comfort of going home each night to our comfy beds rather than camping in a muddy field. I’ll be looking forward to seeing who they bringing to Clockenflap 2016!