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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15th August – Asian Youth Orchestra, Steven Isserlis and James Judd

Orchestra: Asian Youth Orchestra

Conductor: James Judd

Cello: Steven Isserlis

Soprano: Mamiko Sakaida

Venue: Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall

Bach (arr. Stokowski) – Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Shostakovitch Cello Concerto No.1 in E-flat, Opus107

Mahler Symphony no. 4

While spending a relaxing Saturday going to a shopping mall after the first week back at work, I spotted a poster in the MTR (Mass Transit Railway i.e. the underground train) advertising an orchestral concert and noticed someone with remarkably curly hair on the poster. I paused and realised it was Steven Isserlis who was performing with the Asian Youth Orchestra. Thankfully, I looked at the date and saw that it was that weekend and I might not be too late. When I arrived back home, I quickly went onto the ticketing site and bought a ticket. Phew! Although many tickets had been sold, there were still a few left for Saturday evening. I was also fortunate that it was also the programme that I was especially interested in seeing.

The concert opened with Bach Toccata and Fugue which was orchestrated by the conductor Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski was a British conductor who was the founder of several orchestras in the U.S.A and is well known to many as the conductor in Disney’s ‘Fantasia’. Listening to his arrangement of this very well known Bach piece had the comfort of familiarity and all the orchestral grandeur that the music possesses.

Next was Shostakovitch Cello Concerto No.1 with Steven Isserlis as soloist. Isserlis is no stranger to Hong Kong and also performed with the AYO a couple of years ago. This concerto was originally composed for Mstislav Rostrapovich who performed its premiere in Leningrad. This first movement started with a four note Shostakovitch motif with tension and the tune by the cello unrelentingly driving forward. The theme continued to cycle through the piece by other instruments, notably the french horn. The second movement started in a softly melancholic manner with strings and horn before the cello played its mournful song with the clarinet joining in. The second cello melody seems playful at times but gets more fierce before returning to the original theme. Between the second and final movements is a cello cadenza. Unfortunately, this was interrupted a little by applause (There was applause after the first movement – which most people can forgive if the music is quite rousing!). The final movement sees the return of the theme and a modified version of it before ending abruptly with several strokes of the timpani. The horn player and clarinettist performed the solos extremely well with clear entrances. Both of these musicians were recognised by Judd and Isserlis and were singled out to stand for applause – rightly so!

Mahler’s 4th symphony opened with a folksong theme using sleigh bells and flute, which recurred throughout the movement. It became more tumultuous later on with the violins before returning to a more cheerful and soothing melody. The second movement is a dance with a darker sounding part from the solo violin which was projected well. The slow third movement seems calming at first but becomes darker with the incorporation of strings and brass before continuing in a sweeter theme; a precursor to the final movement. In the last movement the orchestra sounded triumphant and the soprano seemed to suddenly appear. I had not noticed if she had been sitting quietly amongst the orchestra or crept onstage unnoticed. Dressed in a stark white dress Sakaida stood out in the grey background of the orchestra. She swayed along to the music before joining in with a sweet and joyful song.

At the end of the concert, AYO musicians were called by the founder, Richard Pontzious to stand up as their country of origin was called out. It was good to see so many countries represented, even if there were only one or two from one place.

Sitting at the autograph table with Steven Isserlis

Sitting at the autograph table with Steven Isserlis

If you’re interested in the music here are some  Spotify links:

BBC Philharmonic – Bach(arr. Stokowski) – Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko & Truls Mork – Shostakovitch Cello Concerto

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra – Mahler Symphony No.4


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1st August- Russian Greats- ASO, Vasily Petrenko and Simon Trpčeski

Orchestra: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Vasily Petrenko

Piano: Simon Trpčeski

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

Concert Programme booklet and ticket. I wonder what Vasily Petrenko thinks of this look!

Concert Programme booklet and ticket. I wonder what Vasily Petrenko thinks of this look!

Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol

Tchaikovsky: Piano concerto No. 1

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.1

Having decided to book tickets to spend Christmas 2014 in Adelaide with friends, the next thing I knew was that Vasily Petrenko and Simon Trpčeski were embarking on a New Zealand and Australia tour in the summer (well, the Southern Hemisphere winter). Being a big fan of these wonderful musicians, I wondered if I would be able to fit in a trip down under to see them performing in yet another city. (This would be the fourth city I have seen them perform in!) Of course, I managed to fit them in my summer schedule – my priorities are obviously skewed for this favourable outcome!

Arriving at Festival Theatre, I wondered where my seat was as I thought it was in the fifth row, but my seat was in row EE. Row EE turned out to be the very first row and I was seated to the left, so I would be able to have a very good view of the keyboard.

The concert started with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, a piece that I thought I was not so familiar with. It was easy to become entranced by the Spanish melodies. The music continued with brilliant moments for brass, solo violin and woodwind finally coming to celebratory climax.

Trpčeski and Petrenko teamed up for Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 which I had last heard them perform together with Liverpool Philharmonic at the White Nights concert before they recorded it together. There were quite a few moments as I watched soloist and conductor and thought, ‘This would make a great photo’ as Petrenko conducted and leant towards Trpčeski. The ‘Dream Team’ worked together seamlessly. It was wonderful to listen to the concerto with its familiar piano melody; familiarity did not breed contempt in this case. Watching Trpčeski’s hands on the piano sends my brain conflicting messages. When fingers move so swiftly, they seem like a blur but what you can hear in the music is heartfelt and precise. Where the melodies are more jovial, you definitely get a sense of playfulness in the performance. Making music so easy to connect to emotionally seems to be a Trpčeski signature. As usual, in some of the orchestral parts, Trpčeski took time to look into the audience, something I think he actively reminds himself of and doesn’t take for granted. Who can blame him? When I looked behind me later, I saw that the theatre was packed with around 2000 people. It’s wonderful to see artists obviously enjoy their performance and collaboration with the orchestra. Trpčeski at times seemed to sit back to take in the sound of the orchestra and couldn’t resist moving to the music. Trpčeski was joined by the principal cellist and concertmaster for the encore.

Spotify: Vasily Petrenko, Simon Trpčeski, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra: Tchaikovsky piano concertos 1 & 2 

I’ll not write much about Rachmaninov Symphony No.1 as I just saw Petrenko conduct this in Liverpool at the White Nights concert. I did think he seemed to conduct with less sweeping movements compared to in Liverpool – but I may put this down to a change in my perspective from a very different seat! I also guess that naturally a conductor will differentiate with orchestras just as a teacher does with their classes.

Spotify: Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra : Rachmaninov Symphony No.1

Adelaide Festival Centre which houses Festival Theatre. To the right, you can see Adelaide Oval behind which is on the other side of River Torrens, where cricket and Australian Rules Football is played.

Adelaide Festival Centre which houses Festival Theatre. To the right, you can see Adelaide Oval behind which is on the other side of River Torrens, where cricket and Australian Rules Football is played.

I did take the opportunity to wait around by the artist’s entrance at the back of the building to see if I could say ‘Hello!’ to Trpčeski and Petrenko. I had nearly given up, when they finally appeared and I was greeted with a big hug from Simon and was introduced to his wife and (very cute) daughter. Vasily asked if I would see them perform in Melbourne, which I confessed had been my original plan, but due to holiday with friends and returning to work, was not to be. It was very nice of him to try to convince me to change my travel plans! I really love seeing these two musicians perform, separately and even better, together. I am not sure when I’ll see them next. I really should have convinced them to come to Hong Kong!


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19th July – Folk by the Oak

Folk By The Oak

Venue: Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Moore Moss Rutter

Lady Maisery

Keston Cobblers Club

Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor Band

The Unthanks

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Bellowhead

Crowds at Folk by the Oak

Crowds at Folk by the Oak

It has been a while since I went to this one day folk festival.  After my visit to London (including Folk by the Oak), I went back to Chester to pack my bags and meet with a few more friends before flying back to Hong Kong and then dropping down to Australia for a couple of weeks. I’ve been a bit busy and have now found a bit of time to blog – assisted by a dirty chai at Mr. Pilgrim’s coffee shop.

My friends in London told me about ‘Folk by the Oak’ before I went to visit them, so they said they’d bought tickets and I could join them. So I checked out the website and found that I had heard of the headliners and have over the past couple of years found an appreciation for folk music via Lau.

Hatfield House was easily accessible by car or train from London. At one end of a large field was the main stage with the smaller ‘Acorn’ stage at the side in a tent. There were lots of vendors around for food, drink, vintage clothing, T-shirts and band CDs.  We found a spot to sit at where we could see the stage and screen from afar but the sound was great so wherever you were, you could clearly and easily hear the music – well done, tech crew!

All acts were fantastic – and I enjoyed it all even though I was not so familiar with the music. I was really looking forward to seeing the Unthanks as I had seen that they are to perform with Liverpool Philharmonic in the upcoming season. The sisters’ voices were beautiful and distinctly different from each other. When they spoke you could hear the North-East accent and I believe that is where their songs originate from. They both also dance with clogs on which adds to the percussion of certain songs. As I listened to them I could easily imagine them performing with an orchestra.

My friend and I moved closer to see Mary Chapin Carpenter perform. She was fantastic, a bit more country than folk. She explained why she wrote some of her songs, made a few jokes which really added to the connection with her audience.

Finally, my friend and I packed our bags and went forward to join the standing crowd For Bellowhead. Again, I had heard of them but didn’t know their music. Unfortunately, they will be disbanding but will do one final tour in the UK so I’m glad I had the chance to see them perform live. They started with a song full of energy and had the crowd dancing immediately. They had quite a long set – most songs from their recent album. I absolutely love the ensemble including brass and strings, especially the fact that they have their bass line performed on tuba. Their main singer explained what the songs were about and the whole band had such stage presence and energy. They really do look like they have so much fun together, and it’s brilliant that we can share this experience with them as part of the audience. Again, the tech crew were on point with sound, lighting and fireworks at then end.

Bellowhead at the start of their set.

Bellowhead at the start of their set.

Both the Unthanks and Bellowhead will be playing at Philharmonic Hall – another reason to be jealous of the residents of Liverpool! I’d recommend anyone to go to their concerts!