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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12 September -Cirque de la Symphonie- Guy Noble, Hong Kong Philharmonic 

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Guy Noble

Cirque de la Symphonie

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert 

Kabalevsky: Colas Breugnon: Overture

Debussy: Suite Bergamasque – Clair de Lune

Risky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol, op.34, parts IV & V

Bizet: Carmen Suite no. 2 – Gypsy Song, Act II

Bizet: Carmen Suite no.1 – Toreador Song

Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty Suite op. 66a

Saint- Saens: Samson and Delilah: Bacchanale

Abreast: Tico Tico No Fubá(Dragon)

Chabrier: España

Williams: Witches of Eastwick: Devil’s Dance

Kabalevsky: Comedians: Galop

Offenbach: Orpheus in the underworld: Can-Can

Antheil: Hot Time Dance

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake:Valse

Sibelius:Finlandia

J.Strauss II: Thunder and Lightning Polka, op. 324

The previous evening, I had been to a school function and a colleague asked if I would be at this concert. So, we arranged to meet for dinner. When I arrived, another colleague realised she had left her ticket at home, she was about to leave and I suggested that they could ask at the box office/ HKPhil organisers if they could still let her in as this had happened recently to another concert attendee and it was sorted out without much fuss. Thankfully, our friend was saved a long journey home and didn’t have to pay again – so thank you people at the HKPhil desk!

The orchestra were situated further back than usual to make room for the rigging that was needed on stage for the Cirque performers. This was an excellent evening of circus acts – think ‘Cirque du Soleil’ but with less fantastical costumes set to classical music. There were aerial skills with a team of about six people holding the rope, appearing and retreating offstage,  to help hoist the acrobats into the air. There was a good variety of acts, including spinning cube, tango, quick change and hand balance. A highlight was certainly the juggler who brought some comic relief every time he came on stage. They ended with an aerial duo including a man flying through the air on silks and lastly, the golden strongmen who manage to somehow balance on and using each other.

A very entertaining programme, with beautiful music. Guy Noble did point out that there was quite a bit of ‘Spanish’ music in the performance – but interestingly enough, none of it was written by spaniards!

Cirque de la Symphonie

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5 September – HK Philharmonic Season Opening: Tan Dun’s Nu Shu

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Tan Dun

Metal Percussion: Zhang Xinru

Violin: Zeyu Victor Li

Harp: Elizabeth Hainen

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Tan Dun  – Symphonic Poem on Three Notes

Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64

Tan Dun – Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women (with images projected)

When I think of Tan Dun, I think of his music from the award winning ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and the Beijing Olympics. So already, I was looking forward to seeing this composer conduct his own works.

As I walked into the concert hall, the stage was set with metal percussion instruments arranged at the front of the stage. Zhang Xinru walked on with Tan Dun and took her initial bow amongst the instruments. Although she was partly hidden from view, Zhang could easily be seen transferring from instrument to instrument. This piece of music was written for Placido Domingo for his 70th birthday concert. The music is based on three notes (A, B and C) known as ‘la-si-do’ which sounds like ‘Placido’. The orchestral players played the music as usual, but also added in foot stamping and chanting of ‘la-si-do’. It is an unusual piece, but one that is totally captivating to hear and see performed live.

Spotify – Tan Dun Symphonic Poem on Three Notes – Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

The Mendelssohn violin concerto was performed well by 19 year old Victor Li. His encores were Paganini’s Caprice no. 1 and Bach’s Violin Sonata no. 3 in C major, BWV 1005. The Paganini displayed his technical ability with his bow moving repeatedly . The Bach, in contrast was slower and allowed the sensitivity of the piece to come through.

After the interval, Tan Dun’s with microfilm was performed. There were three screens that turned on one at a time, sometimes showing the same film, at other times showing different parts of the same film. Listening to the women’s singing, which to my ears sounds strange, and not altogether pleasant, I was always amazed at how Tan Dun is capable to hear this music and create a musical backdrop to it. There were definitely elements that sounded like the music could be from a movie soundtrack, especially in the movement where the girl was in the boat on water sounded like a part of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. The music has an organic sound to it with water being used by the percussion section and the instruments at times sounding like a soft breeze.

Tan Dun on his 13 microfilms with HK Phil’s live music

Elizabeth Hainen talking about Nu Shu

This concert was really one that displayed Tan Dun’s creativity and showed how as a contemporary composer, his music is very accessible.


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25 August – HKFO, Vassily Sinaisky & Dominique Moralez

Orchestra: Hong Kong Festival Orchestra

Conductor: Vassily Sinaisky

Tenor: Dominique Moralez

Venue: Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall

Berlioz Requiem

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I seem to have a theme recently – see some choral music with extra brass situated on each side for the surround sound effect! It was First night of the Proms with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and now Berlioz’s Requiem. (I also realised I’ll be seeing Belshazzar’s Feast again later this season with HKPhil!)

The brass were situated in four groups, two to the left and two to the right, to demonstrate the four corners of the world. This was particularly effective in the movement as the sections entered one after another. There were definitely some Verdi- type moments within the piece.

It was lovely to see the Rowlands family again and I managed to have a photo with the two music students before we parted ways.

(L to R) Abigail, me and Isabelle

(L to R) Abigail, me and Isabelle

Here is a video of Berlioz Requiem from the Proms conducted by Sir Colin Davis:


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24th August – ‘The Dream” Vassily Sinaisky and Trey Lee

Orchestra: Hong Kong Festival Orchestra

Conductor: Vassily Sinaisky

Cello: Trey Lee

Venue: Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall

Brahms Tragic Overture Op.81

Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique Op.14

Hong Kong Festival Orchestra Concert Booklet

Hong Kong Festival Orchestra Concert Booklet

Parents of former HKIS students keep me in the loop regarding both of their daughters who are studying music; one is studying violin while the other studies trumpet. So, thanks to the Rowlands family, I attended two concerts featuring the Hong Kong Festival Orchestra because their daughter, Abigail, was playing trumpet in it. This is an orchestra of musicians of a range of ages who come together during the summer months to rehearse in the evenings (as some work) and perform concerts as their culminating event. This year they were joined by Maestro Sinaisky and cellist, Trey Lee.

They opened the concert with Brahms ‘Tragic Overture’. This was written in 1880 as a pair alongside the celebratory ‘Academic Festival Overture’ – quite the contrast. It starts with two chords and a strong melody. Following this is a calmer soothing section of strings with woodwind, followed by a subdued march before returning to the original theme and ending quite pompously.

In 1918, Elgar had an operation in London. When he recovered consciousness from sedation, he asked for pencil and paper and wrote what was to become the first theme in his famous cello concerto. He finished composing the piece at his cottage, in Sussex in 1919.  Elgar conducted the premiere of this concerto, with Felix Salmond as soloist. Apparently, the premiere was less than satisfactory due to the rest of the concert being conducted by Albert Coates who overran his rehearsals, at the expense of Elgar’s. Elgar’s cello concerto opens with its famous chords and continues in a dramatic vein. This piece is just full of beautiful melodies causing the cello to sing. For the encore, Trey Lee performed Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Oblivion’ with the principal cellist.

During the intermission, I was informed that the ‘Death note’ theme was based on a manga series that has been turned into TV series, video games and films. If names of people are written in the book, they die! How morbid! The ways that several composers died were included on a couple of pages and it gave them license to be creative with the usual audience reminders (see photo below) although I really hoped the performers did not die of anger!

Some nice reminders for the audience!

Some nice reminders for the audience!

I thought I wasn’t familiar with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique but had earlier realised that I know the fourth movement ‘March to the Scaffold’ – most likely a popular movement to play on the radio or on compilation CDs – very brassy!  Its extended title is ‘Fantastical Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts’. This piece has a dream-like nature which is attributed to Berlioz possibly having composed part of it under the influence of opium. It tells the story of an artist who has poisoned himself with opium whilst in despair because of hopeless love.

Here are some videos if you are interested in the music:

Brahms Tragic Overture – Sir Colin Davis conducting the European Union Youth Orchestra

Elgar Cello Concerto – Sol Gabetta and Danish National Radio  Symphony Orchestra

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique – Chicago Symphony Orchestra