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
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!
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