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 October, 2015 – Xuefei Yang and Ian Bostridge

Guitar: Xuefei Yang

Tenor: Ian Bostridge

Venue: Hong Kong City Hall, Concert Hall

Dowland – In Darkness Let Me Dwell

Britten (arr. Bream) – Second Lute Song of the Earl of Essex (from Gloriana)

Argento – Chopin to a Friend (from Letters from Composers), Schubert to a Friend (from Letters from Composers)

Schubert – Die Mainacht, D 194

Der König in Thule, D.367

An die Musik, D. 547

Ständchen (from Schwanengesang, D. 957)

Britten – Songs from the Chinese, Op. 58

Chinese Ancient Tune (arr. Xuefei Yang) – Fisherman’s Song at Eventide

Debussy (arr. Bream) – La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin

Falla – Homenaje, le Tombeau de Caude Debussy

Falla (arr. Xuefei Yang) – Spanish Dance No.1 (from La Vida Breve)

Goss – The Book of Songs

Dowland – Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite

White as  Lilies was Her Face

My Thoughts are Winged with Hopes

Flow My Tears

In Darkness Let Me Dwell

Since I saw Xuefei Yang perform with the Elias String Quartet in my hometown of Chester for the Chester Music Festival in at he Town Hall, I have waited for Xuefei to return to Hong Kong to see her perform again. She has occasionally returned to perform some more private functions, but has mostly been performing in China. As soon as I heard of this concert, I booked my ticket at the earliest opportunity.

This was quite a different concert with Yang mostly accompanying Bostridge on guitar. Ian Bostridge produced a beautiful tone and expression and Yang was as nimble as ever on guitar. They started with Dowland – songs that were originally performed with a lute accompaniment in the 16th Century as this was the instrument Dowland played.

The second half started with Xuefei Yang performing solo on guitar including a couple of pieces by Falla which gave a little Spanish flair to the concert. Then it was back to the Brits with ‘The Book of Songs’ which was written by Stephen Goss for Bostridge and Yang and ending with Dowland once more. The duo performed encores including a Chinese tune which received a very warm reception.

The artists signed autographs in the foyer. So, I met Xuefei Yang and mentioned that I’d seen her perform in my hometown of Chester, which she remembered as being very beautiful. Quite right!

Meeting Xuefei Yang post concert


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24th October, 2015 – Penderecki, James Cuddeford and HK Sinfonietta

Conductor: Penderecki

Violin: James Cuddeford

Orchestra: Hong Kong Sinfonietta

Venue: Hong Kong City Hall, Concert Hall

Penderecki Violin Concerto No.2, ‘Metamorphosen’

Shostakovich Symphony No.15 in A, Op 141

I was motivated to go to this concert as it’s a great opportunity to see a renowned living composer conducting his own work and a Shostakovich symphony. I had been quite oblivious to the fact that Penderecki actually knew/met Shostakovich. When I told a friend recently that I would be attending this concert with Penderecki conducting, he asked how I knew of this conductor. To be honest I have no idea but could only reply that I read ‘stuff’ – including BBC Music magazine. I was also thinking of various websites including Classic FM and NPR (classical music), and maybe browsing in CD shops engraves these names in my brain.

The Violin concerto was performed by HK Sinfonietta’s own concertmaster, James Cuddeford. It is a challenging work with the player having few breaks, and when they did come, they were short. Cuddeford did an excellent job and it was fantastic to see HKSinfonietta having one of their own perform as soloist.

James Cuddeford talking about the Penderecki violin concerto:

The Shostakovich symphony was performed well with clear entrances. This performance surpassed my expectations.

Here is a performance of the concerto by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Bernard Haitink conducting.

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23rd October 2015 – Christoph Eschenbach, HKPhil

Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach

Piano: Tzimon Barto

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Dvorák – Carnival Overture

Gershwin – Piano Concerto in F

Brahms – Symphony no.1

I had wanted to see Christoph Eschenbach conduct for a while as I had seen he had worked with Ray Chen on his recent Mozart album.

The Carnival Overture was a fun way to start this concert. This piece of music is supposed to depict a wanderer coming across a city where a festival is taking place. This is definitely shown with the energetic folk dance feel of the music. The middle section, led by the flute and cor anglais is a much gentler tune, where the wanderer has found a companion. The Overture, soon returns back to lively dance music.

Here is a video of it being performed at the BBC Proms in 2012:

As Tzimon Barto entered the stage, my first impression was that he was quite a striking figure –  tall and broad shouldered. I’m sure he can produce the power needed in some piano concertos like Rachmaninov 3. In typical Gershwin style, the concerto starts with a New York feel to it. Barto played with precision and fimness when the music called for it. Other passages were played sensitively and gently without losing that jazzy theme.

The concert ended with the fabulous Brahms Symphony No. 1 which took Brahms about 21 years to write.

Christoph Eschenbach in rehearsal with HK Philharmonic – Brahms 1

I found this obviously older video of Eschenbach and Barto performing Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. Barto has since ditched the puffy sleeved shirt!

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10th October, 2015 – Shaolin Fez at HK Classic Cars and Cyclothon

Band: Shaolin Fez

Venue: HK Classic Cars – Central Harbourfront, Cyclothon- outside HK Cultural Centre – TST

I had a busy weekend so due to being in a workshop from 10am to 5pm, I thought it would be nice in the evening to head down to HK Classic Cars to have a look and show support to the organizers who also attend my church. At the same time, I could show support to friends who have a Scandinavian food business and Shaolin Fez who were providing entertainment at 7:45pm and then the same set was played (with a slightly different line-up) a ferry ride away at the Cultural Centre later that evening at 10:15pm.

Shaolin Fez is made up of musicians in Hong Kong, some are classically trained (from Hong Kong Philharmonic), others are jazz or rock musicians. They obviously have a love for their craft and enjoy the collaboration of such a diverse group of artists.

Shaolin Fez performed a set which were mostly original songs. Several songs were from their album ‘Calm Your Storm’ and a couple of newer unrecorded (hopefully yet to be recorded) songs. They also performed a couple of covers – an Amy Winehouse song and Jamiroquai’s ‘Revolution’.

It had been raining quite heavily, so it was quite appropriate for Shaolin Fez to start their set with the title song from their album ‘Calm Your Storm’:

A favourite from the set was ‘Heroes Fall’ an original Shaolin Fez song Bond inspired. It’s a great melody and I’m not sure why it’s not on the soundtrack to the soon to be released ‘Spectre’! Here’s a little snippet of it:

The flute solo in Jamiroquai’s  Revolution was excellent over at HK Classic Cars and was replaced by a trumpet solo at Cyclothon.

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25 September, 2015 – A National Day Celebration- Rachel Jiemin Zhang, Niu Niu and Louise Kwong with HKPhil

Conductor: Rachel Jiemin Zhang

Soprano: Louise Kwong

Piano: Niu Niu

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Nie Er – National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China

Tchaikovsky- Mazeppa: Cossack Dance

Tchaikovsky- The Queen of Spades – Lisa’s aria

Folk Song ( arr. Lo Hau-man) – Si Lina (longing)

Zheng Qiufeng – Four Seasons of our Country: Pamir- how lovely is my hometown

Zhu Jian-Er – A Wonder of Naxi

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.1

China’s National Day is to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic on China which was on 1st October, 1949. It is celebrated across China, Hong Kong and Macau. In Hong Kong, the celebrations include a flag raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wanchai, National Day Horse Races (well, the Chinese do love a bit of gambling!) and the fireworks over Victoria Harbour at 9pm.

So, the week before National Day, Hong Kong Philharmonic held their National Day Celebration concerts. These concerts often feature local Hong Kong or Chinese musicians and Chinese music. It was good to see a female conductor on the rostrum, who is the first of three conducting HKPhil this season. It was Shanghai conductor Rachel Jiemin Zhang‘s debut Hong Kong performance.

First on the programme was the Chinese National Anthem, where we all stood up and listened to the orchestra. I didn’t realise that there is quite an interesting background to this piece. The anthem is known as “March of the Volunteers” and was composed in 1934 by Tian Han. A year later it was set to music by Nie Er for a movie. It was then used as the anthem of the PRC instead of the Republican and Communist songs. During the Cultural Revolution, when Tian Han was imprisoned, the anthem was briefly replaced. The anthem was restored in 1982 and Hong Kong and Macau also adopted it once these regions were returned to China in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

We were then treated to a short Tchaikovsky piece – Cossack Dance from the opera ‘Mazeppa’. It is a typically jovial piece from Tchaikovsky.

Local Hong Kong soprano, Louise Kwong then entered the stage. She sang Lisa’s Aria from Queen of Spades with such emotion that if you closed your eyes you really felt transported into the world of opera. She then switched deftly from this emotionally charged piece to a Chinese folk song. It is so good to see such talent originating from Hong Kong and further develop internationally.

After the interval was Zhu Jian-Er’s A Wonder of Naxi and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1.

I remember looking at the CD cover of Niu Niu’s album and literally translated his nickname into ‘cow cow’ or ‘beef beef’, which I thought was odd, to say the least. Why would you want people to know you professionally as this? Apparently, Niu Niu is Zhang Shengliang’s nickname which means ‘little ox’ (Repeated names have more of an affectionate, endearing  tone to them in Chinese) as he was born in the year of the ox. I was interested to see Niu Niu perform as he will also perform in Liverpool later this season. I also realised later that he has worked on an album with Andrew Cornall as producer, who is artistic director for Liverpool Philharmonic. As he walked on stage, he seemed to be a tall elegant figure which seemed reflected in his playing. I felt that listening to some of the initial passages, they were a little too clinical – technically sound but otherwise lacking – for my liking, but in other faster paced louder passages, they were played well and with more emotion. The encore performed was Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 27 no. 2.