Making an Effort

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

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

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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.

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