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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29th November – Clockenflap Day 3

Venue : West Kowloon Cultural District

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It’s true, I said I wasn’t going on Sunday, but I did. I was contacted to help at the market stalls on the Saturday, so thought I’d help my friend out and enjoy another day of good music. This did mean that I had the market handbook to familiarise myself with, which I did, to the amusement of my friend. I even knew the next few market day dates off by heart!

With much excitement, I arrived early at Clockenflap and walked around a little and made sure my friend knew I was around. We went to watch a few acts in the early afternoon and got some food.

My friend knew I wanted to go over to watch Shaolin Fez, so we wandered over to the Harbourflap stage. Sam Ferrer, the bass player had informed me that it would be the same set that I’d seen recently, but with an added song or two. I wasn’t too fussed about that and it’s quite understandable as I’m sure trying to get rehearsal times together is quite an organisational feat when people have different jobs and therefore different schedules. Anyway, it’s always great to see them perform!

Following this we wandered off but came back to see Mama’s Gun who were fantastic. I’d never heard of or seen them before. They’re a five piece London based soul/pop/funk band, but their lead singer was actually born in Kowloon! They were fantastic; entertaining and full of energy. The keyboard player caught our eye as he reminded us of David Hasselhoff (especially the hair) – no wonder his name is  Dave ‘Eighties’ Oliver! He was really fun to watch with his expressions.

I had to go and see Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. I know they’ve been to Clockenflap before, and I really wanted to see what they would be like live. Wow – they were absolutely amazing! Super fun disco songs and brilliant musicians. Nile Rodgers did a great job introducing the songs and letting us know that songs we associate with other famous artists were actually partly written by him such as Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, Duran Duran’s ‘Notorious’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’!

The last band I went to see was Blackalicious, despite New Order being on at the Harbourflap stage. My friend had me listen to probably one of their most famous songs ‘Alphabet Aerobics’ which I’d actually heard before – by Daniel Radcliffe on the Jimmy Fallon show. Unfortunately for this group, there were quite severe sound problems going on with the microphones, so when the main rapper was rapping, we could hardly hear him. The other two were trying to swap microphones with him, and even the sound team came on stage to sort out the mikes but it wasn’t working well. I’m not a Blackalicious fan, but could appreciate their skills and obviously people were loving their set despite the sound problems.

It was quite late when I left, and saw a little of New Order as I walked out. Another excellent day of seeing familiar bands and introducing myself to some new music – roll on Clockenflap 2016!!


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27th November – Clockenflap 2015 Day 1

Venue: West Kowloon Cultural District


I’d never been to Clockenflap before, although I had been tempted on several occasions e.g. When De La Soul performed and when a friend’s band, Noughts and Exes were playing. Why the hesitation, you may well ask. Yet again, it was the notion of attending another event solo. However, we have already established that I am old enough and wise enough for this not to matter anymore despite the style of event, unless it was something like ballroom dancing where a partner is required and my inhibitions would certainly take over once again, that and the fact that this person with Hobbit sized feet can’t dance.

I only bought a ticket for Friday night, as I thought I might have a hockey game on Saturday and might prefer to rest on Sunday. I was fortunate to have the day off on Friday and eventually contacted a friend on the way there. She was also on her way, so I definitely had company!

Entry was easy as our tickets were scanned and we were given a bracelet with a chip as the stalls are cashless so we had to add money to our cards on the bracelet – very convenient as add money booths were located at the entrance and right by the food stalls.

We made our way past the Atrum stage where The Anello were just finishing their set. Our destination was over to the main Harbourflap Stage where Sun KiMoon were performing. I’d not heard of them before, but they were definitely Americana – a group from San Francisco. The lead singer’s voice is good, but the songs were certainly not on the brighter side of life. One song ended with ‘ Grandma died of cancer’. My friend did note that it was strange to applaud after that. Their songs are of the storytelling style and rather depressing in nature, so I won’t be listening to them in a hurry. a nice highlight was that we did get to vote with cheers for a song – MoonRiver was voted over a Christmas tune. I was glad, it’s still not December yet.

After this we went over to  The Atrum stage to see Clean Bandit. We were able to squeeze ourselves in close to the front on the right. As is the nature of these festivals, when people move, leave and jostle, we were able to move forward, until a friend to my left moved forward, but we couldn’t follow, but moved left towards the centre, and I soon realised I was standing right next to high school students from my school, some of which I had taught. Unfortunately, they finally realised and one of them broke the unwritten code by joyfully shouting out my name. Anyway, Clean Bandit were excellent with great lead vocals by Elizabeth Troy. They played plenty of hits which had the crowd jumping, including ‘There’s no place I’d rather be’. I couldn’t fully agree as I would have rather been about 2m over to the right from where I was standing.

Thankfully, we needed to make our way back to the Harbourflap stage to see Damien Rice. It was just him, a guitar and a loop station. He was most impressive live. He started with . It was great to have him involve crowd with Volcano, having one third sing ‘Volcanos melt’, the second third of the crowd had two lines to sing and the last group were assigned a rather high pitched tune, which of course they struggled with, to everyone’s amusement. Definitely a talented man who can captivate his audience with his style, yet varied it enough to keep it interesting. I’m sure that requires a lot of consideration being a solo set.

Back over at Atrum stage, we experienced Lotus, which was a DJ with a lot of visuals. Most of my friends were soon lost in the crowd. I considered staying, but after a while, with the penetrating beat of the music, I decided to grab a bite to eat. Of course during this time,I spotted more students and so averted my gaze and hastily walked away.

I ventured back to Harbourflap to see ‘Ride’ perform. I knew they were Indie – I enjoyed their first few songs, but after a while, I felt that their music did not hold my interest and pretty much was sounding the same. So, standing in confined space with some backache, was not helping, so I moved myself to the side, where I could still see well enough and could watch the rest of the set.

I met up with my friends to leave, and they had gone to see a Japanese band ‘Love Psychedelico’ which they said were excellent. I only found out after I’d bought my ticket that Shaolin Fez will be playing on Sunday afternoon. I’m tempted to go, but I think I will refrain and watch the live stream on TV from home.

All in all, it was an excellent experience, and I do enjoy going to see bands that I’ve never seen before. It’s obviously well run and we also have the comfort of going home each night to our comfy beds rather than camping in a muddy field. I’ll be looking forward to seeing who they bringing to Clockenflap 2016!

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17th November, 2015 – Benjamin Grosvenor

Piano – Benjamin Grosvenor

Venue: Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall

Mendelssohn  Two Preludes & Fugues from Op. 35

Chopin   Barcarolle op. 60

Chopin   Mazurkas Op. 63 No. 2 & Op. 30 No. 4

Chopin   Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante

Ravel   Le Tombeau de Couperin

Liszt   Venezia e Napoli

Premiere Performance of Hong Kong had wanted to book Benjamin Grosvenor, but he had already been fully booked for a few years ahead, so they had waited patiently for his availability to perform a recital in Hong Kong. Benjamin Grosvenor’s reputation just seems to go from strength to strength, currently being nicknamed the ‘Boy Lord of the Piano’ by the New York Times. It often amazes me that someone at the age of 23 has such skill at the piano and the humility and gratitude to the audience seems to show as he takes his bow.

Here he is in 2011 when he was the youngest soloist performing at a BBC Proms opening night:


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13th November, 2015 – Håkan Hardenberger, HK Sinfonietta

Conductor and Trumpet – Håken Hardenberger

Orchestra – Hong Kong Sinfonietta

Venue: Amphitheatre at Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts

Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E flat

Prokofiev Classical Symphony, Op 25

Ravel Le Tombeau de Couperin

Robert Planel Concerto for Trumpet and Strings

Joni Mitchell Both Sides, Now

Jan Lundgren The Seagull

I invited a couple of friends to come along to this concert. One is an artist and the other a fellow teacher. I was quite excited about going to this concert as it is seldom that we get to hear brass or woodwind concertos in Hong Kong compared to strings or piano. Håken Hardenberger is a well known Swedish trumpet player, who performs with renowned orchestras. I did find the choice of venue surprising though. I’ve been to concerts in the HKAPA amphitheatre before which is quite small and rather underwhelming.

The Haydn concerto started off well and Hardenberger produces a beautiful tone. However, when he was climbing through a phrase, it already felt like he was struggling and as an audience member, to be wondering, “Will he make it!?” decreases the enjoyment of the experience and he struggled to place the high notes which was a disappointment.

The rest of the pieces were conducted by Hardenberger and were pleasant enough and the orchestra performed well. Unfortunately, Hardenberger didn’t make it to another climactic point in the Planel concerto. Having read reviews and knowing this famous trumpeter’s name, I really expected better. I question what could have improved this concert. Was it too much to be conductor and soloist? Had jetlag caught up with him? Maybe this was just an off day.

Here’s a video of Håken Hardenberger performing the Haydn concerto with Yehudi Menuhin conducting in 1998:

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6th November, 2015 – Mozart and Strauss – Canellakis and Hadelich, HKPhil

Conductor: Karina Canellakis

Violin: Augustin Hadelich

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Mozart –  Abduction from the Seraglio Overture

Mozart –  Violin Concerto no. 5, Turkish

R. Strauss  – Die Frau ohne Schatten: Symphonic Fantasy

R. Strauss –  Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils

Since Marin Alsop made her speech as the first female conductor at the Last Night of the Proms, it seems that female conductors have stepped into the limelight a little more. Hopefully orchestras have become more intentional about including female conductors in their programmes. It is fantastic to see some female conductors in the HKPhil 15/16 season. This was the debut concert for Karina Canellakis. It is unsurprising that she has come over to Hong Kong to perform considering that Jaap Van Zweden is one of her mentors and they work with Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I definitely enjoyed watching her conduct showing appropriate movements for each phrase.

The first half of the concert had a Turkish theme – ‘Abduction from the Seraglio Overture’. This had lively beginning and endings featuring cymbals and piccolo, with a more sombre section in the middle. The second piece was Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5 ‘Turkish’ played brilliantly by Augustin Hadelich.

Here’s a video of Augustin Hadelich:

The concert ended with two very entertaining pieces by R.Strauss. First was the symphonic poem translated as ‘The woman with no shadow’. The last piece of the evening was ‘Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils’ being based on the biblical story of Herod’s daughter. Herod offers Salome anything if she dances for him. She goes to her mother, Herodias, to ask what she should ask for and requests John the Baptist’s head on a tray. (John was not popular in the Herod household as he had told Herod that he should not have married his brother’s wife!)

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2nd November – Avi Avital and the Cologne Academy

Mandolin: Avi Avital

Orchestra: The Cologne Academy Chamber Orchestra

Venue: Hong Kong City Hall, Concert Hall

Vivaldi – Concerto in F major Autumn from The Four Seasons RV 293

Bach – Violin Concerto in G minor BWV 1056 (arr. Avital)

Vivaldi – Concerto in F minor Winter from The Four Seasons RV 297

Bach – Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041 (arr. Avital)

Bloch – Nigun from Baal Shem

Bartók – Romanian Folk Dances

Falla – Danse Espagnol

Tsintsadze – Georgian Folk from Eight Miniatures Tunes

I wasn’t so sure about buying a ticket to this concert at first. However, I knew the name, Avi Avital is quite prominent at the moment- probably due to following Wigmore Hall‘s Twitter feed and hearing of his collaboration with Mahan Esfahani, the harpsichordist.  I looked at the programme and saw that it consisted of equal measures of Baroque and folk music, both of which I enjoy, so why not go and experience it?!

As the players of the Cologne Academy walked onstage, I was surprised that the ensemble was mostly women. This was quite a nice observation to make as it is usually the opposite that is seen. Avi Avital and the conductor arrived and Avital sat on a chair near the front of the stage, but unfortunately for me the conductor was standing directly in my line of view! I was at the front and just at the wrong angle, but it really is all about listening to the music! The first half was Vivaldi and Bach which I enjoyed. The second half was based on folk music. Avital was fantastic on the mandolin and the balance between orchestra and soloist was excellent.

During the second half of the concert, Avital paused to talk about the concert and the pieces noting the themes of the two halves. He talked more about the pieces in the second half of the concert including the pieces by Tsintsadze, who he said many people may not have heard of and therefore may not have heard the music before. I had looked in the programme and noticed that one of the Tsintsadze pieces was called ‘Indi Mindi’ which rang a bell with me. So when I was listening to the music I recognized several sections, especially ‘Indi Mindi’ which I was quite excited about. I realized that I had a CD – probably from BBC Music Magazine around 20 years ago that was called ‘St Petersburg Classics’. I did get to mention my familiarity to ‘Indi Mindi’ to Avital afterwards, and he asked if I was a cellist as Tsintsadze wrote music for cello, but I told him that I had heard a chorale version of it on an old CD. He did comment that it was quite rare for someone to be familiar with this piece.

A mandolin concert is probably not everyone’s first choice, but Avital really makes the instrument and the music come alive, with his playing and programme choice. I would definitely recommend anyone to see Avital in concert, whether it is classical, folk or jazz that he is performing!

Avi Avital: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert