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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7th July, 2016 -Vasily Petrenko celebrates 10 years with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Vasily Petrenko

Cello: Truls Mørk

Orchestra: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Elgar: In the South

Shostakovitch: Cello Concerto No.1

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.3

Vasily Petrenko first conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) in 2004. After this, he was announced in July 2005 to be their principal conductor for the following 06-07 season. Ten years down the line, the relationship between conductor and orchestra seems just as strong as ever. During his time as conductor, his title has changed to Chief conductor, they have made numerous recordings including the Shostakovitch and Rachmaninov symphonies. (They’ve just released a recording of 3 Tchaikovsky symphonies.) Petrenko currently has an open ended contract with RLPO with the conductor needing to give 3 years notice if the contract is to come to a conclusion.

Truls Mørk is a Norwegian cellist born to a cellist father and pianist mother. He won  prizes in several competitions and embarked on a career performing internationally, including a tour with Oslo Philharmonic. Unfortunately, he fell ill and for a couple of years was unable to perform due to a rare form of encephlaitis affecting his nervous system causing paralysis of his shoulder. After treatment and physiotherapy,he returned to the stage. He recorded both Shostakovitch concertos 1&2 with Petrenko and Oslo Philharmonic. He will be performing at the Proms this year with RLPO in prom 53 and next year he will tour Asia with Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic next year in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Seoul.

Elgar ‘In the South (Alassio)’

This piece of music is named ‘Alassio’ after the town in Northern Italy where Elgar went on holiday with his family. He was inspired by the history and beauty of the area and so wrote this piece. Elgar conducted the premiere himself with the Hallé Orchestra at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London at the Elgar Festival.

Shostakovitch: Cello Concerto No.1

Shostakovitch wrote this cello concerto in 1959 for Rostropovitch who performed the premiere with Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. It is considered one of the most difficult pieces written for cello. The first movement is played separately. The second, third and fourth movements are performed continuously.

Sol Gabetta performing Shostakovitch Cello Concerto No.1

Truls Møk performing Shostakovitch Cello Concerto No. 2

<p><a href=”″>SHOSTAKOVICH'S Cello Concerto No 2 – M&oslash;rk/Roth</a> from <a href=””>G&ouml;teborgs Symfoniker</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.3

This symphony was premiered by Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936.

This was an amazing performance, each time I come back to hear RLPO perform, I am always surprised about what I hear that is different than what I’ve heard performed live before or from recordings. Having said that I’m probably more distracting doing other things while listening to a recording. The Elgar piece was played beautifully, conjuring images of the Italian Riviera with hints of romanticism. There was a wonderful viola solo in the middle of the piece. Truls Mørk came onstage and performed Shostakovitch’s cello concerto with energy and you could hear the distinct DSCH pattern throughout. The highlight for me was Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.3. I really felt like there were parts of this piece that I had just never noticed before. The transitions from one section to another were seamless, yet made you notice the echo of the melody. The phrasing was precise – a hallmark of Petrenko’s work and conducting. The sections were noticeably tight – musicians working hard to produce a concert of high quality! At the end, Petrenko did his ‘Do you want an encore?’ to the audience, increasing the applause and cheers. We were given a fun encore of ‘Tea for Two’ with Petrenko conducting it in his fun and comical way. After this, there was much applause and the orchestra played ‘Happy Birthday!’ to Petrenko and his beautiful family (wife, son and very cute daughter – all in matching blue outfits) appeared onstage with a cake with four candles (one for each decade) at which point the audience gave him a standing ovation!

This was a great concert, made even better for me as I was able to attend with my best friend from school, Ju and we had also met Irina earlier for dinner at The Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Irina had just flown over that morning from Moscow to attend this concert. As I always say, this orchestra and conductor are definitely worth travelling a great distance for – and I look forward to seeing them perform together next year at the White Nights concert – the ticket has already been bought!


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3rd June, 2016 – BBC Frozen Planet in Concert

Conductor: Benjamin Northey

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic

Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Fenton: BBC Frozen Planet (Live music with images)

In 2003, I saw George Fenton conduct HKPhilharmonic bringing us the music and footage from ‘The Blue Planet’. I loved the show and it was a great opportunity to see the composer conducting and talking about the music and how it related to the images. Last year I saw ‘Planet Earth’ performed in Hong Kong, so it was time to finish off this trilogy of concerts.

Although, I was less familiar with the music of this programme, it had George Fenton’s signature all over it. The music always complimented the footage whether it be crashing waves, orcas wave washing a seal to wear it out so they can eventually feed on it or a mother polar bear and her cubs.

The concert shows different aspects of nature where the audience is awed by the magnificence of the views captured, the brutality of predator prey interactions and of course the comical side to bring some light relief. Definitely a favourite part of the concert was watching the criminal penguins – stealing from another’s nest to build their own!

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1st March – Rufus Wainwright ‘Prima Donna’

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Joana Carneiro

Sopranos: Wang Xi, Sarah Fox

Tenor: Antonio Figeuroa

Rufus Wainwright

This was a full house with  people clamouring to see Rufus Wainwright. I had not heard many of Wainwright’s songs before, but was obviously familiar with ‘Hallelujah’ from Shrek. I had read up about this concert that it would be an opera that Wainwright has written, so I was prepared that it would be more operatic than his usual songs.

Wainright came on stage and said his ‘Thank you’s which was a little comical as he was reading out Chinese names, not quite sure of the pronunciation, but we were all amused by the fact that there was someone called Sherlock and an Elvis on his list – classic Hong Kong odd choice of names. He introduced the concert and told us there would be excerpts from the opera that he has written, which also showed paintings and a film on the screens. Then he reminded us to stay for the second half which was when he would be singing songs.

As the concert began, I started to wonder about my choice of seat. I knew at times, especially when Wang Xi was singing, that I really couldn’t hear her very well. This was where I started to question my choice of seat and who the opera singers were. In the end, I knew it came down to the fact that the sound was not supervised well, allowing the orchestra to drown out the singers.

Despite the sound problems, the orchestra played well, although I was surprised at Carneiro’s style being consistently forceful. The imagery on the screen really did not appeal to me. I found it distracting, unappealing and to be quite honest, tacky. I would have just appreciated to be able to focus on the singers and orchestra. (I had been to a concert where there was music and videos, but it was cohesive. See Tan Dun’s ‘Nu Shu’ concert)

For the second half of the concert, a piano was brought out and as I was sitting in the balcony above the piano, we were given seats over to the left, so we would be able to get a better view (although the back of the performer’s heads wouldn’t be what I’d consider a ‘better view’!). Rufus Wainwright came on stage and sang some songs at the piano, and others at the microphone at the front of the stage, occasionally with Sarah Fox. These were mostly hits such as ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate milk’. Some songs were with orchestral accompaniment whereas others were just with Wainwright at the piano. Funnily enough, the chair that had been on stage during the first half of the concert (when it wasn’t needed) had been removed. Several times when the conductor wasn’t conducting, she no longer had a seat to sit on and had to perch on the conductor’s podium. For his encore, Wainwright did bring back all three opera singers back to the stage and sang with them while at the piano. This did reassure me that the singers were of a decent calibre, with their voices projecting nicely. This was a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ which most people are familiar with from the movie ‘Shrek’.

Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah (Live at The Fillmore)