24 October, 2010
October 23, 2010, CH
HKPO-Yang Tianwa-Perry So
Official English website
This was a concert I most wanted to hear. Usually I prefer to attend HKPO concerts on Fridays, as the orchestra are usually more committed for the first of the concert pair. But I could not this time. So, on Friday 10:30 pm I received a phone call that was ecstatic in praise of the concert. Perhaps that first-hand report raised my hopes too much, as the concert on Saturday did not entirely live up to promise.
A Real Find
My first encounter of Yang Tianwa was from her first 2 Naxos Sarasate CDs (eventually there will be 7 CDs) which I borrowed from the library. All it took were a few notes to make me jump up from my seat and read everything in the booklet about the amazing violinist whom I had never heard of (the pianist is fantastic too). For here is the best Sarasate I have heard in a long time. The duo couldn't possibly have known all the obscure works when they recorded them, yet they played like they have lived with these pieces for years! Her fluid and utterly natural phrasing gave the pieces unusual breath. Her grasp of the Sarasate style is superior to most current violinist I can think of.
The Dvorak Violin Concerto is not often played in Hong Kong. Despite a little unsteadiness at the beginning, all the qualities that distinguished her Sarasate were gratifyingly present live. I was most impressed by her steady, singing tone, sure attack and sustain. Her natural phrasing revealed a maturity beyond her years. However, the wistful aspect of this concerto hides its difficulties, which are not in the notes but in expression and balance. Although she could be tender and delicate, the reading as a whole lacked a lyrical quality that should be inherent in the music. Part of this may be due to the accompaniment which, though tidy, emphasized drama rather than the dance elements. It should be noted that the orchestra was moderately reduced in the strings (only 22 violins, 8 violas, 6 celli and 4 basses), making the winds and brass more prominent in a "Germanic" style.
For encore she played a Ysaye piece, which more than the concerto showcased what this wonderful young violinist is all about: superb technique wedded to musical insight. All the Bachian counterpoints were clearly laid out but did not detract from the long lines and sumptuous tone. Marvelous!
The orchestra reverted to full-size for the Sibelius Symphony No. 2. This is a HKPO staple but this reading still managed to surprise me initially for the excellent playing and eloquent chording. Despite some unnecessary tempo manipulations, the first three movements had their shining moments, particularly felt in the almost sculptural brass chords. However, my worst fears about the inexperience of Perry So materialized in the last movements, where the various climaxes should gradually build up in power and intensity. Instead, Perry So could not manage the admittedly difficult task of tying the various episodes together and the movement as a whole was wildly incoherent. The quieter passages felt directionless, and the finale did not provide at all a sense of catharsis; a big deflation indeed. A cautious Janacek's Jealousy overture opened the concert.
There are a surprising number of personnel changes. Newcomers Colin Oldberg and Benjamin Moermond are now the trumpet and bassoon principals. Cor Anglais is now Sarah Turner. And Lisa Rogers is gone, so soon! there are now only 3 Chinese faces among the winds and brass. Sigh...
我第一次發現楊天媧是在圖書館。兩張 Naxos 的 Sarasate 小品吸引了我，不知道楊天媧是誰就借了回去。一聼之下就驚為天人。這些曲目極爲冷門， 但二人的演繹卻令我有耳熟能詳的感覺；這是一流的 Sarasate 演繹， 非時下所謂名家輕易能及！這兩張 CD 也燃燒了起來我對中國新星的希望。但這期待已久的音樂會卻因種種原因沒能盡興。
楊天媧技術上現場和錄音大致一樣， 琴音飽滿， 技巧扎實。減了弦樂手的樂隊突出了木管和銅管, 也沒掩蓋楊天媧， 但整體上 Dvorak 缺乏了抒情， 餘韻不足。其實 Dvorak 音樂好像不難，但要奏出活力， 有舞曲自然彈跳的感覺卻非易事。在這層次上，獨奏，指揮和樂隊都沒有達標， 可惜了。
Encore 的 Ysaye 就大大不一樣了。沒了樂隊的牽挂， 楊天媧的演繹自然流暢，技巧和音樂的表達兩者結合得天衣無縫。還是， 《 天媧無縫》？ 僅此一曲，已是補償的甘露， 值囘票價。
下半場的 Sibelius 第二交響曲 開始得不錯，但沒能彌補終樂章渙散無章的演繹。 本是一浪推一浪的高潮，變了沒能連接上的幾個強聲片斷， 方向感的缺乏令到結尾變了反高潮， 煞是掃興。
Addendum: Interview by HKPO
電郵結尾那句「Sent from my iPhone」，靈機一動問道：「你有Skype嗎？」結果二十四小時內
我甚麼類型的書都愛讀，小說、經典、犯罪故事、古代現代的統統都愛讀。現在讀著一本挪威小說家Lars Saabye Christensen的《The Half Brother》，男主角在二戰後長大，他的家庭表面上很普通，可是他的哥哥卻是母親在戰時被人強姦後所生的，是很曲折的故事。
我也有用F a c e b o o k ， 用化名的， 但只有廿四個朋友，都是真正的朋友。以前晚上還會用msn，現在也不怎麼用了。我很少找朋友的，住的地方周圍也是很少人居住的。平日也不出門，跟人聯絡也多靠電郵。的確， 工作上不斷會認識到新朋友， 可是很多時雖然合作愉快， 演出完了連繫就斷— 剛開始認識就要走，很可惜。有時去到一個地方演出，打電話給當地的朋友， 可是最後因為工作沒有時間約出來見面。事業正在往上走，是要吃點苦。
我喜愛Adolf Busch與他的弦樂四重奏，還有Joseph Szigeti。我最喜歡Busch的貝多芬，他演奏出樂曲的最高境界。而Szigeti的布拉姆斯我認為是不可超越的！
A Wonderful Struggle-Yang Tianwa’s life as a musician (Leon Chu)(from HKPO, with edits of some typos)
A brief Prelude. Originally, the idea was to conduct along-distance interview with Yang Tianwa by phone from the HKPO offi ce, but after the lengthy process of finding a convenient time, a problem with the hotel phone line prevented the interview from taking place. Email correspondence followed and it was then that I noticed a “sent from my iPhone” suffix. Hold on a minute; “Do you have Skype?” 24 hours later the interview was finished from the comfort of home.
Yet don’t let this lead you into thinking that she is a typical “post-80’s generation” young woman with over a thousand “friends” on Facebook and spending all her spare time chatting away on msn. I quickly realised that this doesn’t happen in a musician’s life.
So, what is a musician’s life like? According to 23-years- old Yang Tianwa; “It’s really wonderful, but it’s really tough!”
I started playing the violin when I was four. My father was very strict, and made sure I practised every day. He was right to do that, otherwise I would not have achieved what I have. I was not an especially diligent child. Many of my exercises I just played a couple of times and stopped as soon as I could play them. Already by that time I realised I had some gifts; some people needed to try things 10 times, while I often succeeded after three. Other children managed to sit in front of the piano all day, I couldn’t. I wanted to do other things. When I was little, I had to watch other children going to play after school, while my dad would pick me up from school to practise. I often wanted to read books, to play with friends, but I had to give these all up because of the violin. Looking back, it was quite a tough time.
It is generally tough to be a musician, although I am really happy right now. If I hadn’t been a musician, I guess I might be working in an office, and I don’t think would be as happy, but at the end of the day, every one determines their own life choices.
If I was to have children I would not make the demands on them my dad made on me. But if they wanted to be musicians, I might insist on helping them until they are in their mid-teens and then leave them to choose. Talent does not dictate everything; personality is more important.
A musician’s life is tough but really wonderful. You have to manage a great deal of stress and lead a disciplined life. Travelling from country to country means constant adjustment of time zones. You can only sleep until you “need to get up”. When holidays come, you can finally sleep until you “want to get up”. The best thing about holidays is not having to think about time.
When I don’t need to perform, I tend to stay home. On holidays, the first day I would lie in bed all day, reading and drinking tea; to me that tells my brain that I am finally on holiday. I love reading. I remember when I was little, I would put a novel on the music stand and read while I played, as I was able to commit music to memory fairly quickly. Later my dad discovered me doing this and locked all my books away!
I like reading all sorts of books: novels, classics, crime fiction, ancient, modern…I love them all. At the moment, I’m reading The Half Brother by Norwegian novelist Lars Saabye Christensen. The male protagonist grew up after the Second World War. His family seemed ordinary on the surface, but his older brother was born as a result of his mother having being raped during the war. It’s a story full of turmoil.
I listen to music four, five hours a day because of my work. When I have some free time, I prefer to enjoy a quiet moment. If I do listen to music, it would be part of work, probably one that I have been asked to perform. I do often listen to audio books.
If there were no Ysaÿe or Bach in this world I really wouldn’t know what to play for encores. I disagree with playing another showpiece such as Paganini or Wieniawski after performing an entire concerto. The concerto has offered plenty of opportunities to express yourself, you don’t need another chance to show off your skills. I would like to take the encore as an opportunity to give the audience something different, something to feel rather than something merely flashy.
As for recitals, I love playing Ma Sicong’s Nostalgia as the encore. I am really attracted to its simple, folk elements. In fact, most great music comes from the people. Brahms and Mozart also used elements from folk music. These are the essence of music, drawn from real life.
In Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, I am most impressed by the slow movement because of its rich folk elements. Its melancholic style is just like a folk song, while the final movement is like a folk dance. These elements really bring the work closer to people. In my opinion, this Concerto is more folk-like than his Cello Concerto and also more elegant and delicate. It’s played quite often in Europe, but audiences in Asia and North America seem to favour the Cello Concerto and symphonies; as if the Violin Concerto lives under its shadow. Perhaps it was written at the wrong time – there were too many great violin works written in the same period.
“Today in London, tomorrow in Paris, work starts at 8pm…” The lifestyle seems free and glamorous, but that is not the case in reality. Behind the limelight is a full itinerary, dictated not by personal choice but by one's responsibilities as a performer. The difference in performing in different countries is just the name of the place, you rarely get a chance to see the rest of it.”
I do use Facebook under a pseudonym, but I only have 24 friends there, all of them are friends I already know. I used to use msn in the evenings, but not much anymore. I rarely contact my friends, the place I live in is quiet with few people living around. I don’t go out much, email is my main communication method. It is true that I keep meeting new friends from work, but often after a wonderful collaboration we lose touch – it’s a pity that I often have to leave as soon as I meet new friends. Sometimes I go to a place to perform having called my friends there, but work doesn’t always allow time for us to meet. When you are launching a career, inevitably things will be tough.
To be a musician, you need to have much determination.
Yang Tianwa’s favourite violinists
I love Adolf Busch and his string quartet, and also Joseph Szigeti. My favourite is Busch’s Beethoven – his version is unsurpassable. Szigeti on the other hand has the best version of the Brahms.
To play Mendelssohn’s Concerto, I listened to the recording of Jascha Heifetz. I was surprised…his slow movement was the most beautiful interpretation I’ve heard! But his first and final movements were not especially close to my heart.
Yang Tianwa’s most memorable performance
It was a frightening experience! I once performed in Germany and remember clearly the date; 26th March 2007. That was the day I almost missed the performance!
The concert was to begin at 11 in the morning, so I got up at 8. Around 9:45 my manager phoned me to ask me where I was; the concert was about to begin. And then I remembered! Daylight saving had already started so it was actually 10:45am when my manager called. Without eating breakfast or getting changed, I ran out the door with my violin and performance gown. I nearly fainted when I stood on stage!
15 October, 2010
October 15, CH
Joy of Music Festival
Chopin and Schumann
Peter Frankl made his name on the international circuit as a young pianist in the 1960s and, since that time, he has appeared with the conductors Abbado, Ashkenazy, Barbirolli, Blomstedt, Boulez, Chailly, Davis, Doráti, Fischer, Haitink, Kempe, Kertész, Leinsdorf, Maazel, Masur, Muti, Sanderling, Solti, Szell, among others.
Following his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra, he has been performing with many orchestras in the USA (Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburg etc), the Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Orchestre de Paris, Israel Philharmonic, all London orchestras and many others in Europe. He has also toured Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, playing with orchestras, in recitals and also in chamber music concerts. He has appeared over twenty times at London’s BBC Promenade Concerts and has been a regular participant at the Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Verbier and Kuhmo Festivals. Among the highlights of his many Edinburgh Festival appearances were his performance of the Britten Concerto under the baton of the composer and the opening televised concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Muti. He was the soloist at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest with the Budapest Festival Orchestra at one of the last concerts Yehudi Menuhin ever conducted.
In the USA, Peter Frankl has been regular guest–artist at the summer festivals in Aspen, Chautauqua, Hollywood Bowl, Marlboro, Norfolk, Ravinia and Santa Fé and he often performs with well-known artists, such as Kyung Wha Chung, Ralph Kirshbaum, András Schiff, Tamás Vásáry and many string quartets like the Amadeus, Bartók, Borodin, Fine Arts, Guarneri, Lindsay, Panocha, Takács, Tokyo and Vermeer. He has given master classes all over the world, including the Royal Academy and Royal College in London, Liszt Academy in Budapest and the Van Cliburn Institute in Texas.
Peter Frankl’s discography is very wide-ranging: in addition to his recordings of the complete piano works by Schumann and Debussy, he has also recorded solo works by Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Bartok and other Hungarian composers, piano concerti by Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin and chamber works by Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Dvorak, Dohnanyi, Martinu and Bartok.
Peter Frankl studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with Professors Hernádi, Kodály, Weiner and won first prizes at several international competitions. He lives in London and is visiting professor at Yale University in the USA.
His 70th birthday this year was marked with special concerts in the USA and in Europe and in Hungary he was given one of the highest civilian awards by the Hungarian Republic for his lifetime artistic achievement in the world of music.
When I started collecting records in the 70's, I bought quite a few budget records, Odyssey (Columbia), Seraphim (EMI), Stereo Treasury (London) and, of course, Vox. Like what Naxos is doing now, Vox was the first budget label that aimed to record complete works of major composers as well as little known pieces of obscure composers, all performed by promising but then unknown young musicians. Alfred Brendel, Wlater Klien and Peter Frankl were three concentrating on the Austro-Germanic repertoire. Upon the recommendation of music magazines I bought a couple of volumes of Peter Frankl's complete Schumann on Vox, now unfortunately available only in (MP3) downloads (also his Debussy). Despite many alternate versions later, I had lived with Frankl's versions for years and they remain among favorites.
When I saw the combination of Peter Frankl and Schumann I knew I had to attend. Apparently he had appeared before with the Society but I had missed it. A juror in Chopin Society's piano competition, on Friday night he played the same program in Shanghai. Peter Frankl has always been low-keyed; his under-stated style can be glimpsed from his sparsely populated website.
And what exceptional Schumann! In his mid-seventies, Frankl still possesses excellent technique and control over the keyboard. Not one to play to the gallery even in his youth, Frankl honed his technique on producing utterly refined pianism in the Fantasiestucke and Faschingswank aus Wien. In his subtle amalgamation of rhythmic felicities and a colorful palette, one can hear decades spent with this music. Many younger pianists eager to show off their virtuosity often hit harder and bend the music out of proportion; in doing so they also impart impatience and awkwardness in the frequent gear changes. Frankl has long surmounted these considerable difficulties. The smoothness of his playing belies hard work and profound understanding of the music. Beneath all this burned an inner glow that kept the opposing elements in fine balance.
Frankl played Chopin with much the same sophistication. Rhythmic figures, as in the Polonaise in C sharp minor, Op26/1, were not stamped out, but articulated. Two Nocturnes of Op 55 were much less dreamy than we usually encounter. Best of all of were a finely differentiated set of Four Impromptus and a staggeringly evocative Scherzo No. 1, which closed each half.
The joy of music!
10 October, 2010
October 8, 2010, CH
Hong Kong Sinfonietta-Christopher Hogwood
Christopher Hogwood the baroque specialist needs little introduction. But a Martinu specialist who has been conferred honors by the Czechs? His modest website biography is a must-read, but make sure you read also the CV section, where he lists all his medals and honors!
So it's wonderful to have had the opportunity to hear him with the Sinfonietta, in a craftily designed program that entertained and educated, not less for the lights shed on some of the works when he took the time for stage work to explain to the audience salient points behind some of the pieces.
Handel of course featured prominently, Hogwood being a specialist and scholar on the great composer. Two movements from Handel's Concerto Grosso Op3/5 opened the program. A marvelously executed Music for the Royal Fireworks closed the program triumphantly. The string playing was lean, HIP and vibrant, the brass punctuating and acerbic at times, the percussion rattling, all highly exciting and well articulated.
In between came two neoclassical works. Stravinsky's Concerto in D for Strings received a perfectly judged rendition. The other, Martinu's Sinfonia Concertante No. 2, inspired by a Haydn work of the same combination, is much more difficult to bring off. The small concertante group (violin, cello, oboe and bassoon) and the orchestra were cautious at first, but things got better and better as the piece got along, revealing much of the work's myriad characters. If you are interested in this composer's work, I'd advise you to check out the Public Library, where a large number of Martinu recordings are available, including many in Hogwood's acclaimed series with the Czech PO on Supraphon and Hyperion.
Most revealing, and highly worthy of hearing, were two Bach orchestral transcriptions. The jewel-like Bach/Webern Ricercare from Musical Offering sounded pristine when heard live, much more fun than when heard at home. Must be awkward to conduct when individual notes are tossed around almost note-by-note among the instruments (the so-called Klangfarbenmelodie technique). Much more traditional and surprising in its craftsmanship and impact was the Bach/Raff Chaconne from Partita for solo violin No. 2. The work sounded truly Brahmsian and the orchestration is quite superior to what we hear from Stowkowski. In fact, I'd prefer to hear it more than some of Brahms' smaller orchestral pieces and overtures. Here is link to the Chandos recording, and you can hear an excerpt.
A wonderful program and wonderfully played. The Hogwood and the HK Sinfonietta must have worked hard on the disparate styles. Most worthy of mention was the concermaster, James Cuddeford, who led in an unfailingly assertive manner and played with style.
The exact program is to be played by the Guangzhou SO, in Guangzhou and in Beijing! What a wonderful idea and salute, Christopher Hogwood!
07 October, 2010
October 5, 2010, CH
Ning Feng/Zhang Weicong 寧峰/張薇聰
三月的時候不幸地錯過了寧峰與小交的 Brahms, 這次終於趕上了, 洗耳之餘當是恨晚。他的琴音每一粒都異常飽滿, 不像一般小提琴家在琴絃上下之間會有意無意地突出，減弱，甚至僅僅帶過某些音符。加上有非凡連貫性的造句 ，這晚令人一路匯神聆聽， 且聼得無比舒服。琴是 2007 年德國的 Stefan-Peter Greiner， 音色不及意大利名琴華麗，但表現極爲乾淨，平均。
開場的 Mozart K454 雖然拘緊， 仍然顯示了寧峰的内涵。張薇聰的鋼琴不過不失，低音過分收斂；最大的問題是二人之間欠缺默契， 沒能營造一種來囘對話的感覺。
下來的 Grieg Op 8 大家都放鬆了點，張力大增, 而寧峰精湛的技藝也有了更大的發揮空間， 強音的爆發力與精凖度令人折服。這首曲子不容易掌握， 容易流於平面，二人的演繹雖然還是過於工整，欠缺了點溫馨，卻沒有冷場， 不容易了。整體來講， 上半場是寧峰一個反炫耀的嘗試， 不能說完全成功，卻是個好的開始。
下半場的三首 Kreisler (Liebesfreud, Liebersleid, Tambourin Chinois) 跟我以往聼的都不太一樣。超細膩的演繹遠離煽情， 幽幽地滲出一種回憶， 極具品味。
下來兩首中國作品，沙漢昆之牧歌與李自立之豐收漁歌當然是手到拿來， 友人說, 到這裡琴音才完全釋放出來， 我也贊成。最後是耳熟能詳的 Sarasate Zigeunerweisen。技驚全場不在話下，像之前的 Kreisler 一樣，其中的音樂表達更能為我帶來一些新的體會。
他的造詣， 我覺得不在任何一位現代小提琴家之下。既然他是 Mr Paganini, 就跟先前聼過最好的 Paganini 詮譯者 Ryu Goto 一比。我覺得 Goto 更炫目醒神， 但寧峰更耐聼， 更具潛力。
好一個音樂家！以他的造詣， 本應大紅大紫，可惜他樸素的造型可能不太適合這個浮華的世界。以他的毅力， 我堅信默默地耕耘也能“成功”。我只是覺得他的髮型， 還有那套有紅裏子的衣服， 都應該更新了。話説回來，他以後無論穿什麽，拉什麽我都會趕去捧場的。
Ning Feng Biography at Maxima (Agent)
這裡要謝謝主辦單位 “飛越演奏香港”。 他們還有好幾場好的音樂會， 值得大力支持。
Attending this recital made me regret all the more having missed Ning Feng's performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in March, for here is a virtuoso who uses everything to empower the music, and there's no higher accolade.
Ning Feng's beautiful and fulsome tone stood out from the start. Under his fingers, every note retains its full value, a quality rare as hen's teeth today. Add to this phrasing as natural as breathing and a wonderful evening was garanteed. I fact I had rarely felt so relaxed and satisfied at a concert.
The partnership with pianist Zhang Weicong in Mozart K454 was nice but too restrained and failed to convey a sense of dialogue. The Grieg Op 8 fared better. IMHO this sonata is difficult to bring off. Ning Feng really dug hard into the big moments though the duo again was a little too cautious in the more cantabile passages. However, the overall flow and sense of structure was first-rate.
The second half yielded to virtuosic or violinistic pieces. The Kreisler (Liebesfreud, Liebersleid, Tambourin Chinois) pieces were superbly refined. Ning Feng did not milk these for their juices; instead he presented them as moments of inner reflection, which they do represent. Consequently, he found more in these miniatures than most violinists. With the two Chinese miniatures that followed, his tone further blossomed, culminating in a superbly musical Sarasate Zigeunerweisen, where his technical wizardry was given full reign.
In my book, the unassuming Ning Feng catapults to the top of the heap, and needs to yield to none. Other favorites that I like to watch are Augustin Hadelich, Ryu Goto and Hilary Hahn.
Thanks are due to the presenter, Premiere Performances, who has a few more wonderful young artists in an upcoming series. I urge you to attend.