Monday, June 28, 2010

REVIEW: Yuja Wang with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra


Yuja Wang took on Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 like a predatory bird on prey. Her game was speed. Never had I heard the piano concerto, and I mean all three movements, played in such pace.



This is another review I wrote for the Time-Out Hong Kong online version. Chinese pianist Yuja Wang performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Chinese conductor Muhai Tang at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall on 26th of June. To read the review, kindly follow the link below.

Please note that starting this review, my article has been moved from the BIG SMOG BLOG to the EDITOR's PICK of the MUSIC section.

Hope you like it and thank you for visiting my blog.

http://www.timeout.com.hk/music/features/35126/review-yuja-wang-at-cultural-centre.html


Cultural Centre Saturday June 26 (5 out of 6 stars)

Yuja Wang was fast, fierce, fearless and totally fantastic.

In an all-Russian programme led by Chinese conductor Muhai Tang, the concert hall was packed and I suspect that this had a lot to do with the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang.

The first half of the concert was all-Prokofiev with Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25 (Classical) opening the evening. Prokofiev composed the Symphony No. 1 in the style of Haydn, thus is considered as a one of the earliest neo-classical compositions. While the orchestra may not have been cohesive enough, the dynamics were beautifully delivered ensuring that it imparted the cheerful disposition of the piece and that it didn’t tip over to sounding like a pastiche.

The most awaited Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 followed. The Piano Concerto No. 3 is Prokofiev’s most popular and critically acclaimed piano concerto and for very good reasons. It exudes snappy energy wherein gorgeous lyrical passages are punctuated with clever dissonances. And this, Yuja Wang took on like a predatory bird on prey.

The name of the game was speed. Never had I heard the piano concerto, and I mean all three movements, played in such pace. Amazingly, instead of sounding rushed, it resonated vigor and drama. Yuja, while fearless was never reckless, her playing was a combination of technical excellence and interpretive gift. The audience adored her and was relentless in their applause. Yuja gave two encores.

What came after the interval was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, a symphonic suite based on 1001 Nights. Here, maestro Tang held the orchestra together tightly and it sounded the most unified of the whole evening. While all solo parts were dispatched beautifully, I can’t help but yearn for a more red-blooded and extreme account of the piece.

Satoshi Kyo

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POSTVIEW: Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010)

I first encountered Wu Guanzhong's work in the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Beijing in mid-1990's. There was a fairly big gallery there and I love visiting it between meetings. One time, they had an exhibition of Wu's works and I was enthralled by it. I even took several pictures of the exhibition and tried to emulate his style with fantastic failure.



One day, when I visited the Shanghai Museum, Wu's works were also being exhibited. That was the time that I thought that I should know his name. I figured that if his works were in Beijing and Shanghai, he must be famous!



I love the impressionistic take of Wu using the Chinese painting techniques. I particularly remember how the roof of the houses in a Chinese village were distilled to patches of angled boxes in the painting. Yet in my eyes, I never doubted that what I was looking at was a Chinese village.

My first purchase of his work was not for myself. I was tasked to buy a gift for the retiring General Manager of the company that I was working for and I chose to buy a framed limited edition print of Wu's work.

Three weeks ago, I went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art to see an exhibition of his works and once again, fell in love with his works. Yesterday morning, when I got up and read the paper, I was very sad to find out that Wu has passed away. After lunch, I decided to visit the Hong Kong Musuem of Art hoping that there will be some kind of a tribute to him... well, there was none. In my own little way, this blog honors Wu Guanzhong, one of the greatest Chinese painter ever lived.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

REVIEW: Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

The concert was sold-out weeks before the performance for a few good reasons. Both Bell and the ASMF have gained world-class standing in their respective fields so that when the two came together, one just had to be there to witness the perfect storm.


This is another review I wrote for the Time-Out Hong Kong online version. American violinist Joshua Bell and the British chamber orchestra Academy of St Martin in the Fields performed at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall on 16th of June. To read the review, kindly follow the link below. Hope you like it and thank you for visiting my blog.

http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/blog/35088/joshua-bell-and-the-asmf-live-in-hong-kong.html


Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall Wednesday June 16

American violinist Joshua Bell and the British chamber orchestra Academy of St Martin in the Fields delivered a straight, strong and stimulating performance.

The concert was sold-out weeks before the performance for a few good reasons. Both Bell and the ASMF have gained world-class standing in their respective fields so that when the two came together, one just had to be there to witness the perfect storm.

The impact was immediate. The concert opened with Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62, a story-telling concert overture with two contrasting themes of Coriolan’s own determination to fight and the plea of Coriolan’s mother to desist. The piece was dramatized with remarkable weight, full-toned sound and unanimity of rhythm.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, one of the most popular and frequently performed violin concertos of all time, followed. The crispness and transparency of Bell’s playing at the very start practically defined the distinctive character of the rest of his performance of the concerto. The 2nd movement was melodious without any hint of drag. The 3rd movement was gripping and unrushed with Bell’s chaste precision in brisk passageworks.

After the interval came Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92. The ASMF infused the piece with spontaneity and resilience of rhythm that resulted in a massive, powerful and exciting performance. The fast speeds seemed to all grow out organically therefore bringing forward a higher sense of involvement. This was received with thunderous applause.

After a long courtship, and much to the audience's delight, Bell and the ASMF finally gave in to an encore playing Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro Overture.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

SATOSHI on his friend Mr. Juan Lanuza

I am very lucky to have friends who share my love for arts. Mr. Juan Lanuza, critic for the BusinessWorld, is rather the most unusual in the best sense of the word. In a lot of ways, I sought him out after a mutual friend of ours found out that I went to New York and watched 7 shows in 5 days and told me that I ought to get in touch with Mr. Lanuza. True enough, he is a worthy competitor, if not the winner!

During the 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival, Mr. Lanuza was in town to cover some performances, but got very sick. Therefore, it was a huge honor for me when he asked me whether it will be alright for him to use my review. I have to admit that Mr. Lanuza is my biggest inspiration why I started my blog.

Below is the link to his page. ENJOY!

http://www.bworld.com.ph/main/content.php?id=12643

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

REVIEW: Giovanni Sollima with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

The call of Sollima's cello was difficult to ignore... in fact, when it called people stood up.


This is another review I wrote for the Time-Out Hong Kong online version. Giovanni Sollima with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong performed at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall on 11th of June. To read the review, kindly follow the link below. Hope you like it and thank you for visiting my blog.

http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/blog/34818/giovanni-sollima-live-in-hong-kong.html



City Hall Friday June 11

It was very difficult not to be drawn into the world sculpted by Giovanni Sollima’s sound.

The City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, led by Jean Thorel, performed an all- Italian programme to a half-filled but very appreciative audience.

Respighi’s Ancient Airs & Dances Suite No. 3 and Puccini’s Crisantemi started the first and second half of the concert respectively. The heavy-handed treatment of Jean Thorel in these two pieces resulted in very different effects. While the extreme handling made the Ancient Airs & Dances Suite No. 3 sound more like a parody rather than a Renaissance and early Baroque-inspired composition, it brought a devastatingly beautiful effect to Crisantemi. Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) was composed as an elegy as it refers to the Italian funeral flower; and here, it was phrased affectionately and dramatically.

The above numbers were followed by Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 3 in G major and Sollima’s own L.B. Files for Cello & Ensemble. Needless to say, both pieces took on Sollima’s personality instantaneously. I suspect that purists would have frowned on the way the Boccherini was performed; but to me, it was invigorating. Sollima injected so much of his passion and enthusiasm into the work that while it may be idiosyncratic, it was gorgeously potent.

Sollima’s L.B. Files for Cello & Ensemble is a four-part micro-dramatization on the life of Luigi Boccherini. Here, Sollima shone as a composer and a soloist. Each part was shaped with distinctive textures and remarkable colors to represent the different aspects of Boccherini’s life. The 2nd part, Igiul, was especially simple and hauntingly affecting.

Sollima brought the house down and then followed with three non-Italian encore pieces, of which Jimi Hendrix’s Sugar was one of them. The audience was absolutely ecstatic.


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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

REVIEW: Emerson String Quartet in Hong Kong

Well, the Emerson pulled more than just a few strings!



This is another review I wrote for the Time-Out Hong Kong online version. The Emerson String Quartet performed at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall on 4th of June. To read the review, kindly follow the link below. Hope you like it and thank you for visiting my blog.

http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/blog/34616/emerson-string-quartet-live-in-hong-kong.html


City Hall Friday June 4

The Emerson performances met the high standards for which they are so well-known: an astonishing synthesis of authority and audacity, precision and poise.

Formed in 1976, the Emerson String Quartet took its name from the great American poet, essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over three decades, the Emerson have made over 40 recordings, won 9 Grammy Awards, 3 Gramophone Awards and the Avery Fisher Prize.

Part of the brilliance of the concert was the programming itself. The Emerson worked their way from the music of the Classical to Romantic, then to Post-Romantic era showcasing their mastery and versatility.

The concert started off with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C, K465 (Dissonance), the sixth and the last of a series dedicated to Haydn. The piece may not be my favorite but I can’t help but be excited by the way the voices bounced off each other with remarkable dynamics and then came together cohesively.

Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96 (American), an output during his tenure as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, followed with remarkable success. Great care was taken in all of the markings, while every solo was shaped for utmost expressiveness.

After the interval came Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat, Op. 117. This more or less 25 minutes of non-stop, technically poised and controlled playing accumulated intensity that drew one into the composer’s desolate and discomforting world.

The Emerson performances were met with rousing applause and they rewarded the audience with two encores of Dvorak and Beethoven music.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

REVIEW: HAMLET at the MET Opera HD Live

Bethanie Wellcome Theatre Sunday June 6

I can imagine why the MET would like to broadcast this production despite the fact that the same production staged at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in 2003 is already available in DVD. This opera by Ambroise Thomas is too good to be ignored further by the American audience.


photo: courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

Just like Simon Keenlyside, Natalie Dessay was supposed to reprise her role (Ophelie). Fortunately (for me), she was not able to make it and German soprano Marlis Petersen had to step in. Don't get me wrong, I love Natalie Dessay and she did a fantastic job in Liceu, it was just nice to be able to see how another soprano interpret the role given that I am watching another viedo and not live.

Needless to say, Simon was dazzling with his flawless singing and acting. As for Marlis Petersen, her interpretation was different from Natalie's but was equally valid. Marlis' Ophelie was more dignified and conflicted, with a rich and warmer tone. Natalie's Ophelie was vulnerable and confronting with, a bright and crystalline voice. If I have to choose one though, I will go for Natalie, purely for her explosive coloratura.

The one role that perhaps will make this MET screening better than the Liceu DVD was Queen Gertrude (Hamlet's mother). The role was magnificently acted and sang by the American mezzo Jennifer Larmore. Jennifer injected the role with a glamor and feist matched with a beautifully modulated voice that delivered great dramatic impact.

James Morris as Claudius was wooden, while Toby Spence as Laerte was very believable and possessed a very youthful bright lyric tenor voice. The orchestra was beautifully led by Louis Langree, while the production was simple. Yes, simple... not much to talk about.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

REVIEW: Mozart and Shostakovich with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

It was an evening that showed off what HKPO is made of.

The night started off with Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A, K622. As the soloist Andrew Simon clarified, HKPO was going to perform the "original" version composed for basset clarinet. As a regular clarinet cannot play the low notes that Mozart originally wrote, it was the version that had the low notes transposed to the regular range that was eventually published. It was only later that the original version was reconstructed.

Andrew Simon played beautifully, exploring and enjoying all the dialogues with the orchestra and also the dialogues with the extended range of the instrument. It is this particular aspect that I was really amazed at and enjoyed.

The highlight of the evening though was Shostakovich's Symphony No.11 in G minor. The symphony was written in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. For this work, Shostakovich chose to depict the events of January 1905 when Winter Palace guards fired shots into a peaceful protesting crowd.

Alexander Lazarev, led the orchestra with great drama. It was a no-nonsense retelling of the event with almost all markings executed with clarity and boldness. The 11th has rarely sounded so believable and the audience bought it. A resounding success, I would say.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

PREVIEW: Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in Shanghai!

So it is confirmed. I have tickets for the RING CYCLE.

I am referring to Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen or in English The Ring of the Nibelung or in the opera world, it is simply called the Ring Cycle. The cycle is made up of four operas performed in four nights. It will be a Cologne Opera (Germany) production at the Shanghai Grand Theatre from 16th – 19th of September (1st cycle) and 21st – 24th of September (2nd cycle) as part of the Expo 2010.
Based on their website, this production will involve relocating 30 containers and 315 artists including the producers, stage designers, costume designers, makeup artists and technicians. Apparently, it took them two years to realize this project.
The Cologne production of the Ring Cycle, directed by Canadian Robert Carsen, is often referred to as the “Green Ring” as it echos the “problems of the globalized world along with the changes and processes of destruction affecting modern civilization”. It will be my first complete Ring Cycle… that is if work allows… fingers crossed.
Here are some of the production details:

DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN

Vorabend: Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold)
First Day: Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
Second Day: Siegfried
Third Day: Götterdämmerung (Twilight oft the Gods)

• Conductor: Markus Stenz
• Director: Robert Carsen
• Stage and Costume Designer: Patrick Kinmonth
• Dramaturgie: Ian Burton
• Lighting Designer: Manfred Voss
• Chorus Master: Andrew Ollivant

CAST

• Brünnhilde: Catherine Foster
• Sieglinde: Astrid Weber
• Fricka/Waltraute: Dalia Schaechter
• Erda: Hilke Andersen
• Wotan/Der Wanderer: Greer Grimsley
• Siegfried: Stig Andersen
• Siegmund: Lance Ryan
• Loge: Carsten Süß
• Fasolt/Hunding/Hagen: Kurt Rydl
• Alberich: Oliver Zwarg
• Mime: Martin Koch
• Donner/Gunther: Samuel Youn

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REVIEW: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in Hong Kong

Fringe Theatre Wednesday June 2

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much (for the right reason) in a community theatre production.



This latest show from the American Community Theatre benefitted from having the right material, the right venue and almost the right cast. The Tony-Award winning musical (music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, tells the story of six idiosyncratic adolescents competing in a spelling bee run by three equally idiosyncratic adults.

The musical is practically an amateur-proof theatre piece. It was “almost” difficult to tell the difference between the naturally awkward kids from the acting awkward kids. A lot of them were believable and even adorable if taken separately. However, as an ensemble, the stylistic interpretations could be more cohesive.

The adults fared better with Samantha Kriegel (playing the hostess Rona Lisa Peretti) and Matthew Gillespie (playing ex-con/comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney) providing some of the best singing and acting in the show. Neil Runcieman (playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch) was effectively dry and wry. Two kids who should receive an "A+" for their performances are Abbey Smith (playing the timid Olive Ostrovsky) and Heidi Mak (playing the over-achiever Marcy Park). Both were able to stay in character throughout the show, not make a caricature out of their role and most importantly, sing.

Remember I said, “practically an amateur-proof theatre piece”? Well, while some kids can hide behind the awkwardness of their character, it was nearly impossible to hide from the music of William Finn. The singing separated the good from the great. After all, it was a musical. Thanks to the over-amplified band, some of the questionable notes were covered up.

Overall, I truly enjoyed the show. It was a show full of humor and full of heart.

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