Friday, July 30, 2010

SATOSHI on 24th Macao International Music Festival (2011)

I got the news from Macao that the programme for the 24th Macao International Music Festival is finally out and so far, it looks like that it will be a good year! I have always like the Macao International Music Festival, at least from a Hong Kong perspective, it adds color to my cultural calendar significantly.

This year's opera will be Verdi's Il Trovatore by Opera Australia. I saw this production by Elke Neidhardt back in 2007 in Melbourne. For some reason, I can't remember what it looked and sounded like (except that I clearly remember that tenor Dennis O'Neill sounded beautiful but looked out-of-place) until I revisited the souvenir programme. This could be because of my age or probably because the other productions (Dvorak's Rusalka and Rossini's Barber of Seville) I saw during that same week were far more memorable.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Macao is having Il Trovatore. In fact, this is the very same opera I saw the first time I attended the Macao International Music Festival way back in 1997 or 1998 when they still used to do it in a gymnasium called Forum. That performance was very memorable because it featured the famous Russian mezzo/contralto Elena Obraztsova.

For the first time (at least in my past 12 to 13 years of going to the festival), the festival will be featuring two operas (unless you count Puccini's Il Trittico in 2008 as 3 operas... but you know what I mean...). This year, it will also feature Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. What is so special about this is that it will be performed not in the Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium, but instead in the Dom Pedro V Theatre. I have never been to the Dom Pedro V Theatre but have heard a lot of good things about it and I believe that mounting Dido and Aeneas there will be just perfect.

Aside from the two operas mentioned above, there will also be a lot of other programmes that look quite promising. Unfortunately, most of them are scheduled during the weekday and it will just too ambitious and tiring to zip all the way to Macao and come back in the same evening so as not to miss work the following day. Having said that, please check out the complete programme by clicking the below link.

The one thing that I find most disappointing though with this year's programme is the lack of a musical. I still remember seeing West Wide Story (2005), Guys and Doll (2006) and Grease (2007), then suddenly in 2008 onward, there was none! WHY! Warren Mok, please bring back the musicals! Oh also, a huge CONGRATULATIONS to you for consistently coming up with such a good line-up of programmes for the festival.


  • GÜRZENICH-ORCHESTRA COLOGNE(Germany) 03/10/2010 ~ 03/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium
  • PIANO RECITAL BY YUNDI LI 04/10/2010 ~ 04/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium
  • HENSCHEL QUARTET (Germany) 05/10/2010 ~ 05/10/2010 Dom Pedro V Theatre
  • DIE SINGPHONIKER (Germany) 07/10/2010 ~ 07/10/2010 Dom Pedro V Theatre
  • THE BERGEN WOODWIND QUINTET (Norway) 08/10/2010 ~ 08/10/2010 Dom Pedro V Theatre
  • ROMANTIC - THE MACAO ORCHESTRA AND JIAN WANG 09/10/2010 ~ 09/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium
  • O GLORIOSA DOMINA 10/10/2010 ~ 10/10/2010 St. Dominic's Church
  • DIDO AND AENEAS 15/10/2010 ~ 16/10/201017/10/2010 ~ 17/10/2010 Dom Pedro V TheatreDom Pedro V Theatre
  • THE PURPLE HAIRPIN / THE MOON PAVILION 16/10/2010 ~ 17/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium
  • INNER MONGOLIA YOUTH CHOIR (Mainland China) 22/10/2010 ~ 22/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre - Small Auditorium
  • THE MACAO CHINESE ORCHESTRA 23/10/2010 ~ 23/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium
  • MUNICH CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (Germany) 24/10/2010 ~ 24/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre - Small Auditorium
  • YING QUARTET (USA) 25/10/2010 ~ 25/10/2010 Dom Pedro V Theatre
  • CELLO PROJECT 26/10/2010 ~ 26/10/2010 Dom Pedro V Theatre
  • AMERICAN BRASS QUINTET (USA) 27/10/2010 ~ 27/10/2010 Macao Cultural Centre - Small Auditorium
  • SLOVAK NATIONAL THEATRE CHORUS(Slovakia) 28/10/2010 ~ 28/10/2010 St. Dominic's Church
  • JAZZ ORCHESTRA OF THE CONCERTGEBOUW (The Netherlands) 29/10/2010 ~ 29/10/2010 Mount Fortress
  • DBR & THE MISSION (USA) 30/10/2010 ~ 30/10/2010 Nam Van Lake
  • SOLER AND OMNIART ENSEMBLE (Macao / Italy) 31/10/2010 ~ 31/10/2010 Mount Fortress
  • BLASTED MECHANISM(Portugal) 01/11/2010 ~ 01/11/2010 Nam Van Lake
  • SINE NOMINE STRING QUARTET AND OLIVER TRIENDL (Switzerland / Germany) 02/11/2010 ~ 02/11/2010 Dom Pedro V Theatre
  • OPERA AUSTRALIA (Australia) IL TROVATORE 05/11/2010 ~ 07/11/2010 Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

SATOSHI on Fake or Copy Artworks

Well, remember my blog on the newly-discovered Caravaggio? The Vatican's top historian came out and stated that the newly found "Caravaggio" was mostly to be a mere copy of an original by a Caravaggio-influenced artist. But then, the painting will still be subjected to more testings.

The authenticity of an artwork is a very tricky aspect of arts. I personally am not so sure sometime whether I am getting an artwork for a good price or because I might be getting a copy.

One time, I was in Hanoi and visited a gallery. I found a nude painting I like and I tried to learn more about the painter. On the same day, I visited other galleries and found other paintings by the same artist, but of very different style. In fact, if not for the name of the painter and his picture on the bio-sheet, I wouldn't have thought that the two styles came from one same artist. The first one that I saw has very bold brushstrokes and the color tones were also quite bold. The body language was severe and disturbing. However, all the other nudes that I found in other galleries by this same artist have very soft pastel color tone and the body languages were demure.

I like both styles equally, thus it came down to price. Surprisingly, the first one I saw was significantly less costly than the rest, and because of this, I suddenly started to doubt its authenticity. To cut the long story short, I decided to get it anyway because I like it and also because it was less expensive. However it was what the gallery owner said when I ask whether it is authentic that really made me decide to get it... she said, "why would anybody copy his work? He is not even famous!"

True enough, there were a lot of other famous painters in Vietnam and most of their works are quite "pretty" and commercial, so why would any copyist make a copy of a disturbing severe nude painting?

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SATOSHI on Weyman Lew (1935 - )

Late Thomas Albright, the influential art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, decribed Weyman Lew's work as being "the sparest and most elegant of lines." And he went on to say, "Weyman Lew is one of the not very numerous artists who can take a line, have it do anything he wants to, and make the whole thing look as if it had simply drawn itself".

I accidentally stumbled upon Weyman Lew's work a few years ago, and since then was very intrigued with his works. A little bit of research has led me to finding out that he is from the Bay area and he is most probably still living there at the age of 75. His prints and sketches have been sold in the last 5 years for around US$100.

The slide show above was from the website of the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco. It was the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition "Weyman Lew: Of Peoples and Places" at the Center in 1991. The drawings are very good, but they are not, for me, the best and what really attracted me to him.

I LOVE his nudes. Weyman's nude was a daring reflection of his time. The three works from 1974 below are from the collection of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. Weyman has the unique ability to create beautifully balanced and composed lines that barely outline the figures and yet handled the perspective delicately so as not to render the subjects flat. There was no need for lights and shades.

According to the FAMSF website, Weyman Lew was born in San Francisco, received a degree from the University of California, Berkeley and studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. He has exhibited his drawings and paintings regularly in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

P.S. Here is a brief bio I found in the website of BHNY Fine Art: (September 4 2011)

Weyman Lew
(b. 1935)

Weyman Michael Lew is a painter and printmaker, born in San Francisco, California in 1935. He studied at the University of California, and the San Francisco Art Institute from 1965 to 1966 with Jay deFeo. His works are in the collection of De Young Memorial Museum; the Institution of Arte Contemporary in Lima, Peru; the Western American Artists Museum; and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He taught at De Young Memorial Museum of Art School in 1970 and 1971. He had a solo exhibition at the Western American Artists Museum in 1970, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1971, and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1972. Weyman Lew has exhibited in more than forty solo exhibitions in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. His works may be seen in public collections such as the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum; the Oakland Museum; the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts at the California Palace of Legion of Honor; the Brooklyn Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum; the University Art Museum in Berkeley; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

SATOSHI on the Possible Discovery of a Caravaggio

According to the Vatican's newspaper, an undiscovered Caravaggio may have been found in Rome.

Belonging to the Jesuits in Rome, the said painting depicts The Martyrdom of st. Lawrence. According to the newspaper, it is currently being studied by art historians.

Looking at the picture on the newspaper, it does have all the characteristics of a Caravaggio: the dramatic lighting, the realistic portrayal of human emotions and actions; and the unique dimensionality of composition.

I do like Caravaggio's work. I remember trying to decide whether to queue up or not in London back in 2005 for the much talked about Caravaggio: The Final Years exhibition at the National Gallery. I did queue up and was totally bowled over by it. The paintings were like action movie stills projected onto the walls. The way objects were positioned and the way parts of subjects' body thrusted toward my eyes were unnerving.

The way the exhibition was designed was excellent. The paintings were set against dark walls and spotlit strategically empowering Caravaggio's paintings, making them glow within the dark cavernous spaces echoing the same dark spaces found in his works and of his final years.

Though the exhibition focused on final years, I can't help but feel that I was seeing his best works. Caravaggio died at the age of 38 (or 36 according to some other scholars) in mysterious circumstances. He led a wild lifestyle and was often involved in street violence. This culminated in his stabbing and killing a man prior going on the run at the age of 34.

There are a lot of books on him, one book that I encountered and enjoyed as a casual reading was Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting. Not exactly a scholarly documentation of Caravaggio's works or life, it was more of a re-telling of how a Caravaggio painting was lost and re-discovered... a very relevant reading to this possible new discovery in Rome.

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POSTVIEW: Sir Charles Mackerras (1925 - 2010)

I woke up early this morning to queue up for an iPad, but then when I got there (2 hours prior to the store opening), there was already a long queue! I gave up.

I went to a coffee shop instead to read the newspaper, then I found out that Sir Charles Mackerras died at the age of 84 on July 14 in London. Sir Alan Charles Maclaurin Mackerras was born in New York State to Australian parents and was raised in Sydney. He spent most of his adult life though in United Kingdom where he conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra and was the music director of the English National Opera.

Ten years ago in 2000, the Hong Kong Arts Festival featured Leos Janácek's Jenufa and Antonin Dvorák's Rusalka by the Prague National Theatre. Not knowing a lot about these opera, I decided to get a recording of them to study. After some research, I was quite surprised that it was Mackerras' name that kept coming up. For me at that time, I associated Mackerras with the Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta he recorded with Telarc or the few Mozart recordings I have of him. I ended up getting two excellent recordings: Elisabeth Söderström as Jenufa and Renee Fleming as Rusalka.
For me, if I have to cite one of Mackerras' most important musical contribution, it will have to be how he championed Czech music (Janácek's in particular) outside Czechoslovakia.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

SATOSHI on the 39th Hong Kong Arts Festival (2011)

The festival hightlights brochure of the 39th Hong Kong Arts Festival was waiting for me when I came home tonight and I can't wait to rave about it!

Personally, the biggest news is Cecilia Bartoli! If you are an opera lover and not one of those who live in the past, you should know the name. I am proud to declare that I have her every single CD! Ms. Bartoli is one of the most popular AND respected classical musician. Not only does she possess one of the most expressive and agile voice ever, she is also a respected scholar who has the power to re-evaluate and resurrect neglected composers and forgotten repertoire.

The New York City Ballet will be making their first appearance in Hong Kong. If I have to pick the world's top 5 ballet company, the NYCB may well be in it, but when it comes to George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, NYCB may just be the no. 1!

Another must see (or listen in this case) is Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan. Their recordings of Bach are some of the best ever and this opportunity to hear them live is just too good to miss.

Next year's opera will be Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. I should have mentioned this earlier, but then I had both good and bad experiences with this long and beautiful opera. In good hands, this opera can be a life-altering musical experience, but in bad hands, it can be a 5-hour torture. For 2011, we will be seeing a production by the Leipzig Opera with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Separately, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra will be performing under the baton of Riccardo Chailly in two concerts.

Some of the other programs that I am really curious in are: Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera by the Berliner Ensemble from Germany, The Halle Orchestra with conductor Sir Mark Elder; and Peter Pan by the National Theatre of Scotland and barbicanbite 10.

Oh, did I mention Pina Bausch's Carnation by Tanztheater Wuppertal? The reality is that I can easily mention more programs!

Next year's festival will be an exciting one and I can't wait to hear about the full list of programmes to be announced on 6 October 2010.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Wake Up Call from a Reader

Recently, I have received an email from a reader (yes, I do have a few!), and here is the complete message:

"I used to enjoy your reviews for their honesty and frankness - a paying patron who was happy to express his pleasure and dissatisfaction freely because he paid for his tickets.

Sadly since you started writing for Time-Out your reviews have become much blander, feature almost no criticism and certainly none of the scathing rebukes and honesty that made your blog something to read. I didn’t always agree with opinion, but I respected your honesty.

It’s sad that either you are now afraid to write what you truly feel, or that Time-Out won’t publish what you want to say and feed your review through a niceness machine so it doesn’t upset the advertisers. I had really hoped you would/could continue to write in the style that made me want to read your blog. You may have more readers now, but by not voicing your real thoughts your reviews have become irrelevant and anonymous amongst the plethora of other 'wasn’t it wonderful idiots' "

My initial reaction was, "Wow! Somebody actually does read my blog!". But then, it didn't take long before I started contemplating my dilemma.

The observation of the reader is valid and insightful, and I am very grateful the reader took the time to express his/her disappointment. In response to the email, I can only try to communicate my situation and hopefully clarify a few things.

  1. For Time-Out, I am only tasked to review classical music in concert format. If it is a staged opera, then it falls into the “stage” silo, thus I (from the “music” silo) can’t touch it. What this means is that if the cultural events are suddenly all composed of classical music in concert format or if I become too busy to attend other types of performances, then my blog is filled up with just “Time-Out” reviews.
  2. In fairness to Time-Out, they rarely edit (whitewash or water-down) my reviews. They do change the titles of my reviews though. (e.g. from HKPO: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue to Rhapsody in Blue Live in Hong Kong OR from The Emerson Pulled More Than Just a Few Strings to Emerson String Quartet Live in Hong Kong). There is something about “Live in Hong Kong” that is very “Time-Out”.
  3. Writing for my blog and writing for an online magazine are quite different in a lot of ways. In my blog, I write what I want to express and the blog itself finds its own audience. As for the online magazine, I write with a pre-determined target audience in mind which affects the style and length (less than 300 words to be exact). Ideally, I should have kept them separate, but the reality is that I just do not have the time to write two different versions in two different styles and lengths for two different audiences. In Time-Out, I miss the opportunity to talk about the music in detail or talk about my previous experiences with the music or performers, or just simply expounding why I felt a certain way.
  4. Coincidentally, not only were most of the concerts I have been to recently all very good, they were also all classical music concerts. I believe that I do not have any issue with writing what I felt, but perhaps only in how my feelings were communicated. Having said that and having the benefit to look back now with a 20/20 vision, I do have ONE regret and that was my review of HKPO’s Carmina Burana. It was a moment of uncertainty, then I was influenced by my environment more than I should have allowed. My review of Carmina Burana should have been worse.

When I started the blog, I knew that being a critic; I should also be open to criticism. I have deliberately ensured that people can leave comments anonymously without any need to register.

Moving forward and amidst a cloud of uncertainty, I am certain of the following:

  1. I am grateful to the reader who has sent me the email and subsequently replied to my email.
  2. I will try my best not to let the Carmina Burana incident happen again.
  3. I will try to augment my Time-Out review by enriching the content in my blog.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

REVIEW: The Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival Gala

"The gala opening night concert was well attended but present was of a certain type of audience that would applaud in between movements. It just shows that this type of program is indeed gaining new listeners… cough…"

A significant portion of the above paragraph was edited out by TIME-OUT magazine, and I wonder why. I should really ask...

The audience number was very decent and my suspicion is that it was filled up with tickets given away by sponsors. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with that. Classical music in Hong Kong does need a lot of sponsorships as there are just not enough people who are willing to pay expensive tickets to cover the costs. If only 5% of the tickets given away could generate a purchase to a classical music concert in the future, that would be good enough!

Anyway, here's the review I wrote for the Time-Out Hong Kong online version. The Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival had its gala opening night concert on the 7th of July at the City Hall Concert Hall. To read the review, kindly follow the link below.

4 out of 6

City Hall Wednesday July 7

The Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival is definitely a welcome addition to the Hong Kong classical music scene, and it opened with a well-attended gala opening night.

The evening opened with Haydn’s String Quartet, Op.64, No. 5 (the “Lark”), performed by the New Helsinki Quartet. The playing was mechanically excellent. Despite generally brisk tempi, the piece sounded heavy and standard.

The tide turned immediately with Schumann’s Adagio & Allegro in A flat Major Op.70, performed by Trey Lee (cello) and Peter Jablonski (piano). Originally written for horn and piano, the intimate and incisive performance by Lee and Jablonski has convinced me that bowing is definitely better than blowing.

Ending the first half of the concert was Glinka’s Grand Sextet in E flat Major, a relatively less heard and recorded piece. While the music may not be recognisably Glinka, it is a fresh and melodious work by a talented young composer who was just simply enjoying himself. It received a performance that mirrored sincere enjoyment from the musicians. Colleen Lee, on the piano, provided a tongue-in-cheek and solid base for the rest to build on.

After the interval came Mendelssohn’s Octet in E flat Major, Op. 20. The dazzling performance of the Octet is exactly why I go to live concerts. The music-making was very 'of-the-moment' and the sense of risk was spontaneously perceptible.

The exquisitely crafted contrasts of the first and second subjects of the first movement were explored and mined by the double quartet with great care and distinction, while textures were clear throughout.

Dan Zhu (violin), playing some of the most exposed and beautiful lines, performed with power and poetry. Together with him were Grzegorz Kotow (violin), Andrew Ling (viola), Trey lee (cello) and the New Helsinki Quartet, who all played excellently and their virtuosity was never self-absorbed.

Satoshi Kyo

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

REVIEW: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's Season Finale - Carmina Burana

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra led by Chinese conductor Yu Long provided a generous finale to a remarkable season.

This is the review I wrote for the Time-Out Hong Kong online version. Chinese conductor Yu Long led the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall on 3rd of July. Joining them were the Shanghai Opera House Choir, The Hong Kong Children's Choir, Chinese soprano Chen Xiaoduo, German tenor Peter Maus and Chinese baritone Laio Changyong. To read the review, kindly follow the link below.

4 out of 6

Cultural Centre Saturday July 3

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra led by Chinese conductor Yu Long provided a generous finale to a remarkable season. The first half of the concert featured Chen Qi-gang’s Enchantements oubliés, a work commissioned by the Orchestre National de France in 2004 and premiered in 2008.

While Chen studied with Messiaen and his style has been compared to Fauré and Debussy, I would say that for Enchantements oubliés, Chen appeared to be more like Ravel with an updated musical language and a Chinese accent. During the interval, while trying to recall the music, the opening bars of Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major somehow kept surfacing in my mind.

Chen was not afraid to infuse the Enchantements oubliés with long beautiful lines matched with colorful and magical orchestration. Chen painted the piece with clouds of well-constructed harmonies punctuated with broad strokes of dissonance creating a distinctive enthralling landscape.

After the interval came Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a cantata based on 24 of the poems found in the medieval collection of the same name. Carmina Burana kicked off with a massive and uninhibited sound from both the orchestra and the choir. Maestro Yu Long, with a sound judge of tempi, kept the temperature high and successfully showcased the music’s diverse mood.

Chinese soprano Chen Xiaoduo, while having a beautiful lush voice, sang with very distinctive Chinese controlled ‘nasal’ tone and wide vibrato, which made the long fluid solo parts sound a bit too heavy. German tenor Peter Maus’ rendition of the roasting swan was tellingly managed. Meanwhile, Chinese baritone Liao Changyong was in fine form. With a timbre that is rich and resonant, Changyong sang with exciting vocal color and a good grasp of the idiom.

The stars of the night, however, were the Shanghai Opera House Choir and The Hong Kong Children’s Choir. They were consistently refined, gloriously bright and aptly incisive.

Satoshi Kyo

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