Monday, September 27, 2010

SATOSHI on Premiere Performances’ 2010-2011 Recital Series

The Premiere Performances has announced its new recital series and it looks quite promising!

The first concert will be the Chinese violin virtuoso Ning Feng on October 5th at City Hall Concert Hall. Since winning 1st Prize at the 51st Paganini International Violin Competition in Genova, Italy in 2006 (in addition to numerous other awards at international competitions), he has been in demand the world over. In June 2003, Ning Feng became the first student ever to be given a perfect score (100%) for his final recital (end of study exam) in the nearly 200 years of Royal Academy of Music history, and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music (ARAM), an honour reserved for only those graduates who have achieved distinction in their profession.

Other recitals to look forward to are:

  • JUHO POHJONEN, Finland's most successful pianist on the classical music scene on November 8th, 2010
  • Russian born pianist YEVGENY SUDBIN, already hailed as one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century, on January 19th, 2011
  • superstar violinist NICOLA BENEDETTI, with four number one albums on the UK classical music charts, on April 12th, 2011; and
  • top violin virtuoso, CHRISTIAN TETZLAFF, undisputedly one of the top violinists in the world today, on May 16th, 2011.
Premiere Performances of Hong Kong was founded in March 2007 as a registered charity. Designed to contribute to the cultural diversity of the city, PPHK organizes solo recitals and chamber music concerts of the highest international standard. To learn more about the series, please visit:

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

REVIEW: Der Ring Des Nibelungen at the Shanghai Grand Theatre

I can’t believe that I have survived the Ring Cycle and actually enjoyed it. This is of course had a lot to do with the fact that I had 4 friends watching it with me and meeting up with one of my multitude of readers, who was there for both cycles, all the way from Australia!

For any of my readers who may not be familiar with the Ring Cycle, here’s a brief introduction. The complete name of the Ring Cycle is Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It is a cycle of four epic operas by the German composer Richard Wagner. The four operas are Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), Die Walkure (The Valkyrie), Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods). The stories are loosely based on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. I will not go into the details of the stories as it involves a whole host of characters (water nymphs, dwarves, giants, gods, mortals) doing things that are too weird or too wild (incest, slavery, blackmail, murder… okay, maybe neither weird nor wild). However, if you should be so intrigued by this introduction, google it.

The complete Ring Cycle is the Louis Vuitton of the opera world. It may not be the best opera in the universe, but every opera house or company wants to either produce one or at least host one because it is prestigious (read very expensive). This is also almost true with opera-goers. It is not everyday that one can afford the time and money to prepare for and see the whole Ring Cycle; and being able to do it and enjoying it is quite special. Despite the fact that the cycle was finished in 1874, it was only in 2005 that China saw its first Ring Cycle in Beijing with the Nuremberg State Opera. This second appearance in Shanghai, meanwhile, was with The Cologne Opera. As for Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra tried to do a concert version of the cycle but failed due to cost.

The Cologne Opera’s Ring Cycle had two runs at the Shanghai Grand Theatre. The first and the one I saw were on September 16 to 19; and the second on September 21 to 24. The Cologne Opera production directed by Canadian Robert Carsen, in the German tradition of being untraditional, tries to set the story in an ambiguous 1940-50’s military milieu. As usual, these translations of fantastical-mythical stories to a realistic world produce both amazing and absurd results. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see how the giants Fasolt and Fafner were transformed into union leaders with a large cohort of workers (tasked to build Wotan’s mansion). On the other hand, the whole story about forging a sword amidst a sea of machine guns just seemed a bit pointless.

Aside from some head-scratching moments brought about by the production, the singers and the orchestra were admirable. I am most impressed on how committed the singers were to their role. Nothing was too precious. Each singer dug deep and brought the story to life and made suspension of belief easier. The singing was a fairly balanced and finely cast with only very few weak links.

Catherine Foster’s Brunnhilde was a force to behold. Appearing for three consecutive nights, she admirably paced herself and shone in moments that really mattered. Her Brunnhilde was of girlish ardor and rage possessing a gleaming and silvery tone.

Catherine Foster

Greer Grimsley’s Wotan was a touch lacking in heft that limited the coloring needed for this psychologically complex role. This is not to mention how this production had him leaning on a walking stick rather than wielding the almighty spear; and I wonder how this subliminally affected the audience’s perception of his power and intent. Otherwise, Greer seemed perfect for the role and it would be quite interesting to see how he develops the role in the future.

Greer Grimsley

The role of Siegfried was performed by Stig Andersen in Siegfried and by Lance Ryan in Gotterdammerung. Hands down, I prefer Lance’s bright tone, which helped in his portrayal of the confident but confused youth. Lance also took up the role of Siegmund (Siegfried’s father) in Die Walkure. Here, he showed clear distinction of interpretation. Stig, on the other hand, was miscast. He does posses a respectable voice but unfortunately not enormous enough to ring through the orchestra. He tried his best to act young and in some moments he did so successfully and looked genuinely vulnerable. However, most of the time, he just looked and acted like an adult pretending to be a kid by acting clumsy. Apparently, there were members in the audience that agreed with me as Stig was booed during his curtain call...totally uncalled for though.

Lance Ryan

Stig Andersen

This review will not be complete without mentioning two roles that were perfectly cast and performed; that is Oliver Zwarg’s Alberich and Martin Koch’s Mime. Both performers showed total commitment to their character all throughout the cycle. Oliver Zwarg’s bass-baritone voice travels with menace and pain. Martin Koch’s tenor voice was effortless and clear. His interpretation of Mime was within the scope of the production but was rendered with delightful details.

Oliver Zwarg

Kurt Rydl performed the roles of Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen. When taken separately, each role was beautifully managed; but when put side by side, they all seemed to overlap each other with not much variation. Kurt Rydl’s voice, however, showed great weight but had too much wobble for my taste. Thanks to casting, the wobble did seem to suit the character of these shady roles.

Kurt Rydl

The Cologne Philharmonic, led by Markus Stenz, was at first a bit underwhelming. The orchestra was not the usual size one expects of a proper Ring Cycle, and it sounded so. However, once one got over that fact and tried to focus on the balance, color and interpretation, it was not difficult to be swept over by the music. Stenz held the orchestra together beautifully and intuitively managed the balance with what was happening on stage. He showed a lot of care in working with the singers. The chorus, though playing a minor role, was just a mess.

Markus Stenz

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SATOSHI on Ming Jing

While browsing through my Sotheby’s catalogue for the upcoming auction on October 4, I came upon the familiar work of Ming Jing. I have known his work since I started collecting Chinese art 12 to 13 years ago and always thought that he stands one of the most unique and outstanding Chinese painters. I remember seeing his works in Yan Gallery (Hong Kong) and for some reason, associate him with Chagall, not that they are similar in style, but I just feel that they are quite similar in the way they provoke the viewer to sense.

SOTHEBY's 20th Century Chinese Art Auction: LOT 320


160,000—220,000 HKD

It is very difficult to categorize his works as they stand peculiarly in different realms. Some described him as an abstract artist, while I sincerely believe that abstraction is not really his objective. Just like his name, Ming Jing, there is clarity in reflection. In this case, the less representational the painting is the clearer the feeling and emotion it is trying to convey. It will be quite interesting to see how his work performs in the auction. I do wish him well.

Born in 1960, Ming Jing graduated from Tianjin Art Academy in 1983. He is currently an associate professor of art in Hebei University and Vice President of the Hebei Oil Painting Research Institute. He has exhibited extensively in China, Hong Kong and U.S.A. His works have been collected by the National Art Museum of China, Taiwan Art Museum and private collectors. Ming Jing is known for his unique style akin to that of xieyi (painting the idea) and expressionism, not to mention that his works have a strong sense of detachment and fun.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SATOSHI on Dame Evelyn Glennie

“What was the most frequently asked question?” I asked hoping that she will bring up the topic of her deafness on her own, but then her response after a nervous chuckle was, “How did I get involved with music?” Well, that didn’t help.

The reality is not that Evelyn doesn’t want to talk about her profound deafness, but instead in her words, “It is very difficult to talk about the subject with pocket answers.” So, in response to this “less” frequently asked question, she published Hearing Essay in which she discusses her condition extensively, and one can find the essay in her website. On that note, I was more than keen to talk to her about her music.

Below is the link to my interview with her for Time-Out Hong Kong.

My interview with Dame Evelyn Glennie lasted for exactly 35 minutes and 23 seconds; and it was definitely the highlight of my day. At first, when I was invited to interview her, the intention was to do it through email, which makes sense since I was in Hong Kong and she was in UK and also she is deaf. But surprisingly, Evelyn insisted that we should just do it over the phone. What happened was just amazing! You see Evelyn read lips, so when I talked over the speaker-phone, I can hear Carla (her assistant) mouthing my question and Evelyn will just respond to me directly over the phone.

What was featured in the Time-Out magazine was only a very small part of the interview. I hope that one day, I will be able to find some time to be able to write about the rest of the conversation that talked about concert halls, conductors.. all the way down to haggis!


Published in Time-Out Hong Kong: September 15-28 2010 issue No. 63, p.87

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Dame Evelyn Glennie is profoundly deaf, an extraordinary affliction for a renowned musician, but she’s not so keen on talking about it. “It is very difficult to talk about the subject with pocket answers,” she says over the phone from the UK, conducting the interview with the aid of a helper. But it’s not that she avoids the subject. She’s published a discussion, Hearing Essay, in which she discusses her condition extensively (which is available on her website,, but often her deafness is something that people get stuck on. Sometimes, people fail to really examine her extraordinary career.

After all, with 26 solo recordings, a Grammy award, more than 100 performances a year worldwide, a damehood in 2007 for her services to music and induction into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2008, Glennie has successfully created and sustained a full-time career as a solo percussionist.

This fortnight, Glennie will appear with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong for its season launch, performing her own transcription of Vivaldi’s Flautino Concerto in C major RV443. “It was in a concert that I was performing with the great recorder player Michala Petri and she performed this piece. I was absolutely enthralled, obviously by her playing but also by the music itself. I just felt that perhaps there is a possibility of arranging it for vibraphone and still using the same string orchestra and harpsichord. I find it works really well for the vibraphone. I almost prefer it more so than on a piccolo recorder or piccolo flute.”

When asked why she chose vibraphone instead of other percussion instruments such as marimba, she earnestly explains: “I like the sparkle of the vibraphone and you can sustain a note in a vibraphone which is absolutely vital in the second movement. I can actually take the tempo considerably slower than it would be played in a wind instrument. At the same time with the other two fast movements, I can really clip along pretty well. Marimba is much more of a wood-type experience and there is no real possibility of getting a dry sound, and getting that contrast in the same way that you can in a vibraphone.”

Despite having more than 160 works written for her by eminent composers, Evelyn is also open and eager to try new works originally written for other percussionists. City Hall will see the Asian premiere of the Marimba Concerto by Hong Kong-based American composer Alexis Alrich and will also see the first time Evelyn plays the piece.

The other piece making an Asian premiere is Joe Duddell’s Snowblind. Evelyn was very ardent to stress that “obviously I want to feature a British composer. This is also an opportunity to perform a piece that brings both the marimba and the vibraphone together.”

Evelyn is also known to perform barefoot as, according to her, it gives her an extra dimension of feeling the sound. When asked whether she would ever consider performing in less than just barefoot, she boldly declares, “Oh! I would love to do that!” then she quickly adds, “But I don’t think I would be asked back for a repeat performance!”

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SATOSHI on Hong Kong Art Galleries

On Saturday September 4, I had the chance to walk around SOHO area and visit a couple of galleries. I know I want to start out with Chen Fei’s show at the Schoeni Gallery and end in Para/Site Art Space to pay for a Tsang Kinwah print that I ordered.

During the visits, it made me realize how different the galleries are in terms of relating to me and how I actually feel about each gallery. Usually, I like visiting the galleries with a ‘gweilo’ (westerner) friend as the gallery staff/owners tend to immediately zoom into the foreigner, leaving me alone to slowly appreciate the artworks until I am ready to ask questions on a particular artwork that I am interested in. Unfortunately, on Saturday, I don’t have a decoy.

So, here’s the route I took and the galleries I visited:

• Schoeni Art Gallery @ Hollywood Road: I went there because I thought I got it wrong. I wanted to go to the Chen Fei show, which I knew was in the main branch, but right there in the window of the Hollywood branch was a Chen Fei painting, so I went in. Guess what? The Chen Fei show was in the main branch.

• Schoeni Art Gallery @ Old Bailey Street: The door was closed, so I thought that they were not yet opened until I notice that I need to ring the bell. I did and the door opened. What came after was just a very typical Schoeni experience, the staff leaves you alone and the moment I ask a question, the feeling I get was that I shouldn't be bothering them. The Chen Fei Hong Kong debut solo show, however, was stunning. While some pieces are overtly sexual, they are always about him. He is preoccupied with himself, but always in a tongue-in-cheek way, narcissistic yet not in a serious way. The colorful and "superflat" approach to his pictures is very much in the "manga" style in the stream of Murakami and Matsuura.

• Osage Gallery @ Old Bailey Street: Right across Schoeni is the Li Xinping show at the Osage. The person in the shop was very chatty and friendly. The new Li Xinping pieces shown here focused on a more organic and natural theme, which were attractive but not as involving and thought-provoking as his previous series which focused on fabled and dreamy discourses concerning Chinese culture.

• 10 Chancery Lane Gallery @ Chancery Lane: As I walk down back to Hollywood Road, I did a side trip to 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. The pieces there at that time were a collection of works by different artists. It is here in the gallery that I realized that my love for Simon Birch’s works has died. There is a certain lack of development in his work. By the way, it is only in this gallery that I entered and left without actually seeing any gallery staff… so even if I have any question, there is really no opportunity for me to ask.

• Plum Blossoms Gallery @ Hollywood Road: Back to Hollywood Road, I went to Plum Blossoms. This gallery is the most peculiar one. The staff was on her computer when I walked in. She took a glance at me and continued what she was doing. After having a good walk around the gallery, I went to the door and I decided to say thank you, she grunted.

• Connoisseur Art Gallery @ Hollywood Road: Beside Plum Blossoms are two Connoisseur Art Galleries. The one artist that took my breathe away was Li Shurui. Her works deal with lights inspired by LED signage. The effect was of almost out-of-focus colored dots that when viewed from different angles and distances lures ones eyes to try to either concentrate on the piece or give up and look away. I have to say that so far, this is one gallery that I find has the best staff. The sales pitch has a fine balance of artistic insights of the works themselves and a clear understanding of how a collector (or at least I) approaches art acquisition.

• Arch Angel Art @ Hollywood Road: This gallery stood out in Hollywood Road as the rudest gallery I have ever visited. I once walked into this gallery with my “gweilo” friend. As usual, the "gweilo” gallery personnel zoomed into my friend. After a few minutes, I found that I was very interested in a couple of paintings thus I asked about them. Inevitably, I have to ask about the price. After asking for the price of the third painting, the gallery personnel snapped at me, “Are you more interested with the price or with the painting?”. This time, I just simply walked pass it.

• Amelia Johnson Contemporary @ Shin Hing Street: I went inside this gallery with no expectation except to see the two artists I have come to love: Konstantin Bessmertny and Tang Kwokhin. The personnel here was more or less like the regular sales clerk in a department store.

• Gallery Exit @ Shin Hing Gallery: This was the biggest surprise of the day. In this small gallery was a collection of contemporary arts, both from Japan and Hong Kong, which were very unexpected, beautiful and insightful. In the gallery was the part owner who is a collector himself. He clearly understand the works extremely well and presented them to me in the most clear and insightful way. Works by Lin Xue here were so far the most amazing with his micro and macro studies of the traces of nature… joyful and unsettling.

• Cat Street Gallery @ Hollywood Road: Sigh, what can I say about this gallery… it reminds me of those gallery that one finds in big malls in the U.S.A. The difference was that in this gallery, the staff was busy doing something behind the very high counter that I didn’t notice her until she popped out to say goodbye… I would have preferred for her to say hello.

• Para/Site Art Space @ Po Yan Street: One of my favorite organization. I went in, paid for my Tsang Kinwah print and left.

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