Thursday, October 28, 2010

REVIEW: The Complete History of America (Abridged) + The Bible: the Complete Word of God (Abridged)

This time, I was not too worried. The last time I saw an RSC (Reduced Shakespeare Company, not to be confused with the Royal Shakespeare Company) production, I was apprehensive whether I am familiar enough with the works of William Shakespeare to enjoy The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The beauty of these RSC Abridged productions (so far, there are seven of them on-going: Shakespeare, American history, Bible, Musicals, Great Books, Hollywood and Sports) is that they have something for everyone and everything for the knowledgeable ones.

There is no denying that the jokes, parodies and sarcasms are most funny if you are aware of the subject matter, not to mention that one can feel superior while explaining to the guy beside you what was the joke all about.

For this tour, there are two shows rotating, The Complete History of America (Abridged) and The Bible: the Complete Word of God (Abridged). I went to the former one on October 24 afternoon and the latter one on October 27 at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Both shows were surprisingly not full, but that did not deter Dominic Conti, Jeff Marlow and Mick Orfe to provide brisk and bouncy performances. The format didn’t change, it was a series of little sketches set in a timeline at a breakneck speed… not to mention that they just love to make fun of the audience (hint: do not be late).

Using the Shakespeare version as a benchmark, I would say that the America was better and the Bible was worse. What I realized after watching America and Bible is that there is indeed a very thin line between silly and sick; and subtle and stupid… at least to my taste. I questioned myself whether it was because I hold the Bible with higher respect or because I know less about the Bible; and my conclusion was neither.

While America was fresh and funny, the Bible sounded quite stale and old-fashioned. A good example is the joke about making a wallet out of foreskin and therefore when rubbed, it will become a suitcase. That joke was so unoriginal and stale that even both my American and British friends have heard it when they were young (and they are very old now!).

The best part of the Bible was the song on how to differentiate the names that are common or confusing in the Bible like the Mary’s and Joseph’s. With Joseph, the song went “Joseph in the old, he had a great life story. Joseph in the new accepted his wife’s story.” It was true, subtle and witty. On the other hand, I really had a great time with America. I find the sketches quite sharp and even insightful, the pacing was fast but not to the detriment of the materials.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

REVIEW: Yang Tianwa with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

The title of the concert was TIANWA, THE RISING STAR… indeed with the emphasis on RISING.

The City Hall Concert Hall was fairly packed on October 23. I was almost late as I thought that the concert was in the Cultural Centre. I was just in time to listen to Janacek’s Zarlivost (Jealousy). The work itself is a forceful piece and the playing by HKPO, led by Perry So, did nothing to curb it.

What followed was Dvorak’s Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 and the much-awaited Yang Tianwa. The moment the orchestra played, what stood out was that the forcefulness in the 1st piece continues. It was still okay until Yang started playing, it became apparent that the balance was off and the orchestra was too heavy.

As for Yang, it was like watching a flower bloom. It was at first all standard technically-superb playing, with little personality. Suddenly, in the middle of the 1st movement, the personality crept in and by the 2nd movement, I was so absorbed with her playing that the orchestra’s heavy playing was more irritating than enjoyable. Yang’s grasp of the emotional depth of the piece was as stunning as the range of color she brought to it.

Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D, op. 43 was pretty much the same as the other two pieces… forceful…but then I didn’t mind it too much for this piece. There were some very good moments, especially in 3rd and 4th movement when that nationalistic gusto was called for.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

REVIEW: Evelyn Glennie with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

Dame Evelyn Glennie’s astounding acts of rhythm and speed were inseparable to the delight of watching her enthralling feats of dexterity and strength.

The City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong led by Jean Thorel served up an evening of premieres in their opening season concert at the Hong Kong City hall on September 25 to a packed house.

To read more about my review for TIME-OUT HONG KONG, just follow the below link:

Here are a few additional notes to go with my review for Time-Out Hong Kong:

  • For Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flautino in C major, RV443, Glennie took up a faster pace in the 1st and 3rd movement, while applied a slower tempo in the 2nd movement. The overall result took away that lightness and fleeting effect of the recorder as a player catches his/her breath; instead, we got a sustained shower of notes. Blow by blow, my vote goes to a recorder.

  • For British Joe Duddell’s Snowblind for solo percussion and strings, if I have to imagine how music can depict light reflecting and refracting, shimmering and sparkling on a body of water, this must be it. Evelyn Glennie’s playing was as hypnotic and mesmerizing as the composition itself.

  • For encore, Glennie generously performed Askell Masson’s Prim for solo snare drum. Her gripping mastery of technique, tone and rhythm was so intensely spellbinding that her last blow on the drum made the guy in front of me jump! In closing, Glennie performed one of her own compositions, A Little Prayer, a solemnly beautiful close to the evening.


Review: Dame Evelyn Glennie at City Hall
5 of 5 stars
Posted in Time-Out Hong Kong Online on 18 October 2010

City Hall Saturday September 25

Dame Evelyn Glennie’s remarkable rhythm, speed, dexterity and strength were all on display when she joined the Jean Thorel-led City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong in front a packed house for the orchestra’s season opener.

After a “pretty” performance of Frank Bridge’s Sir Roger de Coverley for string orchestra, came the most familiar piece of the evening, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flautino in C major, RV443. Originally written for the smallest member of the recorder family, the flautino (or sopranino), Glennie rearranged it for the vibraphone, taking various tempo liberties with the original score. She took up a faster pace in the 1st and 3rd movement, while applied a slower tempo in the 2nd movement, resulting in a sustained shower of notes that was less light and fleeting than the original.

British Joe Duddell’s Snowblind for solo percussion and strings followed, and it proved to be the concert’s most exciting part. Duddell’s work, making its Asian premiere, was Baroque in structure but impressionist in feel, portraying music that seemed to depicted light reflecting and refracting, shimmering and sparkling on a body of water. And Glennie’s playing was as hypnotic and mesmerizing as the composition itself.

After the interval came another Asian premiere, Alexis Alrich’s Marimba Concerto. The gorgeously crafted three-movement concerto managed to be genuinely inventive and deeply conservative. The piece swept me through a series of action-drama-packed panoramas with Glennie superbly accentuating and providing the bold rhythms and energy.

Glennie then generously closed with Askell Masson’s Prim for solo snare drum, displaying gripping mastery of technique, tone and rhythm,
and her own compositions, A Little Prayer, which was a solemnly beautiful close to the evening.

Satoshi Kyo

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

REVIEW: Dido and Aeneas at the 24th Macao International Music Festival

The performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, as part of the 24th Macao International Music Festival on October 17, gave me the opportunity to see the much talked about Dom Pedro V Theatre. The theatre out-performed the opera.

Dom Pedro V Theatre, built in 1860 is the first western-style theatre in China. With a capacity of only 300, having any expensive production in this theatre is a luxury. The neo-classical design was consistent throughout and was such a personal, petite and perfect theatre for a production of Dido and Aeneas.

This Dido and Aeneas is directed and lighting designed by no other than Maurizio di Mattia, the same person who did the disappointing La Boheme production of the Opera Hong Kong. Partnering with same costume designer Anna Biagiotti (assuming same person as Anna Bagiotti as listed in the programme), but with a different set and video designer, Andrea Miglio, the whole production was a more successful. Aside from the mirror-like backdrop material looking totally out of place and very disco-like, the production was effectively simple with two over-lapping string curtains serving as screens for frontal projections.

Macao Orchestra, led by conductor and harpsichordist Marshall McGuire, was fluid and eloquent. The cast in general was balanced, but a bit too heavy for my taste. They were very competent singers but just didn’t fit how I perceive baroque music ought to be performed. For one, most of the vibratos were very wide or pronounced that it interfered with a lot of the coloratura divisions.

Rebecca Ringle as Dido possessed a smoky dark mezzo voice that roles such as Azucena came into my mind. As much as it was an unusual choice, I actually enjoyed her performance. She and Belinda, sang by Sharin Apostolou, worked wonderfully together vocally and dramatically. Kenneth Mattice’s Aeneas was memorable for the wrong reason. While dramatically strong, the wobble in his voice was distracting.

Peculiarly, the Sorceress, usually sang by a mezzo, was amply performed by the very tall bass Paul Goodwin-Groen. This was a nice switch and it vocally balanced off a predominantly female cast. Jim Price as the first sailor provided one of the most sincere performances in the opera, his diction was clear and his voice didn’t sounded too big or heavy for the opera and the theatre.

Tijana Grujic and Magaret Peterson was fabulously wicked in their portrayal of the first and second witches. The chorus, provided by Dolce Voce Choir was tight and provided some beautiful moments in the opera.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

REVIEW: Lang Lang with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra


The atmosphere was very different. An HKPO concert on a Wednesday night, the Cultural Center Concert Hall was packed and there was applause between movements. Lang Lang definitely has the drawing power. Even the souvenir program for the October 13 show was glittering and thick with ads in the night with The Pride of China (title of the concert)… cringe…

Lang Lang performed a concerto in each half of the evening with a French piece preceding each, which is most probably there to showcase maestro Stephane Deneve’s “affinity to French music”. Opening the first half of the concert was Berlioz’s Roman Carnival, Op. 9… hmmm… let me put it this way, I wouldn’t mind the evening without it. The second half started with Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande Suite, Op. 80, now THIS was just beautifully elegant. The phrasing was delicate and the effect was refreshingly free of over-blown sentiment.

Lang Lang appropriately offered HIS Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15 in the first half followed by Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat, 5124. My biggest fear in attending a live performance is to witness a bland rendition that seems as if the artists have done it so many times that they stop thinking and feeling. A lot of young and/or Chinese artists tend to be technically competent but dull in interpretation. For Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Lang Lang made it his own. In fact, the piece sounded quite different that I am still trying to figure out whether I like it or not, and that is good! Lang Lang’s phenomenal control in offering clarity and subtlety was most apparent in Beethoven.

With Liszt, Lang Lang’s performance was right on. He went for it, pulled out all the stops and preyed on the keyboard that blended drama and poetry. I imagine some people may think that the performance was heavy-handed and flashy, but I believe that such a treatment was equally valid, especially when one saw how technically secured Lang Lang is and what he did in Beethoven.

For both concertos, Deneve tried to match the intensity point by point and succeeded. HKPO delivered a clean and even performance without the dramatics and theatrics of the conductor and soloist… very nice.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

REVIEW: Mahler 7 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Okay, this is a bit late... but rather late than never, right? I will keep this short... really short.

Overall, the September 11 performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall was not memorable. Pairing with the Mahler's Symphony No. 7 was 4 songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn in the first half.

The expectation was high for good reason. The soloist was Shen Yang, the winner of the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. I have attended his recital in Hong Kong before and truly enjoyed it. With the 4 songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn however, he came across a bit singular in color. Unlike a song cycle where a singer develops a continuing thread of emotions, these Mahler songs are quite varied and calls for variation in interpretation and vocal coloring. Shen Yang's performance was a decent one, but nothing else.

The Symphony No. 7 fell in the same category, it was a decent performance, but offered nothing else. Maestro Edo de Waart tried to muster a sense of scale but the whole piece just didn't take off.

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REVIEW: Nishizaki Plays Suzuki Evergreen (Vol. 1-7)

The complete set of 7 volumes includes all the music in volume 1 to 8 of the original Zen-On Edition of the Suzuki Violin School.

If one will include Nishizaki’s already existing recording of Mozart’s concertos No. 4 and 5 (the music of books 9 and 10), this could be the most complete collection to accompany the progress of a student.

To read my review of the collection, please go to:


Published in Time-Out Hong Kong: October 13-36 2010 issue No. 65, p.88

Nishizaki Plays Suzuki Evergreen (Vol. 1-7)

3 out of 6 stars

This set of seven volumes is recorded by Takako Nishizaki, the youngest student to ever complete the Suzuki Violin School, and who received her teaching diploma at the age of nine. On the basis of her involvement in this release, this new compendium of Suzuki method classics are being marketed for their authenticity, as discs to be listened to from start to finish. However, this tends to overlook this collection’s main attribute as a teaching tool. With the remarkable level of comprehensiveness and musicianship it displays, it serves as an ideal companion to anybody teaching or learning the Suzuki method.

An important aspect of the Suzuki method is the use of sound recordings to aid the students. Suzuki believed that great artists (such as Mozart) grew up in an environment where excellent performances were within reach. These recordings build upon that philosophy, making these sounds accessible to a mass population. The Suzuki method insists on regular listening to learn notes, phrasing, dynamic, rhythm and most importantly, beautiful tone quality by ear.

These seven discs provide a model accompaniment to a student at any level, from the simple little tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (Vol. 1), all the way to Veracini’s Violin Sonata in E minor (Vol. 7). Throughout, Nishizaki and pianist Terence Dennis provide a clean and clear guide for students to absorb. Even the placement of the microphones seems to be engineered to provide a more forward sound for the violin to maximise the clarity of tone. On the other hand, this collection’s main utility is as a learning tool, so it probably won’t have the same resonance for those with no affinity with the Suzuki method.

Satoshi Kyo

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

There was just so many programs that I would really like to see. Next year's Hong Kong Arts Festival will be an excellent year... unless Cecilia Bartoli back out or get sick!

Finally, I have faxed my order in. I literally waited past midnight in the office of October 5 so that I can hopefully be in front of the cue! The ridiculous thing about the festival's booking system is that they will not accept emails. They are willing to accept fax and mail, but not email. Of course, if being in front of the cue is important, both of these methods are just not easy to use. How many people actually use fax these days? Or has a fax at home? Not to mention that it is not eco-friendly! Using the post is also not a solution obviously. When I called in to check whether I can scan my order form and email it to them, the response was the typical government employee attitude... NO... when asked why... the response was "we don't have that service and if we provide it now, it will not be right!" Separately, they did suggest online, which I have never tried and can't be bothered to because years ago, it was a disaster. Beside, I have checked it the day before and the form was not there. With the amount of tickets I am getting, I really don't see myself trying to figure out the booking system and doing it show by show, choice by choice...

Anyway, so here are the shows I have booked for me and my friends in the order of importance (to me):
  • Cecilia Bartoli - I can't over-emphasize the significance of this event. The tickets are expensive but I am going to the two nights that she will be performing. I flew to Paris one time to see her do a Salieri concert, but she cancelled. I only found out about it when I went to the box-office to retrieve my ticket. I remember needing to seat down because of my huge disappointment. She is the ultimate mezzo-soprano for me.

  • Leipzig Opera: Tristan und Isolde - This must be Wagner's best opera, but then, the gem of this performance will be American Wagnerian soprano Jennifer Wilson as Isolde. She is one of the top Wagnerian soprano today with unbelievable vocal heft and stamina.

  • Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan - Bach music at its finest. Suzuki and his ensemble is one of the best in the world in performing Bach. Oh, the famous countertenor Robin Blaze will also be performing.

  • Berliner Ensemble: The Threepenny Opera - This musical by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill is a gem and I have never seen a good production of it yet... hopefully, this will be a good one.

  • Angelika Kirchschlager with the Basel Chamber Orchestra - I am not exactly a big fan of the world-famous mezzo-soprano, Angelika Kirchschlager. But then, I have never heard her performed live... so this is my chance.

  • Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra - This could have been higher in my list if the repertoire was a bit more interesting. Beside, I will be hearing the orchestra already in Tristan und Isolde.

  • New York City Ballet - Despite going to New York regularly, I have never seen this world-famous company before. I am doing the programme 1.

  • Cheek by Jowl: Macbeth - Hmmm... the introduction in the programme was very intriguing... so why not?

  • Birmingham Royal Ballet: Hobson's Choice - Again, it would be interesting to see how this story get translated into a ballet... I just hope that there will not be a lot of miming.

  • Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Carnation - Well, this is my own little tribute to Pina Bausch. Her choreography is not exactly one of my favorites but she did explored and expand the dance idiom and I have a lot of respect for that.

  • Halle Orchestra - Mark Elder, Ades and Elgar... they are the reasons

So 12 all in all, that is where I will bet my money. There are other shows that I will consider, but not for advance booking, such as: Bang on a Can - All Star, MOMIX Dance Theatre, Ute Lemper and the Piazzolla Sextet and Belarus Free Theatre.

How about you? I would love to hear what you have booked.

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REVIEW: La Boheme with the Opera Hong Kong

Opera Hong Kong’s latest offering, La Boheme was a mixed bag. The highlight were the “Chinese talents” and the nightmare was the production.

I have to declare that Puccini’s La Boheme is one of my all time favorite opera, thus I didn’t mind watching it twice. I watched the October 8 evening and the October 10 matinee performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. But before I talk about each performance, let me talk about the production. I hated it.

When I say “production”, I refer to the direction & lighting design (Maurizio di Mattia), set & lighting design (Maurizio Varamo) and costume design (Anna Biagotti). And when I “hated” it, I mean it is the worst production of La Boheme I have ever seen on stage or on video. The annoying part about this production was that it doesn’t look like as if it was in shortage of money; instead it was in shortage of creativity and logic.

Take the set design for instance for Act I, it looks like as if they live under the Eiffel Tower, yet the panoramic view behind it made it looks like they were living on top of the tower. Okay, perhaps the steel structure was a bridge but that doesn’t explain the view unless it was a scene from the movie Inception.

Or take the costume in Act I and II, what was the season they were in? The guys were cold enough to burn the manuscript of Rodolfo’s drama, yet they can’t be bothered to roll down their sleeves and wear their jacket? How about the boater’s hat in Act II? Was it summer?

Or take Parpignol appearing in Act III and Act IV in a ghostly way, why? I have seen a lot of artsy fartsy stuff in opera productions but this is one of the most coward one. If one wants to go in that direction, one has to go all the way.

The whole production team does not only look like as if they didn’t talk to each other, but also does not look like they know anything about the opera.

Okay, now that I got that out of my chest, let me talk about the performance. Starting with the common elements, Opera Hong Kong Chorus did fine on the singing side, but went overboard on the acting side. I wonder if they even had any direction from the director. The Opera Hong Kong Children Chorus on the other hand provided a superb performance. I have to admit that I do like the effect of the Diocesan Boys’ School Orchestra in Act II, it was a nice touch that pinned down the drifting production.

The October 8 principal cast was… okay… Jesus Gracia as Rodolfo has a beautiful voice with a lovely timbre but unfortunately, it doesn’t travel far. Sabina Cvilak as Mimi has a steely edge to her effortless voice and displayed shades of expression. Other principals provided a vocally appealing performance with special mention to Brian Kontes as Colline whose voice has great character and warmth. As an ensemble, the acting was a bit reserved and lack of chemistry. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra led by Gianluca Martinenghi drew a supple performance.

The October 10 principal cast was not better, but then I wasn’t expecting the “Chinese” cast to be… I even paid less for exactly the same seat! What really surprised me when I was watching the “Chinese” cast was that the ensemble was so much tighter and more balanced. For some reason, the singers (except for Sammy Chien) had certain youthful abandonments and lyric voices that made the portrayals more believable. Xue Haoyin as Rodolfo sang with bright lyric tone that cut through the orchestra with ease. Yuki Ip’s voice had a lovely timbre and shaped phrases carefully and sumptuously. Freddie Tong, playing Colline, provided one of the best overall performances in the two shows I’ve seen. He was always in character and his commanding bass voice was never harsh. And when one thought that the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra can’t get any better, this performance led by Bruno Aprea delivered a cleaner and more even sound that seems to let the story unfold naturally.

Personally, the October 8 evening performance didn’t give me much. At least with the October 10 matinee performance, I had the sensation of seeing possibilities and promises unfolding in front of me. All the more, one should never underestimate having a balanced cast. In totality, I actually enjoyed the “Chinese” talents more.

P.S. There is another cast alternating that I didn’t get the chance to see. According to a friend of mine who had seen all three casts, this cast was the worst… There you go; I have something to be thankful for!

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