Wednesday, March 28, 2012

REVIEW: Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts Drama Theatre, Saturday March 24

One thing is sure: while this performance may not be ideal, one can’t help but still feel grateful to the Academy for staging this, the most totally and easily enjoyable of Britten’s operas.

The last time I went to an APA showcase opera was in 2010, Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and this production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream is definitely a step-up! The production was sleek and the orchestra was tight and sensitive. As for the singers, the calibre is pretty much the same.

This is the review I wrote for Hong Kong Time-Out Magazine, click here to read.

Academy Opera: A Midsummer Night's Dream
March 20, 22 & 24 2012, 7:30pm
The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts Drama Theatre

Composer: Benjamin Britten
Librettists: Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears after William Shakespeare

Creative Team:
Director: Ceri Sherlock
Choreographer: John Utans
Set Designer: Thomas Umfrid
Costume Designer: Mandy Tam
Lighting Designer: Samuel Chan

Cast includes:
Oberon: Chia Wee-kiat
Tytania: Mimi Ip
Puck: Max Charles Percy
Theseus: Abraham Sung
Hippolyta: Teresa Tang
Lysander: Qiu Wenjie
Demetrius: Yiu Yun-kwan
Hermia: Athene Mok
Helena: Alison Lau
Bottom: Michael Lam Chun-ting
Quince: Mark Anthony Wong
Flute: Joseph Wu
Snug: Francis Mok
Snout: Andrew Chan
Starveling: Henry Ngan Ka-lok

Academy Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Stuart Stratford

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SATOSHI on Mark Salvatus

The first time i came across the work of Filipino artist, Mark Salvatus, was in Secret Fresh. I acquired a humble piece, Paley Pils. In the exhibition, it was shown with a lovely dog, but unfortunately, they were separated...

My encounter with this talent and intriguing artist didn't end there, I saw his work again at the 4th Guangzhou Triennial at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou, China. Since then, I have been encoutering his works more and more often and truly believe that he is indeed one of the best contemporary artists in the Philippines.

So... I am in my third paragraph and what do I really want to say? Mark Salvatus, has been invited to participate in a Parallel Event of Manifesta 9, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art. The Parallel Event he will be participating in is ‘Hotel de Inmigrantes - Cosmopolitan Stranger’ (Koen Vanmechelen) in Hasselt, Belgium from May 31 – June 7, 2012. But for him to be able to do that, he needs our assistance. Please do help :-)

For Mark to be able to go, he needs to raise P80,000.00. This is a worthwhile project, believe me, as I only put my money only in projects that I have confidence in. In this case, he is Mark Salvatus.

If you would like to help, please click HERE. You will need to fill out a form and you to confirm your pledge via email.

Mark Salvatus(b. 1980) is an artist living and working in Manila. He graduated Cum Laude at the University of Santo Tomas College of Fine Arts and Design with a degree in Advertising Arts. His works deals with familiar objects, chance encounters, and everyday politics that crosses various media from drawings, installations, photography, street/urban art, to interactive and participatory projects. Building humor and drama to question memory, nostalgia, existence and space, thus making different perspectives between the viewer and the work.

To know more about his work, go to or

To contact the artist, email

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

REVIEW: Rozhdestvensky, Postnikova and HKPO

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday March 17

The octogenarian conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky brought out an HKPO that I don’t think I have ever heard before. To be honest, I was not so sure of what to expect. Rozhdestvensky was in Hong Kong in 2009, but I had to give up my ticket due to work; and even though I have lots f his recordings, a live performance with him at age 80 can be quite different. The sound reminded me of a singer singing her heart out; the sound may not be perfect but because it was heartfelt, one simply submit oneself to the experience. HKPO was full on and sounded immense and round. The details may neither be entirely clean nor clear, but the atmosphere was undeniably electrifying!

The evening opened with original version of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Viktoria Postnikova, wife of Rozhdestvensky, was in her elements. It was not very difficult to appreciate Postnikova’s pianism in this concerto as Tchaikovsky’s intersperse of cadenza-like passages for piano was substantial and Postnikova made the most out of it. She was strong and straight-forward in the first movement and played with great warmth in the finale. The second movement beautifully showed off Rozhdestvensky and Postnikova’s understanding of chamber dynamics and the result was mesmerizing. Concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich and pricipal cellist Richard Bamping lived up to the occasion producing gorgeous solos. Above all, it was Postnikova’s emotional breadth and depth that made her performance outstanding and it was deservedly met with tremendous applause. Postnikova’s gracious encore of Tchaikovsky’s Autumn Song (from The Seasons) didn’t only maintain the all-Tchaikovsky programme but also provided an elegant lacquer to the first half.

Manfred Symphony Op. 58 opened the second half. Rozhdestvensky’s Manfred was out and out to portray a person in great despair. The vision of idealized love in the first movement surfaced with great tenderness while the anguish was dramatic. The mysterious apparitions in the second movement shimmered with clarity. Rozhdestvensky’s redition of the vintage Tchaikovsky melody in the third movement was shamelessly gorgeous. The “phantom” organ in the fourth movement magnified the infernal aspects without its intensity creeping into the serenity of the ending. Overall, it was an immensely rewarding and unforgettable evening. Thank you Rozhdestvensky, Postnikova and HKPO!
Rozhdestvensky, The Legend
16&17-3-2012 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No.2 (original version)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Manfred Symphony

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, conductor
Viktoria Postnikova, piano

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REVIEW: Behzod Abduraimov Piano Recital

HK Academy of Performing Arts Concert Hall, Friday March 16

How do you market a 21-year old pianist who have won the 2009 London International Piano Competition? Well, the Premiere Performances of Hong Kong (PPHK) did their best... "Extraordinarily talented, he is an artist establishing an impressive reputation for electrifying audiences with his captivating performances. He has the major support of Vladimir Ashkenazy." I was particularly fascinated by that last sentence... not so sure what it meant...

Here's my review of Behzod Abduraimov's piano recital for TIME-OUT HONG KONG.

I was kindof glad that it was in the concert hall of the Academy rather at the Amphitheatre; and I do think that the more forgiving acoustics of the hall added so much to the experience. What was quite interesting was that Abduraimov was not a particularly big person, he even don't look his age; but the amount of technique he has mastered was awe-inspiring. The one thing that I felt a bit lacking was emotional depth though; and this was amplified by my attendance of Viktoria Postnikova's performance with HKPO the following night. The difference was substantial, but it should be though, the age difference was 47 years, also substantial!


Behzod Abduraimov
March 16 2012
Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts Concert Hall

Scarlatti: Sonata in B, K.27 in B minor
Scarlatti: Sonata, K.450 in G minor
Scarlatti: Sonata in D, K.96 in D Major
Beethoven: Sonata Op.10 No.3 in D Major
Brahms: Paganini Variations, Op.35 Book 1
---- Interval ----
Saint-Saens/Liszt/Horowitz: "Danse Macabre"
Liszt: Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude (from Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses, S.173)
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No.1

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

REVIEW: Marc-André Hamelin with HKPO

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday March 10

At first glance, it looked like an interesting programme of familiar and less familiar music. In actuality, it was less interesting and attractive. Nevertheless, it was still a great evening of music, or at least first-rate piano playing from the great Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin.

Ravel’s La Valse opened the evening and conductor Lu Shao-Chia brought out some imbalance sound at the start; but like the effect in La Valse, the mists also cleared up almost like a series of gauze curtain were raised. Half way through, the orchestra really came together with depth of tone and breath of fun.

The moment came and Franck’s Symphonic Variations was performed. Given the piece has been described as “one of Franck’s tightest and most finished works” and “a superb blending of piano and orchestra”, what was heard was neither tight nor blended superbly. On their own, Hamelin was faultless and the orchestra was fine; but together, this fine example of use of cyclic unity became tedious at one point.

The Strauss’ Burleske that followed after the interval was better and the orchestral part was shaped with youthful character. On top of his brilliant technique, Hamelin’s brilliance and vibrancy was awe-inspiring. BUT, Burleske is still Burleske, it was a peculiar muddle of immaturity with glimpses of later genius.

Now, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra was a pleasant surprise, it was punchy and at the same time passionate. Lu splendidly control and convey the crux of the different ideas and textures while sustaining the overall form that could easily droop and become shapeless.

Hamelin, The Piano Wizard
9&10-3-2012 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

RAVEL: La Valse
FRANCK: Symphonic Variations
R STRAUSS: Burleske
LUTOSLAWSKI: Concerto for Orchestra

Lu Shao-Chia

Marc-André Hamelin

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

REVIEW: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Sunday March 3

In this 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival closing event, it had both some of the best and worst performances in the festival. The worst performance came from the audience filled with VIPs and government officials where they didn’t just clamor to be seen, but also insisted that they are heard in between movements through their applause. The best performance came from German baritone Christian Gerhaher.

In a matter of six-months, Hong Kong witnessed three of the top 6 of Gramophone magazine’s world greatest orchestras (published in December 2008), and all in the same hall. In October 2011, we had the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (ranked no. 3); and in February and March this year, we had the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (ranked no. 1) and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (ranked no. 6). I had the good fortune of seeing all three and with or without price consideration, it is the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra that was the best; and unfortunately, I have to say that the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra came last.

The orchestra, known in Germany as the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, started this second night performance with Mahler songs occupying the first half. Two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn opened the evening and Gerhaher’s rendition of Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht immediately established his mastery of this genre. The Rückert-Lieder followed with the same splendor. While listening to him and the orchestra, he reminded me of Mathias Goerne (who performed with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra last October). This is not because they sounded similar, but instead, they sounded quite differently, yet I like both of them! The difference was more than just the voice but also their interpretive style. Gerhaher’s has a more lyrical voice that is expressive but not dramatic. He achieves nuances through dynamics and shifts in timbre that communicate directness and sincerity. Goerne, on the other hand, is dramatic with a deeper and rounder voice and a broader palette of colors that communicate involvement and empathy. The orchestra, led by Daniel Harding, provided a most sensitive and supple accompaniment to Gerhaher.

In the second half, Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, WAB 105 was performed. I have to declare that the piece itself doesn’t do much for me BUT Daniel Harding’s reading of the piece could possibly be the best amongst what I have heard. Harding began spellbindingly solemn before giving way to the calls of the brass. The entire performance came across musically solid and emotionally spontaneous. I would have preferred the tempo in the Scherzo held back a fraction to reflect a more leisurely yet confident atmosphere. Overall, it was a glorious achievement full of wit and joy. Boy, I wish they played something else!
Bavarian Radio Symphoney Orchestra
Conductor, Daniel Harding

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
- Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht
- Rheinlegendchen
- Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
- Ich atmet' einen linden Duft
- Um Mitternacht
- Liebst du um Schönheit
- Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

Baritone, Christian Gerhaher

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No 5 in B-flat, WAB 105
- Adagio - Allegro
- Adagio
- Scherzo: Molto vivace
- Finale: Adagio - Allegro moderato

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

REVIEW: A Magic Flute by Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord

HK Academy for Performing Arts Lyric Theatre, Saturday March 3

Know more about “THE” Magic Flute and know less about “A” Magic Flute is the key on how to enjoy this Peter Brook adaptation. This production looks like a response to a task to trim down the Mozart opera to something clear and concise but cheap to produce. First of all, this kind of a challenge is hardly new, while the responses to it throughout the years come in myriad of shapes and sizes. This production, directed by Peter Brook for C.I.C.T. / Theatre des Bouffes du Nord was decent enough but hardly revelatory and definitely not revolutionary. The five-page interview in the programme did nothing to make me appreciate the amount of effort put into the work, but instead made me think of wasted resources and the usual artist spiel that tries to justify a mediocre work.

The production was not bad actually. It has that “world fusion” thing going on that made it visually interesting. The minimalist Zen-style set was made up of all sorts of bamboo sticks complete with two glamorized kuroko (stagehands in traditional Japanese theatre, who dress all in black) in the form of two black actors who also stood in as various “helps” e.g. three ladies, three boys, priests, guards. The rest of the performers were white. The performers can sing and act, but no better than what one will usually see in an opera house these days. In fact, the staging and the performers reminded me of school productions.

Australian tenor Adrian Strooper was a handsome Tamino with a voice to match. The acting-driven role of Papageno benefited the least in this adaptation but French baritone Thomas Dolie made the most of it and provided a lovable performance. Jordanian soprano Dima Bawab provided a sweet-toned but reticent Pamina. No Magic Flute can be complete without the Queen of the Night and her vocal acrobatics and soprano Malia Bendi-Merad didn’t disappoint. French/Italian bass Vincent Pavesi produced beautiful resonant low notes but sounded thin with higher registers.

A Magic Flute
After Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Freely adapted by Peter Brook, Franck Krawczyk and Marie-Hélène Estienne

Creative Team
Director: Peter Brook
Lighting: Philippe Vialatte
Piano: Rémi Atasay
Assistant to the Director: Bertrand Lesca

Cast Includes:
Tamino: Adrian Strooper
Pamina: Dima Bawab
Sarastro: Vincent Pavesi
Queen of the Night: Malia Bendi-Merad
Papageno: Thomas Dolié
Papagena: Betsabée Haas
Monostatos: Raphaël Brémard
Actors: Abdou Ouologuem, Stéphane Soo Mongo

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

REVIEW: Le Songe by Les ballets de Monte-Carlo

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Friday March 2

This ballet interpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Jean-Christophe Maillot is a well-thought out, deliciously entertaining piece of work. Maillot tried to create parallelism not only with the play but with Shakespeare himself. While Shakespeare created three distinct groups of actors and actions (The Athenians, The Fairies, The Mechanicals), he also provided them with three distinct “languages” (blank verse, rhyme and prose accordingly). The ballet, being without the text, Maillot replaces them with three distinct dance languages executed with three distinct music (Felix Mendelssohn, Daniel Terruggi and Bertrand Maillot accordingly).

The Athenians, costumed (by Philippe Guillotel) in marble-like texture materials with their name embossed, looked by statues that came to life. With classical ballet as their dance language, the sliding in and out of couples dancing and intermingling provided a solid foundation and prevented the work becoming a physical theatre piece. The dance language for The Fairies is a bit more difficult to describe; and for the lack of better words, I would say “Fosse en pointe”. Bernice Coppieters as Titania was mesmerizing. Her Titania was strong, sexy and sensuous, which added to the frustration of Oberon; who, by the way looked nothing like the king of fairies, but instead more like a faun… I suppose “opposite attracts”! The Mechanicals’dance language was more bouffon in style and far more closer to physical theatre than dance… regardless, they were hilarious. Costume-wise, they reminded me of Cirque de Soleil.

The overall production was quite practical, cohesive, yet there’s clarity of story line. The set design by Ernest Pignon-Ernest was simple and versatile. There were a lot of small details that made the performance irresistibly charming, e.g. Puck riding a giant “love-in-idleness” flower (powered by Segway) with the pistil providing the magical juice, Bottom’s sexy ass and erotic tail and a man playing Thisbe (complete with hairy legs and pointe shoes). The performance showcased the ensemble’s ability not only to dance, but also to act and most importantly to entertain.

Le Songe
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Creation based on the play by William Shakespeare
Premiere: 27 December, 2005 Grimaldi Forum in Monaco
With the participation of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Nicolas Brochot
and the Monte-Carlo Opera Choir
Conducted by Kristan Missirkov

Creative Team:
Choreography and Direction: Jean-Christophe Maillot
Music: Felix Mendelssohn, Daniel Teruggi, Bertrand Maillot
Scenography: Ernest Pignon-Ernest
Costumes: Philippe Guillotel
Lighting: Dominique Drillot

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Friday, March 2, 2012


Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), 17–20 May 2012 (preview 16 May)

The 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival was way better than I imagined. So far, the shows I have seen were very good… well, except for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra… and now that it is almost finished, the question is “what’s next?”

There’s so much to look forward to in Hong Kong and I am not talking about the Hong Kong Chief Executive election… though the production value of it should be quite comparable to Cosi Fan Tutte… I was referring to visual arts. With the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District and its contemporary museum component M+ (first phase scheduled to open in 2016), the renovation of the Central Police Station heritage site to a mid-size exhibition venue (scheduled to open in 2014) and the opening of the Asia Society’s new premises in Hong Kong in February 2012, the city will shortly be home to world class cultural and exhibition venues. This, added to the significant work already conducted by organisations such as Para/Site Art Space, Asia Art Archive and Fotan Open Studios, provides a breadth to the non-commercial aspect of the cultural scene in Hong Kong.

And of course not to forget ART HK, back for its fifth year, ART HK 12 – Hong Kong International Art Fair will take place 17–20 May 2012, preview 16 May, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). ART HK 12. The total number of galleries at ART HK 12 is 266, representing 39 territories. This year, ART HK’s Galleries Section will welcome 180 galleries from 30 different territories. ART HK 12 will also see the return of ASIA ONE, a section which debuted at the Fair in 2011. Forty-nine galleries from across Asia will exhibit a solo presentation by an artist of Asian origin. ASIA ONE offers an international platform to Asian artists and their galleries and provides a unique opportunity for visitors to experience a diverse view of the Asian art scene. ART HK 12 will also see the development of ART FUTURES with changes to ensure the inclusion of the highest calibre of work. The section will present 35 of the world’s most exciting young galleries, showcasing work by emerging artists from around the globe, and once again in 2012, the ART FUTURES prize will be awarded to one artist featured in the section. The ART FUTURES Prize 2011 was awarded to Gao Weigang, for his solo presentation at Magician Space, Beijing.

Since its inaugural year in 2008, ART HK has attracted a rich mix of international galleries, collectors, curators and museum directors, making it the major destination art fair in Asia. ART HK has been simultaneously praised for its commitment to emerging art-world talent and recognised for developing the regional art scene while also welcoming some of the most prestigious galleries from Asia and around the world.

The city already plays host to an important art market; Hong Kong is the third largest auction market in the world after New York and London, and China (including Hong Kong) has recently overtaken the United Kingdom to become the second most important auction market for art and antiques. The arrival of major international galleries including Gagosian Gallery (2011), White Cube in March 2012, Pearl Lam Galleries in May 2012, and Emmanuel Perrotin, Simon Lee and Platform China in spring 2012 has strengthened an already vibrant gallery scene in Hong Kong, and is a reflection that the international art world recognises the importance of Hong Kong as the location to launch their commercial activities in Asia.

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