Monday, November 19, 2012

REVIEW: Shen Wei Dance Arts

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre and Foyer, Friday November 16

For the closing of this year’s New Vision Arts Festival, the organizer did not only invite the Shen Wei Dance Arts to perform, but also commissioned a site-specific (Cultural Centre foyer) dance piece from the group. Two piece of works were presented, LIMITED STATES in the first half was performed in the Grand Theatre, while the second piece ILLUMINATE in the second half was performed at the foyer of the Cultural Centre.

To read my review of the performance for the online magazine HKELD, please click here.



Limited States & Illuminate (a World Premiere Work)
Shen Wei Dance Arts (USA)
16-17.11 (Fri - Sat) 9:30pm
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre and Foyer

Limited States
Concept, Choreography, Video and Animation Design: Shen Wei
Composer: Daniel Burke
Video and Animation Technicians: Josh Horowitz and Layne Braunstein
Lighting Design: Shen Wei and Matthew F. Lewandowski II
Costume Design: Shen Wei and Austin Scarlett

Illuminate (World Premiere)
Concept, Choreography and Visual Design: Shen Wei
Original Score: So Percussion

Video and Animation Technicians: Josh Horowitz and Layne Braunstein

Costume Design: Austin Scarlett

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

REVIEW: San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and Yuja Wang

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Thursday November 8

In my concert going life here in Hong Kong, there are a few times when the evening was so wonderful and enjoyable that they actually energized me and kept me awake. The first time was the performance of The Philadelphia Orchestra with Wolfgang Sawallisch in Hong Kong on June 8 2001. The orchestra played Dukas’ The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (orchestrated by Ravel) and Brahms’ Symphony No.4. The second time was the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Simon Rattle in Hong Kong on November 14 2005. The orchestra played Haydn’s Symphony No. 86, Ades’Asyla and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. Last night, it happened again. San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas was in top form.

Last night was not the first time the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas visited Hong Kong. They were here in 2006 yet, their impact this time was quite different. I believe that the above three instances have one thing in common though, and it was the program. Somehow, the combination, the sequence and how it played to the strength of the orchestra must be the answer.

The orchestra opened with John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine; and what an opening! Thomas premiered this work in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the music consists of a series of chords (in quarter notes and eights) against the persistence and consistent beat on woodblocks. I have heard it played before but never as frantic and tense like this.

Yuja Wang joined in for Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. I saw Yuja Wang the first time with Prokofiev’s Piano 3 two years ago; and with this performance, I can only conclude that Prokofiev seems to be quite ideal for her. Never the one to shy away from speed, Yuja has managed to infused lyricism and incisive power to great effect. Most astounding was how elegance slowly gave way to exuberance in the 3rd movement. In a gap of two years and with the maturity Yuja Wang has developed, she proved that the best is yet to come!

Rachmaninov Symphony no. 2 in E Minor came after the interval. Thomas’s slightly melodramatic reading didn’t feel manipulative at all but instead, the passionate and heart-on-sleeves performance resulted to a rich and romantic sound. The clarinet solo was the loveliest I have ever heard in a live performance of this symphony.

What came after the Rachmaninov was a bit tricky. The San Francisco Symphony provided two encores, first of which was the beautifully arranged Chinese folksong FengYang Flower Drum (鳳陽花鼓). Having said that, the piece was so rambunctious that it totally smashed the mood the preceding Rachmaninov piece elegantly created… come to think of it, perhaps this is why I was kept awake.
San Francisco Symphony 
8 November 2012 (Thu)

Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor (Piano Solo: Yuja Wang)
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director / Conductor

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Monday, November 5, 2012

REVIEW: Puccini’s Tosca (Macao)

Macao Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Saturday November 3

This production made me realized that as long as the designs (set, costume and lighting) are not offensive and the singers are not totally wooden, good music from singers and the orchestra alone can satisfy me. The Macao International Music Festival has come a long way. Back in the mid 1990’s where I started going to the festival, the opera was held in a gymnasium! These days, I never stop praising the simplicity and fine acoustics of the Macao Cultural Centre Grand Theatre.

For the 26th Macao International Music Festival, the organizer brought in a production by the Puccini Festival Foundation – Torre del Lago. This production was (in my understanding) originally conceived by Antonio Mastromattei. Director Antonio Canessa re-conceptualized and utilized Mastromattei’s set design for this Macao production that was basically traditional, safe and almost boring. From the set came the rest of the production that was unexciting and harmlessly routine.

The production was enjoyable purely because of the high caliber of its lead singers and the orchestra. The consistent and secured playing from the Macao Orchestra led by Lu Jia was a pleasure to listen to. Though in some few passages, the orchestra tended to overpower the singers; the effect was nowhere jarring and in some way, the flow was musically and dramatically suitable.

Csilla Boross’ Tosca was a full-blooded explosive diva. Not only was she dramatically effective, she sang with great warmth and subtlety. She alone is worth the ticket! Roberto Aronica’s Cavaradossi was also a vocal delight. His was characterized with robust resonance and solid high register. Giovanni Meoni was a menacing Scarpia with his commanding baritone voice. Though his entry in the first act may be a tad weak, his power and threat was not to be doubted in the second act. While this approach suited perfectly to this traditional production; I, personally would prefer a more subtle and sardonic Scarpia (think Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada!)

Opera in 3 Acts by Giacomo Puccini
1, 3, 4/11 (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday) 7:30pm
Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium
Tickets: MOP 450, 350, 250, 150

Composer: Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Libretto: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Production: Puccini Festival Foundation - Torre del Lago (Italy) and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao S.A.R. Government

Conductor: Lü Jia
Stage Director: Riccardo Canessa
Assistant Director: Luca Ramacciotti
Costume Designer: Fondazione Cerratelli
Lighting Designer: Nino Napoletano

Chorusmaster: Petras Bingelis
Kaunas State Choir
Macao Orchestra

Characters and Cast:
Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer: Csilla Boross, Soprano
Mario Cavaradossi, painter: Roberto Aronica, Tenor
Baron Scarpia, chief of police: Giovanni Meoni, Baritone
Cesare Angelotti, political fugitive: Manrico Signorini, Bass
Sagrestano: Angelo Nardinocchi, Bass
Spoletta, a police agent: Mario Bolognesi, Tenor
Sciarrone, a gendarme: Lei Siu Hong, Bass
A jailer: Xu Qi, Bass
A shepherd boy: Lai Wai Ieng, Treble

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