Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hong Kong Philharmonic Opening Gala

The Hong Kong Philharmonic has started its 40th season!  I attended opening night, the "Season Opening Gala: Emperor and the New World," featuring works by Bright Sheng, Beethoven and Dvorak.  

My seats weren't too bad considering they were the cheapest seats in the house.  I usually don't care about sitting close to the stage for classical music concerts, because I often prefer to listen with my eyes closed.
The HK Philharmonic is conducted by Jaap van Zweden, a Dutch native. 

The first piece of the night, Shanghai Overture, was created by Bright Sheng in 1997 for a performance at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.  Frankly, I thought that piece was terrible.  I just didn't see how the Chinese cymbals and bells, thrown in willy nilly, added any value to an otherwise dissonant piece. Thank goodness it only lasted ten minutes. 

Then we were on to the really good stuff.
The pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet performed the second piece of the night, Beethoven's Concerto no. 5, with a sub-set of the orchestra as his accompaniment.  I see (hear) why Thibaudet gets such rave reviews.  He gave a lumniscent, thoughtful but also very natural performance - like the piano was a mere extension of his long limbs, and the notes effortlessly conjured out of thin air.  He made the notes sound plump and buoyant - like they were rich, polished pearls.  He also made the delicate notes in the adagio movement impossibly quiet and delicate. It made me think of fine lace and gossamer, as delicate as a wedding veil rustling in the breeze.

The third piece, Dvorak's Symphony no. 9, might well be my new favorite.  It was a symphony that Dvorak composed in the United States when he was terribly homesick for his friends and family back home in Europe.  He tries to convey excitement and happiness of a new world, but notes of  melancholy and longing dominate.  I paid particular attention to the woodwind passages, which were extensive, exquisite and very exposed.  All of the flutes, bassons, clarinets, oboes and french horns had solos.  Despite my bias for the flutes, the cor anglais (an English horn that looks like a bigger oboe) truly stole the show.

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