Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Michael and I went to see Antonio Meneses play with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta at "Cellomania" at the Hong Kong City Hall theater.  The Sinfonietta, a professional symphony orchestra, is conducted by Wing-sie Yip, a petite woman with a lot of energy and a shorter, choppier conducting pattern than any other conductor I've seen. 

It is always exciting to see a woman conductor, because, let's face it, it is quite rare.

The symphony started the evening with a subdued but hauntingly melancholy Othello Overture by Dvorak.  At the opening note, I felt a bit of trepidation, because the strings, while uniform and consistent, seemed hesitant, and at one point the horns were tremulous instead of steady and smooth.  Was the evening going to be a disappointment?

It got better.  Meneses, a famous Brazilian cellist, then came on stage to perform Lalo's Cello Concerto in D Minor.  I particularly loved the second movement, the intermezzo, which started off slow, then progressed into a lively, jovial progression that reminded me of freshly cut grass and little girls in spring dresses dancing with ribbons and posies around a maypole. (So what if I've never actually witnessed such an event?)

Still, I was a bit hesitant because while Meneses handled the rondos and arpeggios in the concerto with ease, I just didn't feel like he was that emotionally invested in the piece.  There was something dry, almost detached, about his playing.  The cello (he plays one dating back to 1790 - wonder what the insurance is on that?) also sounded a bit reedy and thin in the cavernous City Hall theater.  Apparently my opinion was in the minority because the theater gave round after round of applause, ushering him back onto the stage for not one but two encores.  Perhaps I judge too harshly, but I was very disappointed that he didn't prepare a separate piece for his encore.  Instead, he just played the same sections from the Lalo concerto.  I didn't like that one bit.

However, then it got a lot, lot better.  The night ended with an absolutely brilliant rendition of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor.  Brava!  The third and fourth (final) movements were amazing.  This symphony was written after Tchaikovsky had a nervous breakdown due to his failure of a marriage (only entered into because he was trying to hide his homosexuality), and this was a testament to his triumphant comeback.  It apparently wasn't that well received in Moscow when it debuted in 1878, but that didn't deter Tchaikovksy from declaring that he had written a symphony for the ages.

The third movement, rendered entirely in pizzicato by the strings, was my hands-down favorite.  Something about pizzicato (the plucking of the strings) touches me deep at the base of my spine, thrilling me - I love it so very much.  The woodwinds came in at various periods throughout the movement in succeession, starting from the horns and the bassoon, followed by the clarinet, then the flute, then the piccolo, each echoing the previous lower register instrument in perfect unison. 

I had always wondered if someone had or would create an entire piece out of pizzicato - little did I know Tchaikovsky had been of the same mind 130 years ago!  It was a good discovery, and Michael and I walked out of the concert flushed and thrilled with the finale. 

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