Thursday, April 18, 2013

'Centennial Rites'

No matter how perturbed I am by how the office empties out at 6pm (perhaps only on this particular level, and not all a bad thing), I concede that it makes for a lot of stability in planning my evenings. There's a sense of security in knowing that I can make an 8pm play on a weekday or tonight's 7.30pm concert- 'Centennial Rites' hosted by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

The Conservatory Orchestra tonight comprised of graduating seniors in their last concert for the Conservatory. Conducted by the flamboyant Eiji Oue, who seemed to gel everyone together, the orchestra presented Bernstein's Candide Suite, Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major, Op.19, with violinist Qian Zhou, and of course, acknowledgement was made to Stravinsky in the centennial year his iconic The Rite of Spring.

Bernstein's Candide Suite (specially arranged by Charlie Hammon for Eiji Oue)

You'd have read Voltaire's novel and heard of the libretto. I remember giggling over the name of Candide's uncle, Baron Thunder-ten-Tronck. Familiar with the songs, but tonight's instrumental 18-minute version for the orchestra comprising of eight numbers was welcome. The orchestra started off wobbly, as though uncertain and unsure. But they picked it up toward the end. Patchy interpretation.

Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.19, with violinist Qian Zhou (Head of Strings at the Conservatory)

Conservatory Head of Strings, Qian Zhou took centrestage for this piece. This is first time I heard her play. As with all professionals, a pleasure to listen to, and very emotive. She is very good. The background of this concerto was set in the turbulent years before and after the 1917 Russian Revolution. There wouldn't be sufficient time to do all three movements, so the D major was chosen. This isn't my favorite movement of the concerto. I rather listen to all three, then just one because the violin runs shrill and makes my hair stand. Totally unappreciative of the romanticism and soft "ethereal" notes that give way to an almost painful intensity. Of course I comment based on today's wider options, woefully ignorant of the musical tastes back then in Russia, which would have considered this sort of tonality refreshing.

Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

I know this name along the same breath with Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. Le Sacre du Printemps. Not just that, also The Firebird and Petrushka. The ballet company and composer that daringly went against societal expectations and masked courtesy. I love the costumes and colors and pagan overtones of The Rite of Spring. Breaking conventions and shocking social norms with its choreography and story, the ballet, and its music weren't popular with gentile Parisian (or English) society in May 1913. It literally caused a legendary riot as the audience protested at the show. Interpreted in the context of the modern world which accepts, and welcomes The Rite of Spring, I understand just how unconventional it would have been, and how brave and talented Stravinsky, Nijinsky and Diaghilev were. Listening to the orchestra tonight play at breakneck speed in a rather odd fashion, I had to close my eyes and imagine the ballet the way I saw it on stage when Mariinsky Ballet danced it. I simply couldn't just listen to the music for that alone.


It was nice to have everyone make it to the venue by 6.30pm, rustled up a quick and satisfying dinner before we went into the Concert Hall. The girlfriends enjoyed it just as much. The students in the orchestra played earnestly, and Eiji Oue was just this blazing ball of energy on stage. What a beautiful way to graduate. We traded lots of private jokes about Vinny the Vampire. (Please tell me you know him?)

The girlfriends aren't fans of Stravinsky. I'm going to persuade them that we can't just listen to Stravinksy. We must watch it in tandem with the ballet. We certainly don't share similar liking for certain composers or pieces. But the music, and musicians, we always appreciate.

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