Saturday, 16 October 2010

For the Love of Music

Gary Graffman when he performed last year in Beijing
I just came back from a wonderful (and cheap!) concert at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.

It was only HK$200 ($25.78) for the most expensive ticket and my seat was in the second row.

The concert was part of a series called "The Joy of Music Festival 2010" presented by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong. Its biggest patron is Lady Muriel Kadoorie, an amateur pianist and music lover. She has helped subsidize most of the concerts and masterclasses which is fantastic for classical music fans in the city.

Some of the performers have offered their experience and expertise in masterclasses for aspiring musicians which, according to Dr Andrew Fereris, chairman of the Chopin Society, has become popular not only here, but also the mainland, where students and their teachers come here to attend these classes to learn more musical tips and techniques.

I got a ticket for tonight's concert because of Gary Graffman, who is best known for playing the piano with his left hand. I saw him last year in Beijing and really enjoyed listening to him.

This time the concert featured the London Chamber Orchestra Chamber Group, along with Graffman and another pianist, Peter Frankl.

The LCO string quartet is a group of young musicians who play very well together and with others.

The first piece was Franz Schubert's String Quartet, No. 10 in E flat, D 87 and it was pretty straight forward until the third movement that things really got moving in terms of energy. It's interesting to note that Schubert was only 31 when he died of syphilis and typhus, but in that short life span he left behind some one thousand pieces, including his first quartet at 13 years of age.

Afterwards Graffman came into the mix; the concert wasn't very formal so most of the string musicians wore black or dark shirts and pants, while Graffman wore a black shirt, but also a black almost casual jacket on top, like the ones senior Chinese leaders wear.

With him, the group minus the viola player performed Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Suite for piano and strings, Op. 23. Korngold was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, a famous Viennese pianist who had to have his right arm amputated from World War I. This piece of music had five movements, and things got really exciting towards the end in the last two movements. Graffman periodically looked over to the quartet to make sure they were all in time and did his own thing at the piano, even turning his own pages with the lick of his finger.

And like before, it sounded like Graffman had two hands playing the keys instead of one, thanks to lots of pedaling and excellent finger work. The audience clapped appreciatively and made the four come out on stage three times for bows.

During the intermission, Graffman came out, with a satchel slung across his shoulder, and talked to Michael Kadoorie and his wife Betty in the seating area. Graffman looked like he was on his way out; people wanted to take pictures with the man who is Lang Lang's teacher, but were not allowed. Sometimes members have their privileges.

Pianist Peter Frankl
The final piece of the evening was Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44. The viola player returned to the stage along with pianist Frankl. He was also casually dressed in a shiny black shirt that was left untucked.

And what made me enjoy this music so much was not only because it was upbeat and written for Schumann's wife Clara, but just the fact that Frankl looked completely at ease and enjoyed himself in the performance, which really, is what music is all about. He constantly looked over to the string quartet with a smile to make sure they were all playing together as well as concentrating on his own parts.

In the last movement the four string players seem to repeat the theme over and over like a round, almost something that Bach would have written, and accompanied by the piano. In the end this group came out four times on stage to receive the warm applause and shouts from the appreciative audience.

What a pity there was no encore.

While most of the applause was for Frankl and Graffman, the LCO Chamber Group were probably just as thrilled to be playing with such greats, getting their own masterclass on stage.

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