Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Chamber Music a la Mozart

Last night I attended a concert put on by The 4th Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival 2013 at the Academy for Performing Arts in Wan Chai.

It's a nice intimate space, though a pity more people didn't attend, so it wasn't very full.

Chamber music is written for a small group of instruments that was traditionally played in a small room or chamber, usually in someone's home.

Nowadays we watch these performances in concert halls, but unlike full orchestras, the sound from chamber music is just as amazing but on a different level.

The concert last night was entitled "Mozart: A Family Portrait", and in his opening remarks, the festival's artistic director Lin Cho-liang said he originally wanted to choose a piece written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's father, but then felt perhaps it would be better to feature one by Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, his grandson.

FX Mozart was born five months before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died, and later learned music from Antonio Salieri. This fact, pointed out by Lin, quashes Amadeus the movie's premise that Salieri wanted to murder Mozart, because why would he then teach Mozart's son?

In any event FX Mozart's piece, Grande Sonate for Violin and Piano in E Major, Op. 19 was performed by the well-known violinist Ning Feng and accompanied by Chen Sa.

My friend YTSL was very keen to watch this concert particularly for Ning performance and we waited eagerly to see what he'd play, as he is so deft with the instrument.

However, we saw no "pyrotechnics" as YTSL said disappointed afterwards, because the piece was actually quite slow and easy for Ning to play.

We speculated that perhaps Ning has such a busy touring schedule, and since performing in this festival maybe a kind of charitable gesture to Lin, Ning was not asked to do too much and play whatever he wants.

Nevertheless, the concert improved significantly with the next piece, Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, KV 448. Taiwanese pianist Wang Pei-yao walked out in a white halter top and pants, and Russian Denis Kozhukhin tied his hair back in a pony tail. He sat at the piano closest to us and whipped out his iPad, where his sheet music was, whereas Wang had the music book and a page turner.

The piece is delightful, lively and playful and both pianists had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the music. While Kozhukhin didn't have a page turner, he apparently pointed his finger at the top left of the iPad screen to flip the page... I say apparently because I didn't see him flip every page. It was like magic!

YTSL said this isn't the first time she's seen musicians using iPads for sheet music, but it was very interesting for me to see. I wonder if this will catch on with other musicians and become the standard?

However some musicians may prefer to have their own personal markings and hence the need for paper and pencil. We shall see if more musicians prefer this way of using music.

After a 20-minute interval, we were treated to a second half that tried to have the same momentum as the two piano performance, but didn't quite meet the mark.

We enjoyed the Mozart Oboe Quartet, K 370 that was enlightening and fun. Oboist Huang Zheng was fantastic in providing a strong "vocal" performance with the cellist, violinist and viola player accompanying him.

The final piece, Mozart's String Quintet in G Minor, K 516 started slow and sombre, but in the middle of the fourth movement, the tone made a 180-degree turn and ended on a happy note.

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