Friday, 14 April 2017

Symphonic Rhapsody

A quick panoramic shot of the stage before the concert

Just got back from a fantastic concert by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Ning Feng.

My friend YTSL is a big fan of his and bought our tickets two months ago. Turns out they were for the front row!

What's interesting is that these tickets were not the most expensive ones, probably because the sound seems to go over your head, though we sat right by the cellists and got a good dose of their warm sound, but we couldn't see beyond the string section.

Nevertheless it's a good place to be when you want to watch one of your favourite musicians as close as possible.

Ning Feng is always a crowd pleaser in Hong Kong
The concert started with a commissioned work by Fung Lam called Quintessence that was sponsored by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Quintessence refers to the fifth and highest essence after the four elements of earth, air, fire and water.

The 10-minute piece was lively with bursts of energy here and there. In one section, the violinists repeated a phrase one after another, literally making the sound carry back like ripples in the water.

Next was the main event. YTSL has watched Ning six times, this was my third. We both observed he had lost some weight but none of his finesse. He performed Bela Bartok's Violin Concerto no. 2 with gusto.

He had the music in front of him, so perhaps it wasn't a showcase piece for him, but it didn't matter. We were swayed by his energy, and when he finished, he seemed to be wiped out.

But he was energized again by the appreciative audience who wouldn't stop clapping. Eventually he performed an encore -- JS Bach's Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Major - Largo. Here he played with no music, his eyes closed, his eyebrows constantly moving up and down expressively.

Meanwhile his playing was just exquisite, so quiet and yet every note was clear (or maybe because we were in the front row!).

Here's a sample of what he played, though here it's performed by Hilary Hahn:

We clapped loudly again, but sadly no second encore.

After the intermission, we settled in for the 45-minute Symphony no. 1 in C minor, op. 68 by Johannes Brahms.

HKPO's musical director Jaap van Zweden
It's interesting that the program notes say Brahms worked on this piece and then revised it again within a 10-year period. He apparently kept reworking his music and so it's not surprising this piece sounded like everything was well thought out with a rich, full sound.

By the end we were all swept up into the climax and couldn't help but clap loudly with a few shouts from the audience for the orchestra's music director Jaap van Zweden, who will be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2018.

Fung Lam, Quintessence
Bela Bartok, Violin Concerto no. 2
Johannes Brahms, Symphony no. 1 in C minor, op. 68


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