Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It was a good thing I left work early otherwise I would not have made it on time after all the hassles I went through.
While there is a direct exit (Exit C) from Tiananmen West station to the NCPA, that didn't make life easier with the intense security checks that are even stricter than the ones at the airport.
No other performance venue that I've been to in Beijing is as stringent as the one at the NCPA.
Forget about bringing water bottles and cameras -- the X-ray machines immediately picks it up and the staff make you go to the check-in counter. But wait -- you have to screen your things AGAIN before being able to line up at the coat check-in.
After you get your coat-check tag, you have to go through the first security check point AGAIN, which means being screened three times. Is that really necessary? We're going to a classical music concert, not a National Rifle Association meeting.
Then after that stressful process was over, audience members had to rush to the end of the hall and go up one floor to the concert hall before finding their seat. In the end I managed to have five minutes to spare, but not without arriving flustered and frustrated. But thankfully the concert put me to ease.
Ma was accompanied by pianist Kathryn Scott. He was dressed in a sharp suit and snazzy shiny black shoes, Scott in a sleeveless black dress.
They played a pleasant and varied program that they eased into with Schubert's Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D.821.
Things got more lively with Shostakovich's Sonata in D Minor, Op. 40. But a really memorable piece was the sexy Piazzola Le Grand Tango, both of them moving their shoulders to the music as if they imagined dancing in their seats.
An intermission of 15 minutes was barely enough time for most to get to the washroom or even get a drink. There was a massive line at the refreshment counter which shows management's lack of foresight in helping people get drinks especially when people can't bring their own. They're willing to pay for a drink, so why not service them? There were so many staff at security, but not enough to sell drinks. Go figure.
Afterwards, Ma and Scott performed Gismondi/Carneiro's Bodao de prata and Quatro Canto, and finally Frank's Sonata in A Major for violin and piano.
Scott and Ma play very well together; Scott is technically great and a good accompanist who knows everyone's there to see Ma, but she holds her own. Ma, 55, is a very relaxed performer. Unlike Lang Lang, who is like a spring held back and unleases fantastic energy, Ma is an old hand who doesn't feel the need to impress anyone except invite the audience to enjoy the music he's making.
At the end of the performance, the audience shouted in appreciation, which is quite unusual in China, as most are conservative. But here they were energetic and happy. Ma was too, doing two encores with Scott.
With US President Barack Obama in town, I was kind of hoping he'd crash the concert, but it didn't happen.
Nevertheless, we were all thrilled to watch Ma perform, except perhaps the Chinese man about the same age as Ma sitting in front of me who decided playing with his cellphone was more interesting than listening to exquisite music...