Sunday, April 25, 2010

10 Years of Music

The China Philharmonic Orchestra is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and is marking the occasion with three concerts, the first of which was tonight at the Poly Theater.

And Lang Lang was invited to perform, which resulted in sold-out tickets, and a practically full house complete with video cameras recording the event for CCTV.

I managed to get a great seat -- four rows from the stage, on the left side.

Audiences can be notorious about sitting in seats that aren't theirs and as I sat there waiting for the concert to start, a girl accused me of sitting in the wrong seat and so I moved out, only to realize I was sitting in the right place all along and pointed this out to her. She didn't even apologize for the misplaced accusation, but I wasn't about to let that bother me too much.

Conductor Yu Long has returned for the concert too, as he is now based in Shanghai. He looked the same, with the slick back hair, rotund figure filling out a tuxedo with tails.

The program began with Tchaikovsky's Polonaise, a rousing and energetic performance with plenty of percussion and playfulness.

Then the grand piano was rolled out and so did Lang Lang, resplendent in a shiny charcoal suit with a dark shirt that had a shiny detail on the front. He continues to have a spiky hairdo and appearing gracious in front of the adoring audience.

Before he began, the composer of Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 came out. The bald man in his 50s surnamed Chen was dressed in what looked like a leather Chinese jacket and pants. He quickly explained that he was the composer of the Olympics song You and Me to which he received warm applause.

He then said that he had spent some 30 years in France, and 20 in China and while he was thrilled the young Lang Lang was playing his piece that debuted in New York's Carnegie Hall in February, he wasn't sure if the pianist was ready to bare his soul for music. However, he was pleasantly surprised that the artist has matured and understands his work.

And as it was the 10th anniversary, he expressed his honour at his work being chosen for this event and hoped that the audience would enjoy it.

This was the first time I saw Lang relying on the music to perform, but it didn't hinder him in any way. It started off sounding Japanesey, similar to the soundtrack to Lost in Translation, with light background sound that was very reflective and restrained that eventually crescendoed into a dramatic climax and then like a wave eventually receded into the distance. It was like soundtrack music that was very contemporary and yet with strong Asian touches.

When the performance was over, Yu and Lang called the composer to come back onto the stage and finally after several rounds of applause, Lang returned to the piano and gave an encore of Bach's Precipitato from Sonata No. 7 in B flat Major. I'm actually quite familiar with this piece, as it is one that Canadian pianist Glenn Gould had recorded. Lang broke loose, playing it with his signature dramatic flourishes which of course scored him even more points from the appreciative crowd.

After a 15-minutes intermission, the last piece, again Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 was performed. It required a full orchestra again, complete with percussion and was also full of energy and towards the end, the entire orchestra was silent save for a violinist, viola player and cellist, which gradually added the rest of the orchestra for an exciting finish.

There was lots of kudos for Yu, who has pretty much made the China Philharmonic what it is today. Not only his musical knowledge, but also his passion have led the orchestra to perform some interesting pieces and even taking the group to Rome to perform for the Pope.

Lang is obviously the next generation's musical leader and hopefully he will also inspire others to develop China's music scene and especially nurture its own musicians and composers to give a voice to the country today.

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