Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Many Faces of Chopin

I just got back from the Mei Lan Fang Grand Theater at Chegongzhuang subway station on the west side of town, where there was a concert called "Different Faces of Chopin".

There are celebrations around the world this year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth. Beijing has already held several concerts, but this one was definitely heads and shoulders above the others in terms of creativity.

I'd read about it in the Time Out magazine and wasn't able to get tickets online so I just showed up at the venue a few minutes beforehand. There were many scalpers on hand wanting to get rid of tickets.

"You don't want to go?" I asked one as I bought his ticket off him for face value.

"Oh I have some other things to attend to," he said, constantly looking around to make sure no one was watching our transaction, though it was very obvious.

The theater is a large glass modern structure, but inside it has fancy chandeliers and a bright red wall featuring wood inlaid with gold of scenes from Peking Opera. The staff are courteous and showed me straight to my seat on the mezzanine level, a giant comfy red leather chair in the front row of a box area.

The event began with speeches from the Chinese and Polish ministers of Culture, with their speeches translated into English and Chinese.

Then on three screens there were projections of Chopin's portrait, with his music on top as a pianist played one of the Polish composer's pieces.

He was then joined by the vocal group Camerata Silesia, 22 members who sing Chopin's works in a capella. Again the screens behind them featured traditional drawings or paintings, and even photographs with modern graphics drawn or moving on top to create a visual as well as audio concert.

They were very lively and sang very well, though not singing words per se, but making it very accessible to everyone.

After performing a number of songs, they left the stage and then the Andrzej Jagodzinski Jazz Trio came on. Jagodzinski was at the piano, along with a bass player and a guy on the drums. They also did their own jazz take on Chopin, performing about four pieces; at times their music didn't seem classical at all, and made Chopin very modern.

The trio exited the stage at the same time the Polish Ensemble came on and performed mostly folk music to demonstrate Chopin's rustic roots, especially in his mazurkas. At some points, two dancers in traditional costume danced on the stage to add to the visual feast.

It was at this period in the program that the graphics started getting slightly childish, with line drawings of a face, a fish, a flower, a sun, a person, and a house superimposed on pictures of delicate lace. I wondered what the Chinese audience thought of this, if they had the impression it wasn't a very polished artistic presentation...

Nevertheless, in the end, all the performers came on stage and performed one last piece together which got a warm round of applause. However, I can't understand why the middle-aged couple sitting right behind me had to talk all the way through the concert. If you need to talk about something, go outside! There were also numerous camera flashes going off too...

Regardless, it was a memorable concert not just for the multimedia presentation, but also the interesting interpretations of Chopin's pieces. By giving his music a modern twist, Chopin becomes more relevant today and in the future.

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