Saturday, October 29, 2011

Belle Epoque Shanghaied - 8 to 10 December 2011

The famous operetta group Belle Epoque just announced their third and most ambitious project yet: Belle Epoque Shanghaied 

Belle Epoque Shanghaied

Esplanade Recital Studio from 8 to 10 December (Thurs/Fri 8pm; Sat 3pm and 8pm)

Belle Epoque Shanghaied is a nice example of artistic integration: the cast is from Italy, Australia, USA, New Zealand and Singapore; the story line brings us from Paris to Shanghai in the late 1910s; the music offers a beautiful repertoire selected from the best operetta tradition (sung in English, German, French and Mandarin).

Follow our French “Coquette”, and her Marquis,on their journey to the mystical Orient.

An operetta of intrigue, passion and frivolity at the turn of 20th century, where the notes from the great masters such as Jacques Offenbach,Franz Lehar, Johann Strauss II and many others will lead the audience through a musical experience!

More information of the Events Page.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TSO Aida - 23 and 25 October 2011

This is probably the craziest thing I've ever done: agreeing to join the chorus of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra and Teatro dell'Opera di Roma's co-production of Aida with only 18 days to curtain up, which among other things entailed memorising the entire score within this time (and you know how much Verdi loved his choruses). I literally had to put everything in my life on the shelf as I attended nightly rehearsals on the weekdays and whole-day rehearsals on the weekend. By then the production has moved on to staging so its up to me to work on the music on my own in between practices. Sounds like a huge rush, but then if Maria Callas can learn I Puritani in 2 weeks while singing La Valkyria, then so can I do the same with Aida.

The production was riddled with problems from day one: the Italian production team and local administrators were beset with differences from cultural, artistic and administrative standpoints, which made the already daunting task seem even more difficult.

Unbelievably, this is only my first time taking part in a full opera production. It really is quite a jump forward from the recitals (solo or choral) that I usually do, with staging and some really bulky costumes to consider. But then these things give the music so much more meaning that you can't help but sing better because of it.

Chorus Boys

This production stars Isabella Kabatu as Aida, Rossana Rinaldi as Amneris, Mario Malagnini as Radames (replacing Salvatore Licitra), Giacomo Prestia as Ramfis and most impressive of all in terms of star power, Juan Pons as Amonasro. While the other personalities are not quite big-name draws, they are top-drawer singers at top houses like La Scala, working with folks like Baranboim, Abaddo and Muti.

Rossana Rinaldi

Isabella Kabatu in plainclothes, which already makes her look like Aida.

Mario Malagnini

If there's one thing I learnt about top-flight international singers, its that they don't like to rehearse much. These singers only arrived a few days before showtime, and hardly sang a high note during rehearsals. So to accompany us during the rehearsal process, management has engaged the services of Emilio Marcucci, Elena and Daniella, three professional singers in less starry houses, to be understudies (a classmate was engaged at the last-minute to understudy Radames). Having inside connections to the understudy cast was great, and the small bunch of us would go for late-night dinners after rehearsals, where we got to discuss how the opera industry worked in Europe among other things. Emilio was especially kind and offered to give us free coaching lessons, simply because he had nothing to do in the day (I of course skipped every class and told him that I'm free whenever he is).  The two of us even organised a masterclass for him and became a kind of entourage around him.

Second from left: Emilio Marcucci, fourth from left: Juan Pons, third from right: Giacomo Prestia, bent over lady: Rossana Rinaldi

With Elena (right) and Daniella (left)

And then came the production itself, three nights of rehearsals and two performances at the Taipei Arena, performing to an audience of 16,000 in total. I was quite astonished that I managed to learn all of the words and music (even though I admit to the occasional memory slip, but I was at least competent enough to recover quickly, got my entrances correct, sung with the required dynamics most of the time and the had confident to go full-throttle when required). So it was quite a surreal experience, with much hard work put in and rewards gained. Right now I'm just thankful to resume my regular life, and will probably look back at this experience with great satisfaction.

See the rest of my photos on my Facebook Page:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stylus Phantasticus Und Liedvariationen Bis Bach - a Review

Bach, J S: Chorale Partita BWV767 'O Gott, du frommer Gott'
Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C major, BWV564

Böhm, G: Partita 'Jesu, du bist allzu schöne'
Präludium und Fuge in G major

Bruhns: Prelude and Fugue in G major

Buxtehude: Toccata in D minor, BuxWV155

Sweelinck: Mein junges Leben hat ein End - variations, Almande Gratie, SwWV318/N7 'More Palatino'

Gerhard Gnann - Organ

When I received this CD for reviewing, I thought "wouldn't it be a good idea to pass it on to a piano and organ classmate who would know this music much better than a dumb singer?" Caveat of course is that the article would have to be written in Chinese and then I would have to translate it, but then its a good opportunity for this blog to expand to a different language market. So here's my translation of Thilo Liu's (劉仁翔) virgin reviewing attempt, followed by the original:


The organ is often termed the King of Instruments, possessing earth-shattering power and the most direct musical connection. Numerous composers in the Baroque era have written for this instrument, often in praise of religion. The most well-known of these composers is of course Johann Sabestian Bach. This release from record label Audite, entitled Stylus phantasticus und Liedvariationen bis Bach, contains not only pieces by the master but also those of many lesser-known contemporaries.

These pieces are performed by organist Gerhard Gnann. Compared to the piano, another popular keyboard instrument, the organ requires much more complicated playing, including fast legwork and a different touch for the fingers. Gnann maneuvers the instrument with amazing ease, bringing out nuances and subtleties that bring out the beauty of baroque music, his treatment of contrapunctual lines and harmonies feel just right and never overdone nor sacrificed for showmanship, but with more than sufficient technique to meet this music's strict requirements. This CD is a compilation of baroque music worth having in your collection.

管風琴,人稱樂器之王,有著震撼的力量,是最直接的音樂感受,在巴洛克時期有許多的作曲家為他寫了許多作品,也藉此來對宗教的讚美。其中最有名的就屬塞巴斯金˙巴哈的作品最為人知。在這張由Audite所出版的管風琴作品,Stylus phantasticus und Liedvariationen bis Bach,除了收錄音樂之父巴哈的管風琴作品之外,也非常罕見的收錄了同時期巴洛克時期較鮮為人知的管風琴作品。

此張專輯由管風琴演奏家Gerhard Gnann所演奏,同樣與鋼琴是一樣鍵盤樂器的管風琴,在演奏上更是多出了許困難的技巧,如對踏板的掌控,還有觸鍵上。都是。但Gerhard卻能如此輕易的駕馭這樂器之王,演奏出細緻而美妙的巴洛克音樂,對於音樂的層次分析,還有對於當時嚴謹的和聲所做得詮釋,以及音樂與空間之間的掌握,都是恰如期分,將巴洛克時期的嚴謹表達出最極致。是張值得收藏的巴洛克古典專輯。

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Auditions for SSO President’s Young Performers Concert 2012

The SSO are holding auditions for the 2012 edition of the prestigious President's Young Performers Concert. Singers need not apply, but do spread the word if you know someone who fits the criteria.

Auditions for SSO President’s Young Performers Concert 2012

Wednesday 12 October 2011, SINGAPORE – The Singapore Symphony Orchestra is holding an audition in search of young talented musicians for its 2012 President's Young Performers Concert. Singaporean string, woodwind, brass, percussion and conducting musicians are invited to apply.

Successful musicians will win an opportunity to perform as soloist in a concerto with the national orchestra in the President’s Young Performers Concert in July 2012, which will be graced by the President of the Republic of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan.

Applicants should be Singapore Citizens, and no more than 35 years of age on 1 July 2012. They are invited to send in, by 30 November 2011, a brief biography stating their name, age and musical background, contact details as well as a non-returnable DVD recording of their performance of one movement of a concerto to the following address:

President's Young Performers Concert Auditions
c/o Singapore Symphony Orchestra Programming Department
4 Battery Road #20-01
Bank of China Building, Singapore 049908

Shortlisted applicants will be notified in December for a live audition to perform a complete concerto which will take place in January/February 2012. Applicants should arrange for their own pianists to play the orchestral part during the live audition.

We regret we are unable to entertain personal inquiries pertaining to the status of individual applications.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In a shocking twist, the fabulous mezzo Yang Jie has cancelled her return to Singapore to sing with the SSO. Here's an excerpt from their press release:

Mahler’s Seventh update: Mezzo-soprano Yang Jie is indisposed and unable to sing with the SSO on Oct 21

Friday 7 October 2011, SINGAPORE – Mezzo-soprano Yang Jie, who is indisposed, will not perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the Esplanade Concert Hall on October 21. She was originally supposed to join the SSO for Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer.

The evening’s programme will feature Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E minor, a work the SSO will perform at the Beijing Music Festival later this month.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

PsalmiDeo's "Behind the Scenes" in Review

A Review by Hawk Liu

I just came back from the wonderful concert by PsalmiDeo Chorale which sang songs from the movies, both American and Tagalog ones. After a slightly harmonically-shaky first few bars in the first number, the choir went from strength to strength. Much of the harmonies were tight and the singers were certainly able, notwithstanding the occasional off-harmony bits. The women had really good voices all round. When the sopranos or the altos were singing solo sections, one can really hear the good quality of the voices. The tenors blended well together too. I wish I could hear more of the basses but i suspected that's because the majority of them were facing the opposite wing rather than the audience. A few soloists were featured in some of the songs and I must applaud them for doing so without any miking. However, their voices could certainly stand out better if they had stood further downstage, away from the main body of the choir (though I was aware that they might have had to stay within the 'shell' of the stage for the acoustics to work for them). Oh yes, I enjoyed everyone of the soloists.

The musical numbers were interspersed with succint narration and visuals were aptly displayed on the overhead projection and that the presentation interest too. On the technical side, I did wish the stage didn't go into complete darkness between numbers because the choir would look good in the light even during in-between numbers.

The Tagalog numbers were a welcome as even though they are unfamiliar to Singaporeans I am sure the majority Filipino crowd were pleased. There was an all round good feeling during the entire concert with big smiles on stage and the crowd giving encouraging cats calls now and again. The choir showed they were game to put in some 'physical' fun during some numbers, such as the 'walking cymbal' noises made by some of the singers. I wish there was a bit more choreography on stage - maybe I am spoilt by watching many choral ensembles on YouTube that came with strong choreography. The musical highlight for me was the last number - Circle of Life from The Lion King. The men were making lots of jungle noises and it did sound like being in the jungle. Very rousing indeed! Filipinos can really sing and entertain!

Time Out Singapore Classical Features

So like I requested for a short chat with Vladimir Ashkenazy for Time Out Singapore's October issue, to discuss his coming concert in Singapore as well as his participation as head of jury in the Hong Kong International Competition. unfortunately the maestro only had time to answer questions on email which only came in after my article was submitted. Rather than letting these gems go to waste, I thought I'd publish them here for those who care. You're welcome!

Dear Maestro Ashkenazy,

Thank you for your time, I have only three short questions for you:

The Mad Scene: You said that there are too many competitions these days, which devalues the significance of winning one compared to your time (in this video: What role do you see the Hong Kong competition play in such a competitive environment? Where does it stand among the many competitions that are also taking place these days?

Ashkenazy: One has to balance out the likelihood that too many competitions will in fact "devalue" the significance of winning versus the likelihood that in some of these competitions we will discover a true talent.So although, sadly, I stand by my view equally I can not deny this chance of hidden talents discovered.

The case of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition and my involvement in it is rather special. I had met the organizers of the competition, Andrew and Anabella Freris a few years back in a social occasion. They, very charmingly, asked me to be the chairman of the competition they were planning to launch and I, as I was certain that nothing would come out of this, equally charmingly, accepted so as not to be rude to these kind people. Little did I know that "unfortunately" they did get the competition off the ground and I could not go back on my word. So it was a matter of charm from both sides, from the organizers and from myself combined with luck, which led to my chairmanship.

I must state that I am only involved in two competitions, the Svetlanov International Conducting Competition and the Hong Kong International Piano Competition. So I stick to my view of limiting my involvement with competitions and also now I am extra careful what I say or promise to charming music-loving couples....!

The Mad Scene: What do you hope that this competition will do for the winners?

Ashkenazy: Help launch their careers in an incredibly competitive environment packed with very talented young ( and not-so-young ...) musicians all vying for the limited opportunities to play-let alone making a living as performing pianists and musicians.

I will repeat here what is often said, that winning the first prize in an important competition helps the career but is no guarantee of success, but it is also true that not winning a prize in a competition has not stopped several pianist from becoming famous.

The Mad Scene: You will also be conducting Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony in Singapore, what is it about this piece of music that speaks out to you?

Ashkenazy: It is the tragedy and the struggle of a brave and intelligent man against fate. The first movement, in a way, says it all. All efforts and struggle were ultimately in vain and unsuccessful.

Read the full feature on Time Out Singapore here:

Also as an experiment of sorts, my October feature touches on locally-based classical artists who have put out CDs for sale. Unfortunately I wasn't able to use all the quotes they have provided in interviews for the article due to space restraints, so my apologies to the artists involved. Check out what remains and also the links to where you can buy their respective albums.

On the Road (很久沒有敬我了你)aka My First Concert in a Typhoon

Tonight marked a new first for me: watching an outdoor performance while enduring the relentless rain and gale of a typhoon, something that I've only fantasised about while watching Caballe sing Norma.

Nonetheless, the discomfort of enduring the elements and potential of illness was totally worth it as it was truly a show worth remembering. On the Road (很久沒有敬我了你)is an original musical commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra, featuring members of the aboriginal Nanwan Tribe performing their ritual songs to the orchestra's accompaniment.

Having sold-out and received rave reviews in its initial run in 2010, On the Road is the brain-child of associate conductor Chien Wen-Pin, one of the nation's best who has clocked time at the Deutsche Oper am Rhien before taking on the country's orchestra's principal conductor position from 2001 to 2007. The term 'musical' for the show is used loosely here: its more accurately described as a multimedia concert extravaganza interspersed with clips from a movie, which tells the story of a young conductor, upon returning from a career in Vienna, sets out to discover the music of his native land in order to bring said natives to Taipei for a performance at the National Concert Hall.

Which makes this truly a case of art imitating life imitating art. After each clip a character from the screen appears onstage and greets the audience with a song, further blurring the lines between actor and character, fact and fiction. The orchestra's lush harmonies and the aboriginal performers' power-packed mountain wailing blending together amazingly well to intoxicating effect; the strobe lights, colourful costumes, jokes and pyrotechnics added further glitz to an emotion-packed evening. So delighted was the audience that at the encores we simultaneously broke out into rounds of aboriginal folk dancing. With no shortage of soul, virtuosity, presentation frills, this is definitely one of the best performances I've attended in  many years of reviewing shows. And best of all, its FREE!