Lunchtime Concert at ACM

Today’s Piano Performance at the Asian Civilisation Museum is a collaborative effort with the Yong Siew Toh Censevatory of Music (YSTCM) at the National University of Singapore.


The programme consists of pieces the students have recently performed at their evening concerts at the Conservatory Concert Hall or masterslasses which I have had to miss because of prior commitments.

A total of ten pieces were performed today:

Johann Sebastian Bach (German, 1685-1750) – Prelude and Fugue in F Major, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, BWV 852

This was performed by a Year I student, and I enjoyed watching his fingers running over the keyboard and how the two hands took turns in voicing the subjects. The sustaining notes were done so effectively that it sounded as though the sustaining pedal was expertly employed even when there was no pedalling. (I watched!)

Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1782-1809) – Sonata in A-flat Major, Hob. XVI:43 (I. Moderato)

The young lady who played this achieved such soothing and velvety effect that at one point I though: I would have been lulled to wonderful slumberland if not for the dexterous fingerwork.

Adolf von Henselt (German, 1814-1889) – “If I Were a Bird” from 12 Etudes Caracteristiques de Concert

It was the first time I heard this piece and I loved its singing melody amidst great fluidity. There was clever use of both pedals too.

Robert Muczynski (Polish-American, 1929-2010) – Toccata, opus 15

This was the only piece today that I didn’t take to because it had a sense of nouvelle vague. I was really in awe of the pencil-thin pianist, though, because of the fieriness exuded.

Theodore Lechetizky (Polish, 1830-1915) – “The Two Larks”, impromptu, opus 2, No 1

This piece is absolutely sweet, melodious and heavenly; and the pianist brought a good balance to the singing voice and answering call of the larks throughout. (I am reminded that I’ve not played a similarly titled piece for a long time; and I shall do so soon.)

Dmitry Kabalevsky (Russian, 1904-1987) – Sonata No 3 in F Major, opus 46 (I. Allegro con moto)

A piece that is almost impossible for an amateur pianist to play, this Year 2 student played it as though she could have done it in her sleep! What wouldn’t I give to possess the ability to express the range of dynamics that she displayed!

Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1732-1809) – Sonata in E-flar Major, Hob. XVI-52 (I. Allegro)

A very popular piece that I’ve played, the first chord immediately struck me that this pianist is blessed with the rare attibutes of a K-pop idol and a a classical music maestro. The crisp notes, the precision in his execution behind each note, the fingerwork throughout is so awesome it is beyond what I can describe.

Frederic Chopin (Polish, 1810-1849) – Ballade No 3 in A-flat Major, opus 47

This sweet young lady is obviously unfazed by the demands of performing the piece well in spite of the sudden horrendous blasting of heavy metal music outside the museum, although I must say I still much prefer what I hear on Lang Lang’s CD. I look forward to seeing this Year 2 student in the next Conservatory Concerto Competition.

Ludwig van Beethoven (German, 1779-1827) – Piano Sonata No 30 in E Major, opus 109 (I. Vivace ma non troppo, Adagio espressivo II. Prestissimo)

I have attempted to play this several times, and was never ever able ro proceed beyond the first page, thus I was really impressed and admiring of this Year 4 student whose fingerwork was effortless and whose coordination between the hands and whose stamina must be lauded! Besides the technical prowess, there was also a quality that brought out smiles and delight to the audience.

Franz Liszt (Hungarian, 1811-1886), Charles Gounod (French, 1818-1893) – Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, transcribed by Liszt

As in most performances, the best is kept for the last. This piece was performed at Stephen Hough’s Piano Masterclass held at the YSTCM yesterday afternoon, so I’m sure today’s playing would be markedly improved although I wasn’t able to attend yesterday’s session. I waited with abated breath for the performance to start, and I wasn’t disappointed. I became totally immersed from the moment the opening chord was struck. Knowing that I would not be able to manage the rapid, cascading running passages (including six glississando) with my arthritic hands, I nevertheless resolve to look up the music score the next time I visit library@esplanade so that I can attempt to play the Cantabile section, instead of just contenting myself with the abridged version that I’ve been playing. This is another pianist to look out for in the next Consevatory Concerto Competition.

Today’s performance of all classical pieces by the YSTCM students was the first that I’d attended in many months; I look forward to their jazz performance next month!



An Afternoon’s Delight

I spent a delightful afternoon at a private, mini piano performance by Singapore pianist Victor Khor, thanks to a friend’s invitation. There were only about half a dozen of us, including a pre-schooler.

Victor started with Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 2. He first performed it on a Yamaha Upright U1PE, then on another upright YUS5 PE and finally on the baby grand CIX PE. All models are available in Silent Piano. Victor then proeceeded to explain the features of each piano.

As neither I nor anyone else have further questions, Victor continued to perform a few other pieces to demonstrate the quality of the pianos he played on. This is the part I enjoyed best, and each piece is more interesting than the previous one:

  • Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me (the special arrangement by international pianist Stephen Hough and Victor’s longtime friend, and dedicated to Victor in 2011, and published in a collection called ‘Tributes’);
  • Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence;
  • Albeniz’s Tango in D.

Victor also invited the audience to play a duet with him, and only two youths took up the offer. It would have been quite an experience to play with a concert pianist, but neither my friend nor I was confident enough to do that.

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend a blistering afternoon – a cool, cosy, intimate venue with lovely music from a great performer!

Piano Recital : Clarence Lee

Last Wednesday’s Masters’ Recital at the Concert Hall of the Yong Siew Toh Consevatory of Music, National University of Singapore by Clarence Lee could well be the last time he performed for free, so I made sure I attended, despite feeling a bit under the weather.

I was really glad that I did. The four pieces he played truly showcased Lee’s mastery and proficiency:

(1) Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849) : Ballade No 4 in F Minor, Op 52

Despite this being the most complex, difficult and profound of the set of four ballades. Lee was clearly in ecstasy. The piece is in variation form, and each time the main melody returns, in whatever way it is decorated, the sounds were pristine and crystal clear. The use of pedalling was skillful and rubato was subtle yet effective. I admire Lee’s ability to portray the epic piece as something deceptively easy. Fiery passages are Lee’s forte and the audience were swept up by the passion and emotion towards the climax and the calm after the storm.

(2) Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) : Estampes

I Pagodes

This pentatonic sounding movement was played with a gentle touch. The left hand notes were striking against the shimmering sparkles of the right hand.The musical colours and textures were magnificent.

II La Soiree dans Grenade

Both the steady Habanera rhythm and melody in the left hand against the melody in the right hand were clear and strong. I enjoyed watching Lee’s adept juxtaposition of both hands while he was clearly enjoying himself playing it!

III Jardins sous la plule

It was again amazing to see Lee’s seemingly tireless fingers up close throughout, whether he was playing cross-hands or producing a harp-like cascading effect with one hand while the other hand sang the main melodies.

(3) Franz Liszt : Transcendental Etude No 8 in C Minor “Wilde Jagd”

Here is another piece that truly displayed Lee’s mastery of the piano. He was able to create maximum effect with seemingly minimum effort. I was enthralled the moment the first note was struck. There was excitement galore in tonight’s performance. From the thundering octaves to the ‘over the top’ emotional outpour and the technical challenges including octaves and chord leaps spanning two to three apart and yet being able to sustain a cantabile legato melody over a detached and light left hand accompaniment, Lee again exemplified the consummate pianist of great stamina and worthy of the international stage.

(4) Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) : Fantasie in C major, Op 15 “Wandererfantasie”

Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo

II Adagio

III Presto

      IV Allegro

Regarded as one of the mose difficult pieces for solo piano, this fantasy is in four parts, with each section linked together without break. Each time the well-loved motif (made up of the first eleven notes of the melody) reappeared, it was played in a fresh and contrasting style (for esample, simply majestic or wonderfully melodious). The quiet moments were haunting while the fast passages were bursting with boundless energy.

Overall, Lee gave an impressive performance. The thunderous applause from the appreciative audience was testimony of a great pianist in the making, one who may one day put Singapore on the world map, like Lang Lang did China.

Piano Performance : Joja Wendt

I was one of the thirty or so fortunate people to be invited to this performance by Steinway Artist, Joja Wendt at the Steinway Gallery at Palais Renassance. He is my favourite German jazz pianist and I’ve attended three of his previous concerts in Singapore. His ‘mission’ tonight was to introduce to us the new SPIRIO model; but the bigger treat for the audience was his consummate playing!

Joja Wendt began with Rachmaninoff’s’ Prelude in C sharp minor, Op 3 No 2. It was several bars before I recognised it, for he had not played it as it was written. He had played it in his own style – with lots of jazzy elements and improvisations. He apparently loved playing the piano, but maybe because this was the opening piece and he did not know how receptive the audience would be, he could have been a bit jittery and missed a note or two but managed to camouflage it well. I might not have realised it and thought it was part or his improvisation had I not been sitting practically next to the piano and saw him grinning sheepishly.

It was only after the piece that he spoke to the audience. Naturally, he was pleased at the warm reception and found out that many of us have been to his concerts before. He then went on to relegate a childhood experience of how he was ‘tricked’ by his sister to play the piano at double the normal speed (“from 33rmp to 45rmp”); and that was how he ended up playing the way he does today. He then went on to illustrate what he meant by playing pieces he composed in various styles, incorporating elements of rock & roll and boogie-woogie. It was marvellous the way he could make the piano stool tilt to one side while playing like a maniac! This is the fourth time I’ve seen this ‘trick’, but because I was so near, I was very sure it was no trick. It was fascinating to watch him play with his right fingers’outside’ the keyboard and literally hit the keys with his nose! He could also play like he had four hands.

When he played his Rain Song, inspired by the perpetual rain in Hamburg, he became a conductor who instructed the audience what actions to do to create the various sounds made by the pitter-patter of the raindrops or a heavy downpour, all the while playing the piano without pause.

It was at this point that he decided it was time to carry out the obligation of promoting the Steinway SPIRIO piano. This he did by showing us a video of George Gershwin playing I Got Rhythm in a 1931 concert. He moved away from the piano and we saw for ourselves the keys playing simultaneously exactly what Gershwin was playing. So this is the wonderful thing about the SPIRIO: we can have any great pianists like Joja Wendt himself playing on our Steinway in our living room without inviting him to our house!

At this point, Joja Wendt said he would take requests. When someone said The Flight of the Bumble Bee, he replied: “Nah, that is very difficult to play.” He then went one to regale us with another childhood experience he had with haunted houses and how this inspired him to composed a piece called Haunted House, which he played.

Next, he talked about Art Tatum, whom he considered the greatest jazz pianist ever. He told a story of how, during Art Tatum’s era, pianists were paid by drinks and not money. And then went on to do exactly that. I have never witnessed any pianist who could continue to play the piano while sipping a drink from a wine glass.

His next piece sounded familiar in that it contained many scales, arpeggios and repeated patterns as in a study or technical exercise; it sounded Baroque at times, and jazzy at others. His enjoyment was apparent. Without much pause, he launched into Elephant Song. I’ve tried playing this piece a while ago, and I found it tricky; but the way Joja Wendt played it, it looked deceptively easy.

Though the audience did not request this next piece, inspired by the Wuacken Village, Joja Wendt said he must play it and let us know that he had a standing ovation after playing it in front of more that 80,000 European heavy metal fans. It is a piece in one of his CDs that I have, and I never knew that it is a piece meant for two pianos four hands. Watching him play it up close, I was in awe and amazement.

Eskimo is a piece requested by an European lady, and this he obliged (because it’s one of his compositions). It is a nice and soothing piece. The amazing thing is that he played it with clenched fists throughout (“imagine the Eskimo has forgotten to wear his mittens”). Only black keys were used throughout, and the last note was played by the tip of his nose.

Because it was going to be his final piece, Joja Wendt decided he would play a mesh-up of The Flight of the Bumble Bee with a new, cool New Orleans rhythm. Well, if Rimsky-Korsakov’s original was deemed “too difficult”, this special version is beyond difficult. When this ended, the audience roared with repeated calls for an encore.

The encore piece was also Joja Wendt’s own composition, inspired by the helix of DNA. This was a world premier. We were very honoured that Joja Wendt would choose to play this brilliantly composed, very complicated and very difficult piece for us.

The 75 minute performance was absolutely delightful, enjoyable, entertaining, engaging and engrossing.

What a wonderful way to spend an evening!