In my Bangkok apartment.
(Click on picture to enlarge).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Say Goodbye to Backpackers

Bangkok, Thailand.  August 21, 2012.  Thailand is a major world destination for backpackers, but here’s a new one on me:  they are
no longer called “backpackers.”  Now, they are known as flashpackers—high-tech, socially connected young travelers.  In fact, with the amount of time they spend buried in electronic gear, I don’t know why they bother to leave home in the first place. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Young Pianists Play Big

(Photo left to right: Nattawat Luxsuwong (age 13), Gun Chaikittiwatana (age 17), and Chanakan Chaikittiwatana (age 17)). 
  Siam Society Auditorium.  Bangkok, Thailand.  August 16, 2014.  Economists classify Thailand as a middle income country.  However that may be, in the world of young pianists, Thailand is an advanced country.  Irrefutable proof of this was provided Saturday night by Chanakan Chaikittiwatana (age 17), Nattawat Luxsuwong (age 13) and Gun Chaikittiwatana (age 17), who presented a long and difficult program of some of the best known works in the piano literature.  All three recitalists had distinct musical personalities, but in common, they shared a surprisingly mature command of nuances that could easily escape much older performers.  They are not only immensely talented, but they are also accomplished.  Because they are so young, they naturally like to show their mettle with big works requiring blazing techniques, and this they did with assurance; they are fearless, but not reckless, and seemingly tossed off, with success, some of the greatest challenges of the piano repertory, and in the quieter parts of their programs, they showed a musical soul that is sure to expand over the years.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Paris Salon in Bangkok.

Masterful Japanese pianist, Jun Komatsu, who now lives and teaches in Bangkok, beautifully performed a recital of both classical Western composers and contemporary Japanese compositions. 
Bangkok, Thailand.  August 15, 2014.  19th Century Paris was famous for its salons, and one’s place in society was judged, in part, on which salons you were invited to attend.  Well, Bangkok now has a musical salon, and I was invited to its forth event, a delightful afternoon of good conversation, food,
and a beautiful recital by the most excellent and charming Japanese pianist, Jun Komatsu, who played a full program of Bach (Italian Concerto), Beethoven (Pathetique) and Schuman-Liszt (Widmung), followed by three compositions of contemporary Japanese composers, which, in the masterful hands of Komatsu, were easy to listen to, in what otherwise could have been strange sounds to my untutored ears.  Komatsu will repeat this program in Japan in a week or two, and her audiences are in for a real treat.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Violin & Viola. Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. MACM. Mahidol Salaya Campus. Nakhom Pathom. August 9, 2014.

 Russian violinist Boris Brovtsyn teamed up with American violist Jennifer Stumm, for a flowing rendition of Mozart’s Sinfornia Concertante, K.364
  Oh, what a difference a week and a change of conductor can make.  Back under the baton of chief conductor Gudni A. Emilsson, who has lead the TPO since its inception,  the orchestra regained its élan and gave an impressive performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, just at the right tempo and with all sections playing beautifully and in balance, not an easy fete in this auditorium.  Emilsson, active on the podium, but not too much so as to distract, had a clear vision of what he wanted this lively symphony to sound like, and his orchestra responded fully.  Russian violinist Boris Brovtsyn teamed up with American violist Jennifer Stumm, for a flowing rendition of Mozart’s Sinfornia Concertante, K.364, surely as beautiful a piece of music as Mozart has written, with the TPO providing subtle and sensitive support.    

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Paganini Rhapsody. Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. MACM. Mahidol Salaya Campus. Nakhom Phathom. August 2, 2014.

German pianist Alexander Reitenbach

 This is not the TPO’s most stellar season.  While the orchestra continues to sound very good, certainly the best Thailand has to offer, it’s annual change of personnel as some student players graduate and are replaced, may have taken an unusually heavy toll this year.  The move to the cavernous Prince Mahidol Hall, in which the orchestra’s sound and presence were lost, couldn’t have helped matters.  Fortunately, that move has been reversed, and the TPO is now back home at the comfortable and acoustically better music auditorium at the College of Music.  But surely, the biggest challenge for the orchestra has been going from a bi-weekly to weekly concert schedule, a frequency not matched by any major orchestra.  Something had to give, and in the TPO’s case, gone are the difficult, exciting, mostly major works of such 20th century titans as Shostakovich, Mahler, Bruckner, Roussel, Strauss, a repertory, incidentally, in which the TPO excelled.  In its place, we have a surfeit of Beethoven’s easier symphonies, Nos. 1 and 8, Mozart, Borodin’s Symphony No. 2, and the like.  Beautiful music, to be sure, but not welcomed as the sole ingredient of a musical diet.

Today’s concert of Schumann and Rachmaninoff was typical of the new look.  Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is one of the most frequently played works in the piano canon, and with today’s endless supply of very, very good pianists in  this golden age of piano playing, it is impossible to attend a bad performance; but equally as rare is it to hear this work in a new or exciting way.  Young German pianist Alexander Reitenbach played well, but his performance did not rise above the routine, which is, perhaps, too much to ask from someone other than a Lugansky, Sudbin, or Grosvenor (roughly, contemporaries of Reitenbach’s).  The TPO gave a creditable run through of Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, but conductor Mikulski had no interpretive nuances to offer, although he did keep his troops together throughout.    


Friday, August 08, 2014

A Little Bit of French and German. Bangkok Art & Cultural Center. August 1, 2014.

Photo (left to right) Kritt’s brother; Benjamin Heim (cello);  Samuel Rueff (flute); person who presented flowers; Siwat Chuencharoen (piano); Krit Niramittham (piano); Bank Ngamarunchot (author and narrator for Carnival of the Animals).
 Summer is a good time for music lovers in Bangkok because many of this city’s talented young players take a short break from their studies at prestigious conservatories abroad, to spend some time here with friends and family, and to perform for the general public.  Not do they play very well, but their enthusiasm and charm are infectious. For this evening’s delightful program of German and French music, Thai pianists Siwat Chuencharoen and Krit Niramittham, both of whom have completed or are completing piano performance degrees at, respectively, Bern and Lausanne, brought with them friends from school, flautist Samuel Rueff and cellist Benjamin Heim, and together they made an engaging ensemble which demonstrated that good music does not have to be ponderous as long as it is well-played by artists who have thought through their performances and are dedicated to bringing to them, interpretations that are idiomatic and heart-felt, which takes a lot of talent and skill, both of which these fine young artists have in abundance.  Siwat, Krit, Samuel and Benjamin could take tonight’s program on the road to any country, and be assured of as much cheering as they received from tonight’s very happy audience.       

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 International Keyboard Institute and Festival. July 14 & 16.

 Mannes College for Music.  NYC.  July 14, 2014.  While Korean pianist Khowoon Kim plays very well indeed, I found her music mechanical and devoid of interpretation, perhaps the result of too many piano competitions which emphasize the athletic and 
flawless.  In contrast, Ilya Yakushev is what great pianism is all about: having something to say about a piece and a towering technique enabling the pianist to execute his creative ideas.  Yakushev’s program was particularly challenging because the major works on his program are played and over-played throughout the world leading one to ask: can anyone say anything more about them?  Answer:  yes, if you are as good as Yakushev.  In Yakushev’s hands, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” was both sensitive and strong, and sounded fresh.  I don’t particularly like Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz, but here again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in quite the same way as I did as played by Yakushev.  As for Pictures, I once promised myself that I would never go to another performance of this now hackneyed work, but I’m glad that I’m not good at keeping my own promises.  In Yakushev’s hands, every nuance and color was explored and he achieved something one only rarely hears:  a flawless melding of robust, exciting playing that also produces beautiful music.  I was as overwhelmed as was the rest of the audience, which rose to express prolonged, boisterous cheering and applause.

 Mannes College for Music.  NYC.  July 16, 2014  How sad that this unique and wonderful piano festival won’t be held next year, and perhaps never again.  Tonight’s marvelous performances by Alexander Schimpf and Alon Goldstein reinforce how tragic it will be not to have the opportunity to hear artists like these in a friendly and collegiate setting as part of a piano institute which each summer attracts many young students, mostly from Asia these days, as well as a large and appreciative audience of piano lovers like me.  I had a very nice conversation with the very personable superb young German pianist Alexander Schimpf (photo) after his impressive performance of the monumentally difficult “Hammerklavier” sonata.  About tonight’sperformances, I can’t say it any better (or as well) as did NYT’s critic Anthony Tommasini in his published review, which follows:

    Young German pianist Alexander Schimpf has every reason to smile after his magnificent performance of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata.

   Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein had the extraordinary ability to sound like two different pianists while playing Beethoven and Liszt.

 Recitals That Linger, a Festival That May Not
Alexander Schimpf and Alon Goldstein at Mannes Festival

On most days of the two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, a popular annual venture sponsored by Mannes College the New School for Music, there are two piano recitals each evening. So it was on Wednesday, the third full day of the festival. For the early-evening Prestige series, which mostly presents exceptional younger artists, the award-winning 32-year-old German pianist Alexander Schimpf played a varied program culminating with Beethoven’s mighty “Hammerklavier” Sonata. Later that evening, the Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein, admired for the refinement and imaginativeness of his performances, played a formidable program on the Masters series. The recitals were presented at the intimate concert hall of the Mannes College building on the Upper West Side, which seats just 275.
The institute draws student pianists who participate in workshops and master classes and, naturally, attend almost every recital. But this festival, now in its 16th season, has long attracted lots of concertgoers who love piano music and piano playing. I was not the only person who took in Wednesday night’s doubleheader.

As it happens, this could be the last festival. Mannes’s longtime building has been sold, and the college is relocating, starting in the fall of 2015, to a newly renovated space in Arnhold Hall at the New School in Greenwich Village. Next summer, the institution will be in the process of moving, so the keyboard festival will not take place, and its future is uncertain. This would be a loss to audiences in New York.

The recitals on Wednesday were fascinating. Mr. Schimpf, who won first prize in the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2011, began his program with a vibrant, articulate account of Bach’s Toccata in E minor. He followed with the American premiere of “Augenblicke — eine Sammlung,” a 2008 work by the German composer Adrian Sieber. This rhapsodic, restless eight-minute piece veers between outbursts of hurtling, thick, dissonant chords and contrasting passages of somberly reflective, more lyrical music. In a swirling, seductive account of Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse,” Mr. Schimpf conveyed exactly what kind of joy the visitors to the island of the work’s title were indulging in.

Beethoven’s late Sonata No. 29 in B flat (Op. 106), “Hammerklavier,” is the longest, most audacious and difficult of his sonatas. It is always an event to hear it performed, and there was much to admire in Mr. Schimpf’s account. He brought a light touch, bright sound and bracing energy to the monumental first movement. Still, he took a quick tempo that he had trouble controlling, which led to some rushed and jumbled passages. The same problem affected the scherzo. He was at his best, though, in the searching slow movement, played with magisterial elegance and sensitivity. And he reined in the tempo of the daunting final fugue just enough to let the tangle of crazed counterpoint come through and sound, well, excitingly crazy.  

Seating only 275 concert goers, the Mannes hall gives the performer the choice of three excellent concert grands, two Steinways and a Yamaha.  Most of the performers choose the Yamaha. 
Mr. Goldstein, who is enjoying an international career, began his recital with a curiously cool, even careless, at times, performance of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, though he brought rippling allure to the work’s mesmerizing finale. He seemed a different pianist, though, in the next work, Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata. Here was a beautifully balanced approach to the score, refined yet impetuous, noble yet spirited.

After intermission, he excelled in two pieces by Liszt, the seldom-heard Paraphrase on Themes From Verdi’s “Aida” and the better-known Concert Paraphrase After Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Liszt’s fantasies on operas are not just clever showpieces. Here is a great composer reveling in excerpts from two Verdi operas while also exploring the potential lying within the music. Mr. Goldstein played both works with brilliance and imagination, qualities he brought to Ravel’s “Une Barque sur l’Océan” from “Miroirs.”

He also played Three Études (2012) by the Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman, inventive and aptly demanding works. In the first, “Snakes and Ladders,” a rush of passagework in spiraling triplets is punctuated with stabbing, staggered chords. During the performance, the pages of Mr. Goldstein’s score on the piano’s music stand kept turning ahead on their own: The culprit seemed to be an overhead air-conditioner duct. Mr. Goldstein had to start over. When he finished, the audience broke into applause, and he took the occasion to comment on the work’s intriguing title. He said that he could detect lots of snakes in the music but no ladders. He also said that he had asked the composer whether these three pieces were études “for the piano or against the piano,” referring to their difficulty.

His comments were charming and helpful. He should speak more when he next plays in New York. This being perhaps the last Mannes summer festival, that future appearance will probably not be at this valuable event.


Web Page Counters
Online Flower Delivery Service