McDull ‧ Sentimental Little Stories

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Hong Kong Sinfonietta: McDullWe are in an era where art forms are breaking out of their traditional boundaries; where museums, cultural centres and concerts halls are popping up all over the place, desperately calling for greater audience numbers; and where culture is increasingly being seen as a necessity, and not a luxury (yes, ooh controversial).*

It’s nice to see that some classical music orchestras, who perform what is usually regarded as one of the more stubborn art forms, have responded to our changing circumstances with great enthusiasm.

In recent years, many orchestras around the world have been running schemes to try and get new and younger faces through the doors. While some schemes fall short (think flimsy screen in the corner or sad light shows), some have taken off.

London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (one of my all-time favs) has been running The Night Shift for about 7 years now. By staging short late-night concerts (occasionally at unusual places), where drinks are encouraged throughout the night, snippets from their full concert performed earlier in the evening are played with introductions given by a respected popular figure, and an after-party creates a time and place for concert-goers to document and remember the experience, OAE have really helped breakdown the stuffy stereotype of a classical music concert. Great too is that they aren’t presenting a tailor-made programme (no ‘dumbing down’ argument) though undoubtedly they schedule these nights on evenings of easier listening.

Then there’s Hong Kong Philharmonic’s 9pm Swire Denim series (whose title is clearly aimed at challenging the stereotypical dress code, but arguably ends up reinforcing it…) For these concerts, they play a light-hearted accessible programme that is nominated/voted on by their target audience of ‘urbanites and music lovers’. At the last one I went to, they even made the effort to have an after-party. Unfortunately it wasn’t within the venue grounds (a venue closing hour issue I assume), so they lost me and probably many others too. Getting audiences to stick around is hard! HK Phil also runs Swire Family concerts (great work Swire!), which are similar to the ones London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra run. A musical petting zoo, bring your own instrument and join in segment… loved and adored by my 3-year old nephew.

But what actually prodded me to write this post is because I went to the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s McDull ‧ Sentimental Little Stories (fantastic!) concert this past Sunday. A variety of easy-listening tunes were played in perfect sync with projected animations, together conveying ‘love is simple, love is kind’. They really managed to pick the perfect tunes and organize the music and footage such as to accentuate the ironic humour McDull cartoons have… it was awesome.

Sure, it helps that I love McDull (who doesn’t! :)), but actually HK Sinfonietta has got it right on. McDull is a Hong Kong brand that appeals to the Hong Kong sense of humour… what better way to introduce classical music to Hong Kong kids than with McDull? A particularly nice touch too was that Yip Wing-sie and members of the orchestra narrated the stories – it’s not just another concert, they truly believe in bringing music to young people. And from the looks of it, the concert was successful in achieving its aim. It brought in and captivated a young audience, who giggled and cheered throughout. Perhaps (with lots of funding), it can be adapted into a long-running format and become a must-see for all young people, local and visiting?

So the natural question here is, well which one did I enjoy the most? But actually, I think the more important question is, which series in the long run will breed a classical music attendee, a lover of symphonies, arias and concertos? Which scheme, if any, will actually change the face of the art form – both on and off stage? Hmmm.

 

*And someday soon, where hopefully being an artist or having a career in the arts is widely accepted, sustainable and encouraged!

Posted in Random Art Zine as ‘Without music, life would be a mistake’

The Weir

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8 May 2013, Donmar Warehouse, London

Group Homepage ImageThis play won the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Olivier award for Best New Play in 1997. Ashamedly, I had actually never heard of the play or the playwright Conor McPherson! The playwright is regarded as one of our greatest living young playwrights.

The play is set in a pub in an isolated town. A women walks into the pub, and the men excited by this stranger start telling stories to try and impress her. But none of them can tell a story more chilling and more realistic than the one that she tells.

It was a good play, but because I had really really high expectations – it got so many 5* reviews (argh again,the reviews!!) and awards, plus the whole run is sold out – this play fell a bit short. Anyway… but the acting, wow. A strong cast who gave pitch-perfect spontaneous-like delivery.

The text is really well written. It’s actually quite different from anything I’ve seen before. No action actually takes place… the play is all about the stories that the different characters tell. It becomes all about what they say and actually more so what they don’t say. What you read between the lines.

At the post-show Q&A, they talked about why the play is called The Weir. There actually isn’t a straight answer, but apparently Conor is very lyrical with his titling. Apparently he has this other play named St. Nicholas, where the title is not because it’s about Santa (apparently, not once is he referenced), but because the play is all about giving.

The cast could not stop raving about Conor’s plays and his writing. How he is really generous with his characters. How he is a ‘writer for actors’. Even the most minor of characters is significant and has room to explore. Need to go see more of his works! Actually this is a time when I wish I did my homework before going to see the play. Think I would’ve appreciated a lot more had I known more about the playwright and this play!

By the way, have I ever mentioned that I love the Donmar? :D

An Orchestral Celebration of the Films of Leslie Cheung

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19 March 2013, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

525308_10151332636661344_485812987_nLeslie Cheung… what an icon. I remember adoring him when I was very young (and even getting to eat dinner with him as my mum is friends with his sister!). This concert was a musical tribute to him, where the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra performed music pieces from his signature films (including Wong Kai Wai’s  東邪西毒, 春光乍洩, 阿飛正傳) and at times their music would be accompanied by film clips played on the screens behind and to the sides of the orchestra.

It was a blast from the past, though I wish I had seen more of his movies. In fact I think I had only seen one of the movies they played clips from, not that it mattered – it was nostalgic and enjoyable anyway. I particularly loved the new arrangement / re-imagination of Ashes of Time. A Chinese music instrumentalist played a handful of beautifully sounding (and odd-looking) instruments, providing a rich textured score to the vast spectacular landscapes that were being shown on screen.

Sadly they didn’t play the one song we really wanted to hear – 追. The MC, when introducing the 金枝玉葉 segment even said that during his 8 year career as a shopping mall pianist, that song was the number one most requested song across. Why didn’t they play it?

One thing they could’ve improved on was harmonizing the video with the music. It was obvious that they didn’t make any effort to do so. Sometimes the video ended 5 minutes before the music, sometimes 50 seconds before. And sometimes even after. It was a bit jarring and a shame, really, as it wouldn’t have taken much more effort.

Anyway… you know that saying that when one sense weakens, another sense(s) heightens? I tried it and it was brilliant – when I watched the film, the music became softer and when I watched the musicians, the music became louder. :D  And even though Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s Concert Hall really isn’t good for classical music, it almost didn’t matter for this concert. We were there to celebrate Leslie Cheung. I think it’s brilliant how we’re still honouring him 10 years on.

2001: A Space Odyssey

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25 June 2010, Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London

2001-a-space-odyssey-7-1024What a way to watch one of last century’s masterpieces for the very first time.. the world premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey to live music performed by Philharmonia Orchestra!

It was quite an experience. The dun dun dun dun dun of the opening bars of the main theme… it was so powerful, I got goosebumps. 

Playing a soundtrack live to a movie must require so much work on the conductor’s part. They have so many visual cues and have to make sure the musicians play at the perfect speed. What happens if they finish the piece before the visual element finishes? They must have some buffer music they can play… hm…   

This show was a real challenge for Southbank Centre. They weren’t able to find a copy of the movie file where the music was separated from the soundtrack (everything was recorded/put onto the same track in the old days). So Warner Brothers had to especially produce this special print just for this performance. Also, there was the challenge of balancing the volume of the orchestra with the film’s soundtrack. And also the lighting such that there was enough for the orchestra but not distracting for the film watcher. 

But what a great job they did. What a brilliant score. And what a brilliant performance.

 

Once

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ONCE-articleLarge20 March 2013, Phoenix Theatre, London

Quietly beautiful. Subtly moving.

Once won 8 Tony’s last year. It’s a bit of a mystery how it’s not selling very well in London at the moment. I think partly it’s to do with its unfortunate clash with the opening of The Book of Mormon which has gotten the whole town talking, partly because its marketing isn’t being done very well (why aren’t they SHOUTING about all the awards it’s won? And the poster looks like a chic lit cover), and actually partly because the text and story isn’t overwhelmingly compelling and convincingly moving – but because the show was so well done in all other aspects, it didn’t really matter.

It’s a great show. You can’t help but be swept away by all the music and singing. Really made me appreciate the beauty and power of music. How it can bring people together and be a powerful vehicle for expressing emotions.

The movement within the musical was great too. Beautiful lyrical movements particularly during scene changes and that one section right before the interval – where all the musicians performed a piece of very simple but effective choreography whilst playing their instruments – stunning. The cellist even had the cello strapped to his waist so that he could dance and play at the same time.

The set was so well done. The backdrop is an Irish pub, and although the actors moved from space to space within the storyline, they never physically left the pub. Except (clever decision!) for a scene where the leading protagonists escaped to overlook the city – here, they climbed some stairs and stood on top of the pub.

The pub itself had a back wall covered with mirrors of all different sizes. So when the performers and musicians were on stage, you’d catch glimpses of their hands playing instruments, of the side view of their faces, of the red-checkered floor, of their looks when they turned around to face the back – really good at producing a small-town everyone-everywhere-and-watching environment. The audience could even climb onto the stage and buy their drinks at the bar during the interval! Go see it!

A Chorus Line

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chorus_line 2 April 2013, London Palladium

Makes you really appreciate and respect the hard life of artists. Auditioning relentlessly, putting themselves on the line…

It was a fun show. One and I Hope I Get It were two of the songs I first learnt full dances to, so when they performed these two songs, I sat there with a great big silly grin on my face. Great memories.

What I really liked about the show were the formations. I loved how the choreography made use of the large group of dancers to weave in and out of each other in cannon style and to create interesting movement. The lighting was great too. I particularly liked the section where each dancer had their own red/yellow/blue light box and performed within it.

However, there was something that just wasn’t quite right about this show. A couple of my friends didn’t realize it was set in the 80s, so maybe they should’ve played up that? The costumes, way of talking, references and choreography were definitely dated. I understand it’s a classic (and actually directed by original co-choreographer Bob Avian) but I wish they updated it (esp the choreography) to make it relevant.

9723efa6-b693-4412-b571-469531f878a2The dancing wasn’t very consistent either… the men were generally quite good but some of the women looked awkward at times and had poor extensions and unfinished movements – but not all the time though. It was a bit odd. Were they playing the part of an auditionee who was only ‘good enough’ for a chorus? It looked like they weren’t able to fully embrace the steps. Couldn’t tell if they hired them based on their acting or singing instead? Have to give credit to the singing though – some of the songs definitely weren’t easy to sing.

Great energy though! My takeaway – choreograph so your dancers look good, and when possible/suitable, relevance to the audience helps. Also, a bathroom break would’ve been good too! Sure, there wasn’t a natural break in the storyline for an interval and it would’ve interrupted the flow, but the audience got a bit restless after two hours!

Trelawny of the Wells

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The Company Photo by Johan Persson21 March 2013, Donmar Warehouse, London

Great play on at the Donmar. Can always count on Donmar to deliver quality shows at low prices in an intimate setting. Ha I sound like I work for them.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve kind of been on a theatre drought… this show, although far from my usual taste (a comedy set in the Victorian times), was great. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I didn’t fall asleep despite being jet lagged… that must say something :)

The acting was phenomenal. I’ve really come to appreciate how great good acting is (used to take good acting for granted!) – and the key to that is being able to be subtle. And interestingly, the actors played actors within the performance and so put on stereotypical caricature personas. So they themselves weren’t playing subtle characters, but somehow the way they did it wasn’t bad acting. Hm not sure I’m explaining it very well! Anyway, they actually addressed subtlety as key to acting in the play – act it, don’t show it. The play also addressed the inevitability  of developments and changes in theatre, which was interesting. Some of the actors played multiple characters and it really demonstrated their versatility. Especially Ron Cook who played a comedic old female theatre manager then a serious old traditional grandfather.

Daniel Mays Ferdinand Gadd Photo by Johan PerssonWhat got me to buy tickets was actually because I saw the movie Anna Karenina on the plane and got really excited by the staging of it. The acting wasn’t great (except Jude Law) and it by no means did the book any justification but it was fine because I watched it as just another movie (and not as a telling of the great novel). But yes, the set blew me away… so cleverly done. Although because of the chosen style, it meant that the movie lent itself to being overly dramatic, super theatrical and staged like to the point it was a bit comedic, but that was fine. And actually the bits that I loved… like the dancing and the music turned out to be produced by some of my favs! Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui did the choreography (although a very small element, his distinct style came across) and Dario Marianelli did the music… (who I’ve worked with before!) And the screenplay is written by Tom Stoppard.

Oops. Back to this play. So yes I was intrigued because I was researching matinee shows after getting off the plane this morning and saw that it was directed by Joe Wright who directed Anna Karenina and Atonement, and actually it’s his theatre directorial debut. Also the play was an update by Patrick Marber, a playwright I worked with before who has a funny sense of humour.

I hadn’t read/seen the original version of Trelawny of the Wells but I definitely had a great lighthearted afternoon!