Saturday, December 31, 2005

March No. 1 "Elemental Stage"

Went to the premiere of a composition, March No. 1 "Elemental Stage", by a local composer, Wong Kah Chun yesterday. It was played by the alumni band of the school which I graduated from three years ago. As written in the programme notes, this piece is the first in a series of future compositions whereby the limitations of the march are explored in great detail. In his first march, he toys around with bitonality in various sections of his music.

I would believe the performance last night wasn't quite up to his expectations due to the unbalanced proportion of the sections of the band, not to mention that the musicians themselves aren't seasoned performers.

Nonetheless, it's a pretty interesting work and I'm looking forward to his future marches. His March No. 3, with an enigmatic title, "Project L", will be slated for an informal recording next week. I shall attempt to take time off to attend the session.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Mozart's 250th Anniversary

Scene from the new Mozart promotional film (Taken from here.)

The coming year 2006 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the most famous Austrian composer of all time - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Plans are in place for a whole string of activities to commemorate his 250th anniversary in Austria next year and there promise to be both pomp and circumstance.

I personally don't quite like the idea of commercialising such a historic event with products bearing the name and pictures of Mozart stacking high along the streets all over Austria. It does seem to me that businessmen are sick of changing the image of their products so often to bear the image of pop stars and decide to turn to someone with a more lasting value.

Despite my discontentment at how some people treat this event, I would still very much love to make my way down to Salzburg to watch the performances devoted to this composer. Well, by the way, Salzburg will host a total of 260 concerts and 55 Masses devoted to Mozart's sacred music, including all his 22 operas performed at the Salzburg Festival next year. A sumptuous feast, isn't it?

Be sure to visit the website dedicated to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday - Mozart 2006!

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Christmastime is here again! A day to commemorate the most perfect gift given unto us by God - our beloved Lord Jesus Christ.

This Christmas, my school's choir has been scheduled to carol at Fullerton Hotel for 5 days. Went down to catch one of their sessions and they sang pretty well despite the open acoustics of the hall, not to mention that they are singing more than 10 sessions in total. Besides the joy of meeting friends whom I haven't met for months, the mood that evening was absolutely peaceful and filled with love, away from the overly commercialised environment everywhere else.

It has been such a spiritually and emotionally satisfying Christmas this year, with the close company of God, lots of passionate sacred music, and sensible and matured new friends. =)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Scales Practice

It's been quite some time since I studied and analysed the left and right hand techniques of professional guitarists. Just thought of re-looking at their techniques today, with the hope of incorporating some of their better techniques into my own. As such, I pulled out every single DVD I have of professional guitarists from my collection of music materials to watch.

It came as a revelation to me that most of the differences in their techniques actually stem from their practice of scales. They probably don't practise much scales after turning professional, but I realised that the way their music sounds was still very much dependent on the way they had practised their scales in their youth.

I admit that I haven't been a strong supporter of scales practice before today, despite the fact that my teachers kept emphasising on their importance, which I only discovered today. Even if I were to practise my scales industriously before today, I wouldn't be able to perfect my technique for I didn't know the intricacies of the scale practice that I had to take note of. Comparing the way the different guitarists play, I realise that their overall poise and the amount of control they have over the music actually stems from their movements of the left and right hand movements (all the way from the upper arm to the last joint of their finger).

Most of the DVDs I watched were pretty disappointing. Of course, their music comes across to me as sincere, but I realise that there was 'something' which was holding them back in expressing the full spectrum of emotions in the music they play. And that 'something' was the technique based on the way they practised their scales. Strangely, after that, I just dug out all the scales requirement and started practising on them for hours, and thankfully, I had quite considerable progress.

However, I still wouldn't recommend musicians to whack the scales blindly and merely aiming for speed and 'surface fluency'. I now believe that scales practice is useful only when one has the correct aim of economy of finger and hand movement and at the same time, drawing out the best possible one and volume of the instrument at that particular speed.

Melvyn Tan

The controversy over this Singaporean pianist who evaded National Service has been present for quite some time. Thought of penning my opinions over this issue as a Singaporean musician who is currently serving the much dreaded National Service.

For the benefit of those people who don't know about this issue, here a short biography of him. Melvyn Tan had moved to the Yehudi Menuhin School in Sussex, Britain, to pursue his music studies at 12. However, when he was supposed to return to Singapore at the age of 18 to serve the compulsory National Service, he was accepted in the Royal College of Music in England and decided to go against the law by not returning to serve in the military. Subsequently a year after, he renounced his Singaporean citizenship and since then, he hasn't been back until this year. And basically, he hasn't been setting his foot on his native soil for around 30 years.

When the news of his evasion of National Service first appeared in the headlines, letters of discontentment flooded in the media. When they were published, I was taken aback by the harsh comments that came in. Truthfully, when I first read the news of his evasion, I was surprised I could just shrug it off and chuck it away at the back of my head without feeling much contempt at all, given the fact that my pursuit of my music studies was impeded by these 2 years of National Service. I could roughly guess most of the hateful letters which came in were by those who are currently serving the military, but I never thought they were so unforgiving, to the extent of buying tickets for his concert just to go on strike over there. I just thought that given my circumstances, it was me who should be having such pathetic sentiments.

If they had thought that it was unfair, they can simply go do the same, can't they? It's not too hard to just absent yourself from the military by going overseas to do what you want, is it? Examine their actions a little deeper and it wouldn't take much to understand such feelings just stem from their cowardly nature, which stops them from deserting the military, and jealousy, which is such a perverse emotion found commonly in myopic people who are unable to look at the whole big picture.

As for Melvyn Tan, I admire him for his achievements and for his courage to pursue his own dreams instead of coming back to an organisation where everyone is forced to conform to the system. And no, I don't sympathise with him, instead, I sympathise with those who blasted out at him, for these people haven't been able to look at the whole picture and their opinions have exposed their most pathetic and unforgiving side of human nature.

It's a pity he cancelled his concert and withdrew from judging the National Piano and Violin Competition, for there're true music lovers who would want to attend the concert to enjoy the music. But I guess such actions of his are unavoidable, given the number of immature citizens we have here in Singapore.

Friday, December 16, 2005


It does seems to me that people who are into serious classical music are more sensitive to their surroundings as compared to people who don't practise the arts at all. For some reason unknown to me, it is those people who practise the arts which are able to detect the first signs of emotional instability in another person. Also, while a musician indulges in the simple and harmonious sounds of nature and cringe at the repulsive, yet almost inaudible noise produced by machinery at a distance away, most people who aren't into music aren't affected emotionally in such a drastic way by such subtle sounds they hear.

It's amazing when I start thinking about how vulnerable I am to the surroundings. It truly makes me feel more human in this modernised society where people just overwhelm themselves with work which numbs the humanistic part of them. It's a truly spiritual experience when I can sit back and indulge in the simple and poetic sounds of nature everytime when people around are procrastinating about their day at work.

On the other hand, I have friends who are so into music at the other end of the spectrum, like trance, which I would classify it as a part of the minimalist movement. Such music (if you would want to call them music in the first place) functions in a totally different way. I haven't gotten down to expose myself to trance music for hours but from their experiences, they said that overlistening just numbs thems and when people ask them what have they been listening to, they couldn't quite answer. It seems to tell me that such music desensitises people instead of heightening their senses like what traditional classical music do. A little of it would help one appreciate the subtleties of sound, but excessive exposure merely desensitises the person I guess.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Vienna Boys Choir

The Vienna Boys Choir did a one-night-only concert today in Singapore today. Young boys with sweet and innocent voices. I just checked out some previews of the only CD they brought in today - Vienna Boys Go Pop. Thank God, that they didn't sing any of the pieces they sang in the most repulsive CD they ever made in history!

Let me do a review on the audience tonight for a change. It was full house tonight, not surprising for such a concert, given the amount of publicity they had weeks before. However, it seems to me that the audience in Singapore tonight just can't seem to appreciate the asthetic beauty of music. The repertoire tonight was filled with light-hearted and easy-to-appreciate pieces, with lots of Austrian folksongs and small lieders and hymns by prominent composers. Nothing too heavy. Claps coming in at the wrong time, the level of applause wasn't the least reflective of the level of music they sang etc. Tonight, we have the most unmusical audience who can't even hear the II-V-I perfect cadence ending and applauded without allowing the rest of the audience a chance to savour the precious last few seconds of the music. There's this group of audience who seem to indulge in the fact that an European choir is singing Eastern pieces. Of course, I do recognise the effort they put in but I seriously doubt that their rendition of eastern music in a strange accent with outlandish articulation was well, judging from the response of that group of audience, orgasmic.

But of course, I still enjoyed myself tonight with this simple performance by this lovely choir. =)

Friday, October 28, 2005

15th International Chopin Competition

News of the winner in this competition came to me pretty late due to the absence of an internet connection for the past week.

And so the first prize was awarded to Pan Rafal Blechacz from Poland, the birthplace of this Frederick Chopin. Interesting thing this year is that no 2nd or 5th prize was awarded. So do such results mean that they have a fixed criteria to attain those specific places? Dong Hyek Lim and Dong Min Lim from Korea were both awarded the 3rd prize, Shohei Sekimoto and Takashi Yamamoto from Japan were awarded the 4th prize and Ka Ling Colleen Lee from China was awarded the 6th prize. The first prize winner claimed the best performance of a polonaise, mazurka and concerto. Pretty stunning...

Really wish I could be there to listen live to his interpretation of Chopin's works. Shall be grabbing a copy of his CD when it comes out.

Maybe I'll be there to watch the competition in 5 years' time. =)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Last Works of Beethovan and Schubert

The local classical radio station is currently airing a series of programmes from Deutsche Welle, Germany's public broadcasters, and earlier on I just tuned in to their Opus Ultimum - a series of programmes that broadcasts the final last works of great composers. The final works of the composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert were featured this week.

This is the first time I've listened to Beethovan's Grosse Fuge, a composition for string quartet. Remember the latest discovery of the piano version of this work last July? Originally written as a final movement for the String Quartet No. 13 (Op. 130), it wasn't well received by the public for the performers and public had expected something of light to conclude the suite. Of course, the radio station played the substitute movement, which was much simpler and more traditional in form as compared to this complex work. Eventually, the Grosse Fuge was published as a separate work, Op. 133. I'm captivated by the complexity of this work, with the disturbing dissonant harmonies and new composition techniques which are unconventional for that time. It just seems to me upon my first hearing that traditional classical composition techniques lie in ruins in this dramatic work, yet at the same time, there is this towering musical picture which is revealed within the work as the creativity of the composer gushed out. Apparently, Beethovan was traumatised by the attempted suicide of his nephew when he wrote this powerful masterpiece.

The next work featured was the last string quartet, the String Quartet No. 16 in F (Op. 135). An enigmatic piece when one compares it to his other late works. Nothing of the drama in his preceeding works. Simple and warm, yet a profound meaning is still present, especially in the last movement. In the manuscript, Beethovan wrote the question Muss es sein? (Must it be?) and answer Es muss sein! (It must be!) in the last movement. Cryptic words without any definite meaning at all. Upon listening to the whole work, it just seems to me that in the midst of writing this piece, Beethovan was questioning the purpose of existance and getting a conclusion before he finished this composition. =)

And then for the next hour, Schubert's 10th Symphony, or rather, Sketches of the 10th Symphony (D936a), song cycle Schwanengesang or Swan Song (D. 957) and sacred works (I couldn't catch their titles) were featured. The recording of the Sketches of the 10th Symphony captured my full attention for its whole duration. I tried looking up for more information online and what I've gotten is that the drafts for this work was discovered by Ernst Hilmar in the 1970s and Brian Newbould was the person who compiled the drafts and realised it as the 10th Symphony. Wonderously poetic music. I don't know what it is but there's just something special in his late symphonies and piano works, especially his late piano sonatas which draws me to them. Now now, if I ever acquire sufficient skills for a thorough analysis of music, Schubert's last piano sonatas will be the first few works I'll start attempting to understand.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Historic Discovery, in Beethoven's Own Hand

An interesting article on the discovery of an autograph manuscipt of the piano version of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge on the bottom shelf of a archival cabinet. A monumental work or transcription near the end of his life. =)

Here's the article.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Nielsen's 'Inextinguishable' Symphony No 4, Op 29

Carl August Nielsen's 4 movement work - Symphony No 4, Op 29 'The Inextinguishable' was performed by the SSO tonight. And I'll have to admit that this is one wonderfully orchestrated twentieth century work by this Danish composer, though I thought that this work was rather primitive for its time.

This is a work written in the middle of the First World War and even in the first few bars of the first movement, the music doesn't attempt to mask the composer's personal opinions of the war. What captured my attention of the work tonight was the brilliant orchestration by Carl Nielsen. I attempted to travel deep into the different layers of the music instead of listening to the music as a complete whole and was well rewarded. Despite the drama created by the musicians as a whole, the superb orchestration was clearly evident. I have yet to listen to his other works, but if this symphony is characteristic of his general composition style, I wouldn't hesitate to say that he had this gift for instrumental colour and timbre. Throughout most of the entire work, the blending of the different instrumental colours was wonderful. It was only a particular section in the last movement of the work whereby the timbre and tone colours of the 2 sets timpani and violins clashes in the most awful way. Given the way in which the composer had written for most of the work, I would believe that such an awful blend would be a deliberate effect of the chaos in the war which the composer would like to express instead of careless orchestration. And of course, this dramatic section forms the last 'high' point of the entire work, when the image of a nihilistic perception gives way to a silver lining which symbolises hope. I haven't managed to get a chance to study the score yet, but that's what I could deduce from my first live hearing of this dramatic piece.

However, the orchestra was disappointing today. My guess is that the conductor and musicians are not exposed to twentieth century music as much as they ought to. They didn't seem to have a clear musical idea of several sections of this music. In some parts of the music, especially when it comes to the dramatic sections, the winds began to play as if the audience were deaf, blowing their guts out, overpowering the strings in the process and of course, those sections sounded brutal to the ear. I doubt that is what Carl Nielsen would have wanted, even though it is written on the war, for this essentially is music, and the musical shape shouldn't be compromised for bringing out the horrifying side of the war. Even within the fortissimo sections, a slight cresendo would have brought so much more musical value to the music instead of blaring the instruments at the top of its possible volume. I'm not sure if that's what the composer would have wanted, but I thought that the music could be more refined and musical without compromising any disturbing effects associated with the war. The tempo of the music also sounded problematic to me. Well, I can't explain how the tempo ought to be, for I've never seen the score nor heard a professional recording of it, but it sure sounded unnatural to me.

Besides this piece, the orchestra also played Jean Sibelius's Finlandia (Op 26) and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Piano Concerto No 1 (Op 25), with local pianist, Toh Chee Hung as the soloist. Well, the orchestra literally desecrated the former but manage to find their bearing back for the latter piece. An excellent piece for a casual teenage composition, though it wasn't anything near spectacular.

One interesting thing to note is that for all these 3 pieces tonight, the movements of each work is joined together without any breaks in between, at least for two of them, since Finlandia is a 1-movement work.

Well, despite the problems, I still thought that it was a good concert. Realise that for every concert I attend, I have learnt to appreciate the music played in a deeper manner instead of just admiring the work superficially. Thank God for opening my eyes, sharpening my ears and inputting the musical ideas into my mind.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Göran Söllscher's Eleven String Baroque

I'm truly captivated by Göran Söllscher's rendition of baroque pieces on this CD with his eleven string guitar. The music comes out perfectly natural and in the most musical way. Although he does take a little too much liberty with the rhythm, one is still feel the sincerity in his interpretation. The way he plays is never overpowering in terms of volume yet the music comes through to the listener with a powerful message, is extremely refined yet the expression of the music doesn't suffer. He just has this amazing gift of caressing such exquisite sounds out of his instrument. He truly has my utmost respect for his interpretation of baroque pieces.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Big Problem

Have been reflecting upon the first atrocious run of my music in front of my friends yesterday. Was totally repulsed by the fact that that run could actually be so much worse than any of my practices a week ago. I thought back on the mentality I had when I was playing yesterday and realised that all I had in mind was perfection and being expressive. I had wanted to be in perfect control of every single aspect until I didn't give the music space to breathe. Even the minor technical hiccups became so blatant until the music can't continue at all.

Just felt so guilty, especially when it is Bach's music which I was playing. And I find myself terribly selfish, for I have gotten so much from the music, yet I am unable to produce it the way it ought to sound in front of an audience.

I was practising the same piece today in a public place and some people stopped to listen. Wasn't perfect, but it was definitely much more natural than yesterday. Maybe it's because I wasn't expecting anything much, and of course I felt much better. Maybe I ought to adopt such a mentality and let go of the control I normally have in my practices when performing in front of an audience. I can't imagine what would happen if I go up onto the stage and desecrate the music. Guess I really have to find my bearing soon, due to the examininations and competition I'll be taking part in next year...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Guitar Transcription of Bach's Goldberg Variations

Haven't gotten the time recently to blog recently and wouldn't much much chance either for the next 4 months, but oh well, I'll just try to blog whenever I have the inspiration and a computer with internet connection.

Have been listening to Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's most gigantic composition for the harpsichord and I'm deeply drawn by the beauty of this work. Come to think of it, the way I've come into contact with this work has been really strange. I saw the guitar transcription of the Goldberg Variations in the local music store by József Eötvös and it actually stirred up my curiosity in this work, thus I went to acquire the legendary recording by Glenn Gould and I could say that was the most correct decision which I had made. And of course, I made my way down to that local music store to purchase the guitar transcription for it. I haven't gotten József Eötvös's recording of it yet, though I've listened to a few tracks in it, and I can only say that it's truly beautiful in its own way.

I'm indeed pleasantly surprised that József Eötvös had done the 'impossible' of transcribing this marvellous work by Bach onto a solo guitar. I wouldn't have gone down to purchase the score if it's a duo piece, for I wouldn't think that it's hard to transcribe a polyphonic piece onto two guitars, since Kazuhito Yamashita has managed to transcribe the whole work of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition and Igor Stravsinky's Firebird onto the solo guitar. Of course, certainly not an easy feat, but through the transcriptions, the architecture of these two orchestral pieces had suffered. But it's completely different for Bach's Goldberg Variations, which is written for a solo instrument - the harpsichord, for the guitar is also a solo instrument without sustain and a fairly quick decay of the sound.

I'm glad though, that József Eötvös had transcribed this work in a way such that it sounds like original composition for the guitar and not attempt to make the piece an imitation of the original. There are classical guitar recordings in which guitarists attempt to bring out the harpsichordic effect or make the guitar sound like a harpsichord. It desecretes the spirit of the guitar for the beauty of its natural sound is lost. What's the point of creating an authentic performance at the expense of the beautiful natural sound of the instrument? Bach himself had transcribed his works for different instruments and reworked them to suit the characteristic of the instruments anyway.

It's no wonder that this transcription has been hailed as the guitar transcription of the century, for this works seems more 'impossible' as compared to transcribing the whole Violin Partita No. 2.

I still hope to be able to complete one or two suites of Bach every year, so this work will probably have to wait a few years down the road, after I master the Lute Suites and probably a few of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas and Cello Suites.

It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution, music which, like Beaudelaires's lovers, "rests lightly on the wings of the unchecked wind." It has, then, unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency.
-Glenn Gould, linear notes of the 1956 Bach Goldberg Variations

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Joaquín Turina

After completing his musical studies with Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, Joaquín Turina had composed his first piano quintet. In 1907, when Isaac Albéniz heard this piece in concert, he recommended his young colleague to focus his talent on Spanish folk music, especially flamenco music. In the next few years, Turina wrote a considerable number of piano pieces, songs and chamber works in which the spirit of the Spanish gypsies is evident. His Sinfonia Sevillana won a prize and he was given a professorial chair at the Madrid Conservatoire in 1930. Even then, he still remained faithful to the flamenco spirit in his compositions.

Even though his music is deeply influenced by his native Andalusian flamenco culture, there is still a presence of French impressionism in them, probably due to his acquaintance with French composers like Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. It's amazing how his music can evoke the most wonderful images of places in Andalusia. In most pieces, I can see myself walking through the streets in the evening, revelling in the historic magnificent structures around me. At the same time, the melancholy generated by the rich harmonies of the instruments is overwhelming beyond description.

Turina had written several pieces for the guitar due to the instigation of Andrés Segovia and these masterpieces by him bring out the essence of the flamenco culture. He has written a total of five works for the guitar - Sevillana, Op 29 (1923), Fandanguillo, Op 36 (1926), Ráfaga, Op 53 (1930), Sonata, Op 61 (1931), Homenaje a Tárrega, Op 69 (1932). Most of his guitar works are in the style of the flamenco dances, with their distinctive rhythms, and bring out the resonance of the spanish guitar in the most beautiful way.

Guess I'll start studying his musical style in general, before going into his guitar works, to prepare for the piece I'm chose.

XV International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition

Here it comes again. 3 more days to the opening of this renowned competition. Really wish I could be there to watch the competition. Who will emerge the winner of the this prestigious piano competition this year?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Apparent Intonation Problems

I was listening to Henryk Szeryng and Nathan Milstein's recording of Bach's Violin Partitas and Sonatas when I realised there was a slight intonation problem in one of the movements in BWV 1006. Towards the end of the movement, Nathan Milstein's recording started to sound a little flat. As I compared both of their recordings, they both started almost similarly. Yet, at the end, Milstein's recording became duller due to the flat intonation as compared to the other recordings of it that I have.

Oh well, maybe it's just a small intonation problem in this particular movement. He was supposed to be well known for his pure intonation anyway. Or maybe it's just my ears... Hmm...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Preparation of Pieces

It's time to start organising what pieces to add to my repertoire for next year's competition, exams and events. And looking at the level of this year's competition, it's time for me to work extra hard.

For next year's exam, I've chosen 3 main pieces with 2 backup pieces in case I can't find a pianist for the chamber music and concerto. So they'll be Bach's Gavotte en Rondeau from BWV 1006a, Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata (1st movement), Rodrigo's Fantasia para un Gentilhombre (1st movement). The two backup pieces will be Tarrega's Capricho Arabe and Falla's Homenaje pour 'Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy'.

As for the competition, I'm still deciding between Turina or Ronaldo Miranda. I've ordered the Appassionata by the latter from overseas just two days ago and I've yet to see the score, but from what the way it sounds, it doesn't sound too easy. And until now, it seems that only Fabio Zanon's recording of it is in the market and I don't like the way he played this piece very much. But anyways, I'll try to master both pieces before the first quarter of next year, so I can have a choice for the competition. Oh, not forgetting the guitar duet. Haven't chosen a piece yet, but we've decided to start combining at the end of the year, in order to be in time for next year's competition...

That's all for now and several of these pieces are almost done except for several aspects which require finetuning. And of course, there's the theory aspect of music to tackle as well...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Now, tonight is the highlight of this year's Guitar Festival. French guitarist Roland Dyens performed tonight. Now, for my review. If you haven't gone to his concert before, think of the best guitarist in your imagination, and I can only say that Roland Dyens is a much better guitarist than who you have in mind. I'm overly critical of performances most of the time, but the concert tonight has left me utterly speechless. Nothing I write would do justice to him.

Improvisation, musicality, technicalities, interpretation of guitar music at its peak. He didn't have a programme lined up, for he claimed that he wanted a spontaneaous concert suited for the atmosphere this night, with the element of surprise. I was skeptical about that at first, for how could some guitarist pick out random pieces that suit the atmosphere. I had actually shrugged it off as a promotional gimmick. But the concert tonight just made me feel so guilty of such thoughts I had. The music was totally spontaneous and natural, a quality lacking so badly in many professional concerts. Everything came out fresh and in the most special way...

The concert started off with a piece which he specially improvised for this concert in Singapore. It was totally magical, with its mystical and nostalgic mood, so often felt by one in a foreign land alone. Totally reflective of his mood I believe.

He just has this magical talent of producing the most beautiful musical effect out of the technical pieces which has practically no musical value in them at all. Somehow, from his concert, I have believed that no piece in this world is actually not musical at all... Oh well, guess that's something extreme I deduced from just one genius.

He's the first guitarist which will be listed under the section of virtuoso guitarists which I've actually met. He has managed to possess all of the diverse range of qualities used by the two schools of rational and intuitive performers . And yes, that pretty much makes him a prodigy. His music seems to be so well thought out and yet it still retains the natural, spontaneous quality to it.

Maybe all these may seem absurb to some. But I can only say that what I've written still doesn't do justice to his abilities... =)

A Night of Brazilian Music

Classical guitarist Fabio Zanon was on tonight. He started the concert wonderfully with 3 Latin-American pieces. The first piece is Triste no. 1 by composer Eduardo Fabini. An emotionally-charged piece of music to start off the evening and Fabio Zanon's style of playing brought out the spirit of the piece of music in the most wonderful way. The air resonates with the full spectrum of tone colours which he caressed out from his instrument, doing so with limited string noise. Such brazilian and Latin-American pieces fit just nicely with his personal style, though insufficient to recreate the atmosphere of Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro in the concert hall, but nonetheless enjoyable.

Also performing tonight is also special guest violinist Betina Maag Santos, who currently resides in Singapore. They performed the Sonata Concertata in A by Niccolo Paganini. Very lovely piece of music with its heartwrenching melody and warm harmonies. That sure inspired me to play some chamber music in the near future. And I've gotten quite some interesting chamber pieces to prepare for the exams and competition next year. Anyways, I was surprised to learn that Betina Maag Santos learned under the legendary violinist Nathan Milstein.

After the interval, 6 of the 12 Studies by Francisco Mignone was on. I have always been skeptical of studies or etudes being played in performances and recordings, for the intentions for which they are written for should restrict them to the practice room, unless the mastery of the particular technique involved creates a most beautiful musical effect. Stefano Cardi had played 1 of the 12 Etudes by Villa Lobos the day before and I thought it'd be better substituted with a standard performance piece. Yet tonight, the 6 Studies were mostly well chosen, and reflects aspects of the Brazilian musical culture.

The finale program piece was marred by the artiste's excessive emotions. Ever tried practising a romantic piece of music and attempting to make it more emotional by trying out different ways to express or shape the phrases, but end up with a repulsive version of it? That's what happened to Ronaldo Miranda's Appasionata. The excessive rubato and dynamic changes were too much and even though Fabio Zanon seemed to be totally immersed in the music, the music which had been produced was outright repulsive. Simplicity is the idea, and that's what the piece lacks. From what I deduced of the music from his playing, the melody line could have been really passionate if he had taken extra care to control the dynamic difference of his melody and harmony. That's also what I've observed from his style. The melodies of some of his pieces had been obscured due to the almost similar volume he plays his harmonies and as a result, sounding a little messy. IF one had sang the melody out mentally, he or she would have realised how musically beautiful the piece could be if several aspects of his playing could be refined.

I really wished he didn't play the two encore pieces, Torre Bermeja by Issac Albeniz and Serenata Espanola by Malats. He made us feel as if he was rushing to end this concert and the beauty of two Spanish impressionistic pieces were thus utterly destroyed in his hands. What a pity. If he could have sticked to the way he played at the first half, it would be a much better concertgoing experience for the audience who were present...

Somehow, his music didn't touch me as much as the previous two guitarists, but his technical capability impressed me the most, which is something very superficial... Nevertheless, I did enjoy tonight's concert. =)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

20th Century Guitar Music

An Italian guitarist, Stefano Cardi performed at the DBS Auditorium tonight. I'm glad it wasn't the concert hall, or probably more than half of the audience would not be able to hear such exquisite sounds of the guitar due to his light touch. Of course, when one talks of 20th century music, terms like atonality, avant-garde, experimentalism etc will come into mind, but nope, not for the classical guitar, which hasn't progressed as fast as the rest of the music world. Most of the music presented tonight was mostly tonal, except probably for one by Toru Takemitsu...

He started off with a pretty traditional piece by Manuel Ponce. It was a piece which was written in a Baroque dance style, for that's what Manuel Ponce was famous for, writing in the different styles of music back in history. The beginning of the performance was a little unsteady, but he settled pretty fast into the third piece. I was expecting music which were more dramatic and nonconventional, but was treated to a night of largely harmonious music. I really like his light touch, which was really pleasant to the ears.

It was Toru Takemitsu's kind music which I had been expecting. Mostly dissonant sounds, but it's truly a pleasure to listen intently into how the vibrations interact with each other to bring out the atmosphere. Seriously, if I had just switched off because of the dissonances, I wouldn't certainly have dozed off. Thankfully, I have listened to sufficient modern music to be able to appreciate such pieces. I sincerely enjoyed that piece, but I also happened to notice that the applause wasn't that enthusiastic after that. Guess the audience tonight wasn't able to connect as well... Would it be the same if he had played that piece in Europe?

Stefano Cardi also played two pieces by this Chinese composer Shih Hui Chen. Either he couldn't bring the oriental side of the music out well, or that the composition itself was problematic. But since he was reading from the score for this piece, I guess he wasn't too familiar with it as well...

Most of the pieces he played were written by great melodists in the 20th century and Stefano Cardi has certainly brought out the lovely melody lines with the most crystal clear tone. The problem he had was the boisterous string noise which sticks out like a sore thumb in his music. It has been possible to reduce, if not eradicate the string noise which is extremly unmusical. I don't know, but classical guitarists ought to start spending some effort on taking out this problem before we can even start comparing ourselves to the other classical instruments.

Another problem he had was the slight articulation problem in selected parts of the pieces. And towards the end of the concert, he didn't quite give the music time to breathe. At points where a fermata is needed, he just went straight on to the next section. It was a crucial pause which allows the audience to indulge in the emotions they're feeling at the point, and would have been so much more perfect if he had given the music a little more time to breathe.

Stefano Cardi played two encores, the first is his composition for Fritz Kreisler. A sweet and wonderfully tonal composition. The next is his transcription of Fritz Kreisler's famous Joy of Love. Yes, I can probably guess that he is a fan of Fritz Kreisler. =)

First Night

It was a night of stylized nostalgia. Guitarist Oscar Herrero was able to bring out the full intensity of the spirit of his compositions in the style of flamenco. Throughout most of the concert, neither did he explain his pieces nor attempt to spice up the mood through words, but his music spoke volumes of the intense melancholic passion he had when composing such pieces. He did speak before his last programme piece, but well, it was in Spanish. Of course, most of the audience probably wouldn't understand, including me, but I somehow made it out that he thanked various people for the chance to perform here. Nonetheless, despite the presence of an audience who didn't understand his language, he indulged himself in the music and didn't show any hint of nervousness.

It did bother me at first when he played into the first few bars of his music. I went into the hall, expecting to immerse myself with the deep Spanish culture and mood, after all, his concert was publicised as a flamenco concert. Yet, what visual images his music brought was not at all Spanish in any nature. It wasn't in any way faithful to the flamenco culture. The excessive rubato which will embarrass romantic performers is totally unacceptable in flamenco culture. What he played was clearly a fusion between flamenco, jazz and classical styles, and I really had a problem identifying what genre of music was I listening to. But to brand himself as a flamenco guitarist is totally ridiculous for the very essence of the flamenco culture is gone. It's pretty near to impossible that a flamenco dancer or singer can accompany a guitarist who takes so much liberty with the rhythm. I was absolutely repulsed by the fact that he actually attempted to sell his hybridized music as flamenco music to people like us, naively believing that we are unaware of the music culture in another place. If he had just termed himself as nuevo flamenco guitarist, I truly wouldn't have minded so much. I could see that my teacher was slightly disappointed, or was he just tired? And it's been such a long time since I've had a lesson with him. As for the guitarist, what a pity, can you hear the Spanish world who is so deeply rooted in the pure flamenco culture lamenting out loud?

What had God done to my day? I didn't even intend to buy the tickets for this concert at all. In the afternoon, I just felt an irresistable urge to make my way down to the concert hall to take a look at the merchandise they had there. Upon reaching there, I was just offered a ticket at a highly subsidiesd rate, which was too good a deal to reject. And at that particular seat, it was just one of the best seats available, with the full dynamic range of the guitar audible to me. He didn't play very loud and I really doubted if those at the back of the concert hall could hear at all. All of his choice of repertoire was directed at stirring up a particular visual picture in my mind. After which, the first bus I took at random went through just that particular route we took that night somewhere around this period last year. I've gotten enough emotions to handle from several happenings these week and now that flood of emotions came. And what intrigues me most is that how the happenings of the day flow so smoothly from one to another just to ignite this particular sentiment...

Tonight, it's going to be Stefano Cardi who'll be playing 20th century guitar music. Now I'm really interested to know how it'll turn out for me. It's nice to know that he has quite a wide range of the type of 20th century guitar music for this performance in Asia tonight - Astor Piazzolla, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Toru Takemitsu, Heitor Villa Lobos and Manuel Ponce. (The last composer is of course a modern composer who was borned in the wrong era, like Brahms, but well, his music is beautiful in a very traditional tonal way.) And he's also playing pieces by composers which I have not heard of at all - Shih Hui Chen (Chinese guitar composer?), Alber Harris, Ferdinand Morton. Let's just see how the concert tonight turns out...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Striking Similarity

Now, after so many entries on Bach, I guess it'll be nice to write a little about modern music for a change. A pretty drastic one, but well, that's what I've listened to recently...

There's this surprising similarity in one of William Duckworth's pieces of music, Dancing the Maze, featured under the Cathedral section (Moments) of the Monroe Street Music website and a track, Land of the Dead, from Philip Glass's CD, Music of The Screens, where he collaborated with Foday Musa Suso. The main theme of Philip's Glass piece has formed the background of William Duckworth's music. The latter's music seems to have a more complex and intricate structure. Does postminimalism simply means the evolution of minimalism into a more sophiscated form? I doubt so, there seems to be something more which I can't find the exact words for. Oh well, slowly, when I'm exposed to more of such music. When listening to such music, I find myself in a world of huge, towering yet obscure structures of sounds which interact with one another in the most mystical and enigmatic manner. Maybe my ears haven't gotten used to just intonation, but at least I can connect so much better with such music instead of feeling strange thinking that they're Indian classical music.

Nuance, nuances and nuances...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Elusive Beauty

That was no doubt the most special moment in my guitar practice for the past few weeks. I have been just focussing on one of the movements in Bach's BWV 1006a, the Gavotte en Rondeau in particuar and it is basically a Rondo with the structure ABACADAEA. Of course, for those who are familiar with the piece will not have any problem with recognising that subsidiary theme E is the climax of the whole movement. But I had a special revelation when I was studying the subsidiary theme D. Bach has wonderfully masked such intense emotions within this playful rondeau. After listening to all of my professional recordings, it was really only those who didn't play in the traditional détaché baroque style that brought the exquisite beauty of the section out. The intense heartaching sensation in the modulation to F# minor in that section really got my adrenalin in my body rushing. From my observation in the facsimile version, if Bach hadn't written extensive slurs in that portion, I suspect even lesser people would have discovered such a heartwrenching beauty. It isn't just playing according to Bach's phrasing but also due to the rich harmonic structure when the basses are deliberately sustained.

Goran Sollscher has managed to capture such this gem in her fullest glory, whereas for the other guitarists, the intensity of this emotion has been reduced significantly due to the lack of sustenance in the basses in that particular segment of the theme. As for the violin recordings, I'm baffled by the absence of the basses in just those few short bars. Yes, the basic mood of the theme was there, but I really thought that it is the basses in the few particular bars of the theme which brings the theme to a climax. Did Bach leave the basses out in the violin version of it due to technical constraints of the violins? Probably so, but I certainly gained so much by studying into the intricate musical details of this movement.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Facsimile Edition

I've been studying the facsimile editions of Bach's Lute Suites and it sure is interesting to learn the now obsolete notations in the Baroque era. Not forgetting the fact that I'm proposing reading such scores as a good method to get a headache. There're lots of ambiguities at first sight and he isn't exactly very tidy. I know Beethovan's worse, but stop bringing him up. The way he wrote his slurs for his instrumental works isn't very clear in the exact notes which are slurred. I just thought this is good as well, at least I can experiment a little on the interpretation of the work and exercise a little discretion on my own in being faithful to the composer. Of course, after all these tedious work, the feeling is just wonderful to be able to bring the whole piece of music alive, especially after adding the tone colour and dynamics to make it sound just the way it ought to be in my opinion.

There're still a whole tonne of information on the interpretation of Bach's music on my table to be studied. Yes, I do get a headache, but there's also this anticipation, thinking of the kind of gems I may be able to extract out of the mine there.

And amidst of these work constantly remind myself that the natural feel of the music must not be lost, which is so common of some of the recordings of Bach out there...

About Bach

Bach's music seems so easy to appreciate on the surface, yet everytime I listen to his pieces another time, they never fail to reveal something new to me. Every single piece of Bach's music recorded by decent artists strikes deep into me emotionally and spiritually, especially his vocal music. Yes, the sacred cantatas consists of mostly sermons and teachings of Christ in another language which I don't learn, yet they affect me much like a good sermon does. This really is the magical quality in the music of this legendary composer. I know that I'll never regret my choice of specialising in Bach's music, even though it is the most taxing on my brain cells. There are just so much aspects to take care of to master his music, like his musical shape, phrasing, articulation, ornaments etc. Interpreting his music in the most faithful way is really the hardest as compared to interpreting music by other composers. I've spent weeks going to the arts library to study on every single aspect regarding this composer and his contemporaries for the whole day, yet I felt that it was never sufficient, probably due to the fact that much was lost over the centuries.

Yes, I do know that Bach's music is acceptable when played without much research on him, but such performances lack a certain important quality which brings his music to life. It really is easy to differentiate performers who really study Bach's music intently and faithfully with those who just play as if it's just another musical piece. It is the X factor which brings the music alive, with the audience being able to feel the quintessence of the music, exuding this magnificent godly quality, yet not void of the fragile humane quality so essential in all good music.

An authentic performance doesn't mean playing on period instruments at all. In fact, I've come across certain performances of Bach on modern instruments more honest than those on period instruments. Of course, some superficial effects of modern instruments will overpower the music sometimes, like the volume and quality of the sound, but the faithfulness of the performers to an authentic perfromance does shine through eventually...

There're just so many aspects of Bach's music regarding temperaments, interpretation, instruments, the connection between rhetoric and music, intrinsic value of his music etc to address and I doubt a whole life dedicated to his music will ever be sufficient.
Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
And no doubt, Bach had glorifed God to the best of his abilities.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Editorial Scores

I realised that editorial publications of sheet music really attempts to shape how the music would sound, not just editorial phrasings but also fingerings as well. Things would probably be alright if I hadn't gotten an idea of how the music ought to sound before I started reading the score. But I really had that perfect music in my mind before I start practising that piece of music, and I find that if the editor has a different concept from me, the technical level would be a few notches higher if I follow the fingerings on it, as compared to when I just play according to how the editor shapes the phrases and devise the fingerings. I have learnt the importance of having the original manuscript of the music beside me. Yes, there may not be as much details as the editorial versions, but at least I know how much of the phrasings and fingerings are the editor's ideas and not the composer and that gives me more space to change fingerings and phrasings to make that piece sound more musical to me.

On the issue of fingerings, modern guitarists have advocated using fingerings that suit you the best, contrary to Segovia's teachings that a guitarist ought to follow the fingerings of the score closely, especially his. In fact, fingerings do play an important part in shaping the piece of music. It's really not about just getting the correct notes out. Sometimes, a phrase has to really convey that sense of huge geographical distance of the notes and it really spoils the phrase when the guitarist takes the easier way out and opt for an easier and less demanding fingering. Therefore, it's not really about using fingerings that suit you the best, but using fingerings that suit the music the best. Segovia was probably right about it, except for that fact that he has this absolute notion that his fingerings were the most musical and therefore the best. However, Segovia's rendition of a lot of pieces doesn't exactly sound musical to me, especially when it comes to baroque pieces. Well, devising good and musical fingerings really isn't easy and takes a lot of effort and knowledge of the music and the instrument, but it's an essential skill that most instrumentalists ought to pick up due to the huge number of scores that have substandard fingerings on them and they're most likely to be regarded as infallible by the inexperienced musicians.

Playing music has been tormenting due to some existing intonation problems, especially when a chord requires some notes on an open string and notes that needs to be held down onto the frets. I decided to forget about keeping those new strings and attempt to fix that intonation problem again. (As you know, when taking out the bridge to make some changes, you need to release the tension on the strings and that'll spoil the strings) Well, it's definitely much better now, maybe because the improvement of my filing technique after a few attempts at fixing that intonation problem on my guitar. At least the filing was much more even throughout the length of the bridge. Now, most of the notes wouldn't be more than 5 cents off their original equal temperament. I was right when it was the problem with the bridge and not with the spacing of the frets. I wouldn't be able to do much anyway if it was really the latter. Thank God, now I'm at least starting to love my guitar a little more...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Practising Backwards

I never quite believe in practising backwards in order to memorise the piece of music better. It's just detrimental to the musicality of the piece and I find that it's too high a price to pay in order to memorise the piece of music. And I'm really surprised that even professional musicians advocate this method in order to aid memory.

I can never find much sense in practising backwards. You can't grasp the flow of the music. One just start practising the last page or section of the music and more often than not, you start in the middle of a phrase and that is the worst feeling ever. What comes out eventually is nonsensical and meaningless. Even if you separate the piece in a way such that whatever section you play starts on the beginning of a phrase, it is still pretty much as bad because you can't shape the phrase well without knowing the introduction before it and how the phrase fits into the whole picture. Eventually, even if you manage to go through the whole piece, chances are that some sections will stick out like a sore thumb as the piece of music has lost its flow.

Anyways, I lost the connection to quite a number of recordings out there. They don't affect me as much as they used to. Maybe I'm becoming increasingly critical and having higher expectations. Yes, and that also means that I'm getting more nitpicky in the minor details of my music, not to mention that there's still this intonation problem I have. Oh well, practices have become quite a torture. How I wish that I have a better guitar to practise on...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Crossing Boundaries

The boundaries between classical music (maybe some people might be more comfortable with the term experimental music) and rock music have blurred, especially prominent in the previous few decades. And the thing is that they've both been previously perceived to be on opposite ends of the music spectrum. Maybe that's just part and parcel of this experimental age, where composers have seeked to search for inspirations in their art through other genres of music. Advant-garde composers have sought to study with masters of other genres of music like Indian classical music, gamelan music etc. And whatever modern movement sweeping through the classical scene, we can see it being caught on by the rock scene as well, with microtonality and minimalism as some examples.

I seem to have this feeling that people now are more obsessed with having radical ideas of creating music than in the resulting music that is produced. Heart-stirring melodies and harmonies, though not completely marginalised, have taken a backseat to coming up with the ideas itself. I agree that most of the music they make do satisfy the ear, but they just lack the ability to penetrate deep into the deeper chambers of our bodies...

Now, that's the kind of music that most talented composers of our time are composing. Is it indeed a pitiful wastage of their talent that half of the world is lamenting about, or is it just because the audiences are more narrow-minded than what art audiences ought to be?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Carnival of Music #10

Alright, it's my turn to host the Carnival of Music this week. A million thanks to Scott Spiegelberg for hosting a marvellous Carnival last week. Think I'll divide the posts into various genres so readers will find it easier to browse through their beloved topics.

Traditional Classical Music
In the news, we have some problem with iPods playing classical music. I swear this is one of the sickening problems whenever I listen to classical music on the bus and trains, especially symphonies and concertos where there're huge and sudden dynamics changes.
Oh, be sure to take a look at the professional violinist, Midori's blog on her concert tour in Asia. She sure has some interesting insights in this two-week blog.
Also, we have Talvi's experiences with the halls used for the Mostly Mozart Festival.
And not forgetting Greg Sandow's refutation of someone's keyntoe speech about classical music. He even mentioned some excellent ideas on how to attract younger audiences into the classical music scene, though I've some doubts that it'd be productive.

Modernism or Anti-Modernism
This week, Kyle Gann has given some lovely reviews on Aaron Copland's opera The Tender Land and Marc Blitzstein's opera Regina. Alright, the latter wasn't that lovely, from the way he wrote the review, but if his reviews certainly got me interested in getting recordings of such modern opera to listen.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson gave his comments on the a particular music of 1975 - Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated, in his series of Music since 1960. He sure took lots of effort in looking for 36 links to match the 36 variations in that piece by Rzewski. But I'm sure for lovers of modern music, it'll be worth the time and effort browsing through the list.
Now for anti-modernism, take a look at harpist Helen Radice's opinions on electronic music. Guess she's one of them who's anti-modernism but substantiates her stand very well.

Arh, for this genre, Mwanji Ezana has been kind enough to compile a list of links to jazz blogs around the blogosphere. I'm thankful for the help as I know nuts about jazz.

For this section, I'll have posts which consist of a mixture of the previous few genres above. Rob Witt's review of a musicircus book, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers, sure got my attention. That's going to one book I'll be looking out for when I visit the library or bookstore.

Would like to thank JohnL for letting me host the Carnival this week and Lynn S for volunteering to host the Carnival next week. Anyone who would like to volunteer to host the Carnival of Music in the next few weeks please feel free to email JohnL at =)

(This is a similar entry of the previous post on the Carnival of Music #10 in order to have the Carnival at the top of my blog for this week.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Carnival of Music #10

Alright, it's my turn to host the Carnival of Music this week. A million thanks to Scott Spiegelberg for hosting a marvellous Carnival last week. Think I'll divide the posts into various genres so readers will find it easier to browse through their beloved topics.

Traditional Classical Music
In the news, we have some problem with iPods playing classical music. I swear this is one of the sickening problems whenever I listen to classical music on the bus and trains, especially symphonies and concertos where there're huge and sudden dynamics changes.
Oh, be sure to take a look at the professional violinist, Midori's blog on her concert tour in Asia. She sure has some interesting insights in this two-week blog.
Also, we have Talvi's experiences with the halls used for the Mostly Mozart Festival.
And not forgetting Greg Sandow's refutation of someone's keyntoe speech about classical music. He even mentioned some excellent ideas on how to attract younger audiences into the classical music scene, though I've some doubts that it'd be productive.

Modernism or Anti-Modernism
This week, Kyle Gann has given some lovely reviews on Aaron Copland's opera The Tender Land and Marc Blitzstein's opera Regina. Alright, the latter wasn't that lovely, from the way he wrote the review, but if his reviews certainly got me interested in getting recordings of such modern opera to listen.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson gave his comments on the a particular music of 1975 - Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated, in his series of Music since 1960. He sure took lots of effort in looking for 36 links to match the 36 variations in that piece by Rzewski. But I'm sure for lovers of modern music, it'll be worth the time and effort browsing through the list.
Now for anti-modernism, take a look at harpist Helen Radice's opinions on electronic music. Guess she's one of them who's anti-modernism but substantiates her stand very well.

Arh, for this genre, Mwanji Ezana has been kind enough to compile a list of links to jazz blogs around the blogosphere. I'm thankful for the help as I know nuts about jazz.

For this section, I'll have posts which consist of a mixture of the previous few genres above. Rob Witt's review of a musicircus book, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers, sure got my attention. That's going to one book I'll be looking out for when I visit the library or bookstore.

Would like to thank JohnL for letting me host the Carnival this week and Lynn S for volunteering to host the Carnival next week. Anyone who would like to volunteer to host the Carnival of Music in the next few weeks please feel free to email JohnL at =)

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Apparently, someone can't decide whether she wants to be a hooker or a professional violinist. Browsed through her website and there's quite a fair amount of vulgarities and unseemly language. Don't get me wrong, classical music isn't just for the high class people, but the way she portrays herself as a rowdy, punk kid is just so unacceptable of a professional classical violinist. Her CD covers makes me feel as if I'm browsing through some near-pornographic magazine out at the stands. Ok, even if her music is stunningly beautiful (which is far from it, unfortunately), I'll be embarrassed recommending it to friends, for they'll no doubt give me that incredulous look and contemplate whether I'm attracted to the music or CD cover. And I didn't like her interpretations of the tracks in her CDs one bit at all, and you can be sure that it wasn't due to my prejudice against her. I was treating the music as some professional recording, but I was terribly disappointed...

What irks me most is the fact that she has tainted the purity of the classical music scene. I seriously suggest that she should just consider changing profession, for I feel that the red light district suits her much better than a recording studio or concert hall...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Musical Perceptions About the Carnival of Music

Be sure to take a look over at Scott Spiegelberg's blog, where he's hosting the Carnival of Music #9 this week. He sure had an interesting way of putting those musical posts together. That's gonna be the most special Carnival ever hosted ever since it started two months back and more importantly, there're quite a few interesting articles within the jillian number of links this week, so be sure not to miss them out. =)

I'll be hosting the Carnival next week, so if anyone has any posts on music to share, just send them to me at

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Obsession With Modern Music

I find myself being addicted to books on modern music or composers than classical guitar books. I swear that if I had the money that day, I would have gotten the book on John Cage than the book on the life of Andrés Segovia.

John Cage's repetitive blasphemous comments almost made me tore that pages out. I'm sure if asked on how did he find Bach, Beethovan or Mozart, he'd have condemned them as well. He was one big egocentric person who called people who didn't understand his music idiots and shot down all comments that his music originated from God by repeatedly claiming that he was the sole creator of his music. I'm really interested in his perspective on the world of sounds and admire his innovative composition techniques. He's no doubt a genius, but he's such a 'staunch' atheist. And that pretty much make him a religious fool... Oh well...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata

Now for something more traditional instead of those tick-tock-bang-boom modern pieces. Have been listening to Franz Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata pretty often these few days. Parts of this profound and emotionally volatile piece sounds terribly anguished and exhibits such cyclothymic qualities while the other parts present the cheerful and lively side of his character, even sounding sugary sweet at times. And the magical side of this piece to me is the transitions between the dark and bright sides never sounded unnatural and it reflects how much emotional turmoil Schubert had gone through in the process of composing this magnificent piece of art.

It was written exactly two years after he contacted syphilis and the following excerpt is part of a letter Schubert had written to his friend Leopold Kupelweiser:

In a word, I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair over this ever makes things worse and worse, instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have come to nothing, to whom the joy of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain, at best, whose enthusiasm (at least of the stimulating kind) for all things beautiful threatens to vanish, and ask yourself, is he not a miserable, unhappy being? — "My peace is gone, my heart is sore, I shall find it never and nevermore." I may well sing every day now, for each night, I go to bed hoping never to wake again, and each morning only tells me of yesterday's grief.
-Franz Schubert, Dokumente 1817-1830, i: Texte, ed. T. G. Waidelich (Tutzing, 1993) 234

And I just know that I'm not going to let this most beautiful gem escape me and I shall master the transcription of piece for guitar and a string ensemble in the near future.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Andrés Segovia - The Primitive Man

Andrés Segovia

I really wonder how would the present guitar scene be if Andrés Segovia, the father of the modern day guitar, had accepted Arnold Schoenberg's request to write for the guitar. He had previously found the guitar repertoire to be too limited and asked the composers of his day to write for the guitar, yet when Arnold Schoenberg and composers of atonal music came forward to offer to write for the guitar, he had rejected them straight in the face. I do respect him for the fact that he was the founder of the modern day guitar, otherwise the classical guitar will never make it up to the concert stage and John Williams will probably follow his father's footsteps and be a jazz guitarist. But I'm just a little piqued for his action of rejecting compositions by atonal composers and playing most compositions by Manuel Ponce in his later years. Ponce was another composer who was too primitive for his time. I have to admit that he was a prolific composer and I really love his music, but I thought that he would have been more famous if he had been borned a century earlier. Oh well...

Maybe I'm sinking too deeply into modern music. I could feel myself shaking a little when I realised the fact that Schoenberg had requested to write for the guitar and Segovia had slammed the door shut in his face. You could have imagined what nasty things I would have done to Segovia if I was able to go back in time. Atonal music may seem to have less emotional value than traditional tonal music, but I'm liking them for their experimental value. And I just felt it's time we ought to recognise atonal music as a development in the timeline of music instead of pretending that this style of composition had never been present all these while.

Friday, July 29, 2005


We've stepped half a decade into the twenty-first century and it seems that, unlike the visual arts, the classical music world still have a lot of trouble trying to understand music from the last century. In performances of modern works, the moods and meanings of the pieces eludes even the most seasoned of performers. If the performers themselves couldn't connect to their pieces emotionally, how do we expect them to communicate with the audiences what those music are about? Schoenberg was probably right when he commented that his "music is not really modern, just badly played".

Twentieth century music consists of several styles of music composition techniques - serialism, aleatoric music, impressionism, minimalism, jazz-influenced classical music (please correct me if there is a specific term for such music) etc. It seems that the most problematic styles which the classical music world have trouble appreciating are that former two, but I'll going to post some of my opinions on minimalist music for I've been listening to a few of such pieces recently.

For those who are unsure of what's minimal music, they're simply music stripped of all the its complexity and exploits the use of repetition. And don't worry about the excessive dissonance that is so characteristic of twentieth century pieces, for minimal music consist of mostly, if not entirely, tonal harmonies. I've not listened to the whole range of such music, but I'll recommend Arvo Pärt's Sarah Was Ninety Years Old, Philip Glass's Closing (Listen out for the subtle changing rhythms and tone colours), Terry Riley's In C. Such a minimalist movement is also pretty much alive in popular music - trance music.

Now we have the definition of minimal music, the problem comes. Do we consider such minimalism as modernism or anti-modernism? Considering just the contents of the music, it consists of the simplest musical material and that'll mean the minimalist movement is a big step back in time. But the main factor is such music isn't so much of the seemingly minimal content as its experimental attitude and thus composers of minimalist works still have to struggle all the same to bring their music into the concert stage and recordings.

Minimalist compositions may sound meaningless, for they project audible changes gradually over prolonged periods of time and thus induces a trance-like state in its listeners. Yes, not much of the traditional passionate emotions involved, but I personally feel that such works allow the ear to delve deep into the resonance of the individual sounds. And it really emphasises on the purity of the sound. Within the extended length of one simple interval, the tone, timbre and intensity can change, bringing about a rich assortment of harmonics. It's like a violin increasing its volume over the span of one note and intensifying the mood. And in minimal music, I've realised that the focus isn't on the music or harmony, it's on the sound. The rich sounds draw the listeners into the pure and fascinating world of sounds. And that's the very beauty of minimal music to me.

Alright, that's all from me today, though there's so much more about minimalism to be commented, like its history and the progression into postminimalism. I'll write more when I've acquired more knowledge into modern music.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Carnival of Music

Arh, I've decided to help host the Carnival of Music two weeks later. A million thanks to JohnL for giving me this chance to host and this is a wonderful project for bringing all the posts on music in the blogging world together.

"The Carnival of Music is a celebration of all things musical - listening to or playing it, writing or recording it, analyzing or criticizing it. Music history, music theory, and composition are all welcome and encouraged in featured entries. I will not limit genres; classical, jazz, pop, rock, rap, country -- all are welcome here."

This week, we have The Llama Butchers hosting the Carnival of Music #8. Be sure to visit their site, for there're a few interesting posts on music for this week. =)

Maybe I ought to submit a post for next week's Carnival by Scott Spielberg at Musical Perceptions. Shall probably write on my opinions on twentieth century music, which I've been listening to more often recently. If I manage to rush out my post by Friday that is...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Maestro Joaquin Rodrigo

Late Maestro Rodrigo and wife, Victoria

I just got the DVD Shadows & Light on the late spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. It starts with Pepe Romero playing his most famous guitar concerto, Concierto de Aranjuez, and followed by all his smaller works played by renowned artists who are good friends with this wonderful composer. This is one moving story which touches me in a very special way whenever I listen to that concerto. And I'm incredible touched by the deep love Joaquin Rodrigo and his wife have for each other. The perfect romance...

For those who haven't heard this concerto before, I'd strongly recommend Pepe Romero's 2nd recording of it. Flawless and incredible moving, taking into account of the fact that Pepe has known Maestro Rodrigo since young. The only downside is that he does his vibrato like he's having a spasm. Well, shall write more of this wonderful concerto in the near future.
"Joaquín Rodrigo at 90 is an intimate and intensely personal exploration of the world-renowned Spanish composer. He has created some of the most beautiful music ever written. His Concierto de Aranjuez is as famous as Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the paintings of Goya. At 90, he is a man whose youthful exuberance and extrovert personality have yielded to the introversion and silent meditation of old age. ‘Shadows and Light’ portrays a man who has found inspiration in his belief in God but has also suffered greatly at the hand of his own demons. He is a man who has been blind since early childhood, but has never allowed his disability to inhibit his artistic vision. He is a man who is sustained by the love and support of his family, and who has always upheld the most basic values. His story is truly inspirational, as it has been to everyone who was involved in the making of this film.”
-Director Larry Weinstein, writing in 1993, said of his 60 minute film ‘Shadows and Light’

Food for Thought

"When you play music, if you truly surrender your ego and your self, you lose the awareness of your own body, and your body becomes the body of the sound. You perceive your own person as being inside the tone, inside the sound, and of course the audience is also inside the tone, so you are really one, and it's really difficult for me to know where I end and the public begins, I feel a real togetherness and a real oneness, bonded by the tone, by the actual physical vibration of the sound. And this is a wonderful experience."
-Pepe Romero, renowned classical guitarist
Alright, he did seem a little incoherent cause his native language is Spanish, but the meaning is there. I just didn't quite agree with the audience portion. When I think about the audience when playing music, it really takes out more than half of my attention from the music and I eventually can't connect with my music as well as in my practices. Maybe only seasoned performers are capable of being completely at ease when playing in front of huge audiences...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Interesting Comment

"the English do carol; the French sing, the Spaniards weep, the Italians... caper with their voices; the others bark, but the Germans (which I am ashamed to utter) do howl like wolves..."
-German writer who took the Greek name Ornithoparchus
Now, that was written by this German writer in 1609. That sounds a little harsh on his fellow countrymen and I guess they really pissed him off pretty badly to make him come up with such a comment...

If this German singer...

howls like a wolf...

then how do you describe this...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Should It Sound Divine or Danceable?

Should my Bach's Fugue from BWV 1000 sound divine or danceable? Have been listening to major artistes from the two general schools playing Bach, with legendary artistes like Henryk Szeryng, Arthur Grumiaux etc in the school which craft Bach's pieces in a divine way and in the other school, there'll be those who play Bach in a lighter, danceable style.

I've never been very supportive of the latter school, especially when they twist and desecrate the works until the very essence of Bach's music is lost. It wasn't until I heard of Hilary Hahn's rendition of Bach that changed my mind. Or rather, she's an exception. She completely tore down the divine nature of the works and recreate a completely different yet amazing effect that is not at all inferior to the former camp. Her recordings of the 3 sonata and partitas captured my total attention the first time I heard them. It's taxing to listen to the Chaconne by Szeryng twice consecutively yet for Hahn, I can just go on and on without feeling any decrease in the intensity and passion. But well, what I could accept from the latter camp can only stop there. I can't accept how artistes like Lara St John and Yo-Yo Ma (his second recording of Bach) butcher up Bach and left his pieces unbearable for the ears.

Of course, now considering the fact that I play the guitar, it'd probably take a miracle on top of an impeccable technique and astounding musicality to make Bach's pieces sound divine. Well, maybe I ought to focus more on making it danceable, yet at the same time not take too much liberty with the tempo...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Music to Start the Day

A scene from my balcony

It is Bach's Violin Sonatas and Partitas that I'm listening to now. It's amazing how a day can start off so beautifully in Henryk Szeryng's passionate rendition of Bach's music. I've finished my personal devotion and I'm waiting for the sky to brighten up. I'm sure such music would sound wonderful in the background when the first rays of the sun peep into the room...

No, I wasn't listening to his famous Partita No 2. It's a suite far too dark and overly passionate to be played in the beautiful morning. I don't exactly have the intention of having tears in my eyes this early in the morning... Shall devote an entry on this suite and its magnificent Chaconne (Ciaconna) in the near future.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Biblical Music

Sometimes, I just wish that the debate for the types of music used for worship would stop, for no one has ever been able to come up with a definite and conclusive statement for it. If you tell me that worship music should not stir up too much emotions or cause one to go out of control, then I'll recommend to you atonal music. It's so right, you can fit in words of praise with sincerity without needing to worry that it may stir up excessive emotions.

Pastor Tan just gave his personal viewpoint on music today. It's a pretty good guide for an average person who listens to music for simple pleasures. But take me for example, if that's the definition for worship music that I am supposed to follow, I might as well just chuck all the classical sacred music down the dustbin and listen to contemporary Christian music for Bach's sacred cantatas affect and touch me so much more than contemporary Christian music. But well, Pastor Tan did tell me on the way home that modern pieces from Les Misérables can easily make him lose control, but he did emphasise that it is good influence. Hmm, now we're back at the same spot we started, aren't we?

Moreover, I've opened myself to contemporary Christian music before and I can safely say that in the midst of immersing myself in the music, God was never out of my mind. It's so nice to be able to allow the emotions flow through the whole body (which is what music ought to be about), and at the same time, thank God for making me feel alive. And then try asking those people who are against such music, they'll just tell you that it doesn't sound godly, when they don't even attempt to appreciate it. Then what exactly gives them the authority to condemn such music for worshipping God?

More often than not, I couldn't quite connect with the traditional hymns they sing in church, especially when the hymns they sing aren't very tuneful and the meanings of the words are very shallow. If we're talking about glorifying God, I'm pretty sure that certain contemporary Chrstian music will do a better job. Maybe it's due to the fact that I've listened to more complicated forms of sacred music and have much higher expectations. But I'm sure that God would still be happy as long as the hearts of us are towards Him. And I wouldn't be surprised too, if I see bands beating the drum and playing the electric guitar while singing praises in heaven...

It gets me uneasy when people start to condemn dances too. Take Bach for example, his dances are completely spiritual in nature and connects you to a Higher Being while feeling this strong urge to dance to the music. And take other forms of dances in churches for example, how do they know that those people who are dancing have cast God out of their minds? Just because people have a mental barrier against such forms of worship, they condemn them by saying that form of worship is wrong. Can't they just see that what they're doing is completely self-centred, myopic and selfish, especially when they themselves do not even try to appreciate it?

There probably isn't a definite explanation on what kind of music or dance is acceptable onto God, for the Bible gives very little information on them. But one thing, if someone ever propose to use jazz, tango or latin music for worship music, you can be sure that I'll be the first person to bite his head off. No one should ever associate the music which comes up from the lowest level of society (red light districts etc) to the most Holy God. Now, if God wants a standard, the Bible would probably contain a chapter on dance steps and music scores or even a CD enclosed behind. Hmm...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Classical Guitarists in Their Own World

I have observed that classical guitarists are overly contented in just listening to guitar music. It's time they ought to come out of their own world and interact with the rest of the classical music community. Then they'll realise how much more they're missing. They're probably more familiar with the works of Fernando Sor and Isaac Albeniz as compared to those of Beethovan, Mozart or Chopin.

There's quite a wonderful music-blogging community out there. Would be adding more of the music blogs to my links in the near future.

Musical Hallucinations

Seven years ago Reginald King was lying in a hospital bed recovering from bypass surgery when he first heard the music.

It began with a pop tune, and others followed. Mr. King heard everything from cabaret songs to Christmas carols. "I asked the nurses if they could hear the music, and they said no," said Mr. King, a retired sales manager in Cardiff, Wales.

"I got so frustrated," he said. "They didn't know what I was talking about and said it must be something wrong with my head. And it's been like that ever since."

Each day, the music returns. "They're all songs I've heard during my lifetime," said Mr. King, 83. "One would come on, and then it would run into another one, and that's how it goes on in my head. It's driving me bonkers, to be quite honest."

Last year, Mr. King was referred to Dr. Victor Aziz, a psychiatrist at St. Cadoc's Hospital in Wales. Dr. Aziz explained to him that there was a name for his experience: musical hallucinations.

Dr. Aziz belongs to a small circle of psychiatrists and neurologists who are investigating this condition. They suspect that the hallucinations experienced by Mr. King and others are a result of malfunctioning brain networks that normally allow us to perceive music.

Extracted from

Chanced upon this article when I was reading Scott Spielberg's blog here. Now, that's when you get too much music. It's scary listening to the same tunes on repeat mode perpetually, and worse when you don't have a huge range of music to listen to in the first place. That's the illness that struck Robert Schumann in his dying years and he was often bonkers as written in the history books. I'm thinking whether if I declare that I have this illness, will the Singapore Armed Forces from their service early...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Case of Play-What-You-Like?

How often are musicians forced to practise a piece which they don't connect well emotionally with? I guess that's very often a case for professional performers, when the pieces they play are heavily governed by what the public wants. In the end, we'll probably get a less emotionally charged piece. Even for amatuers musicians joining competitions, they're forced to practise pieces that show off their technical skills than pieces which they can connect better emotionally with. Now, that's pretty much a sad scene, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Quadro Nuevo

Quadro Nuevo

Just caught this wonderful quartet on Arts Central on TV here. A truly talented group which ventures into tango, valse musette and film music. They sure got my whole body swinging and dancing to their tango rhythm. And I got to listen to their rendition of Angel Villoldo's famous El Choclo and learnt of the piece's history. Left a deep impression for Roland Dyens played that piece on his Nuages CD. To think that Angel Villoldo was a pianist in the red-light district of Buenos Aires and of course, the piece was inspired by what goes on there. I guess tango originates from the lower classes of the society, very much like flamenco. It's wonderful how much of that culture is brought out in their music.

Their guitarist, Robert Wolf, was formerly an accompanying guitarist on the tour with Paco de Lucia. Now, that does explain why his tone on the guitar is so thin and his technique is so flawlessly clean. To think that he played the whole solo piece with his eyes closed. That's total immersion into the music! Stunning!

Alright, if not for the fact that I'm practising an Argentinian Tango right now, I wouldn't even have thought of watching this quartet on TV. Now, their music sure led me into the world of swaying nightclubs in Argentina, old tarverns, passionate tango and overwhelming nostalgia. That's totally another genre apart from Baroque, Spanish romantic and flamenco music. But well, I guess my lifetime is too short for me to venture too deeply into such a mysterious and lovely culture...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Feeling of Love and Stravinsky

Thought that today's version of Milonga del Angel was a little unclean, with some technical buzzes here and there. But my teacher actually commented that it was very natural today, but lacking the romantic feeling and authoritative power. And she just shot a stinging question at me, asking me if I've ever loved a woman in my life. Just when I wanted to give a definite no, the image of her just came into my mind. Just when I thought that I've managed to suppress that feeling a few months back, it just came back in an instant. And to think that that she just came back for a holiday break from overseas. Oh well, and I've to tell my teacher an imaginative story next week on this piece, in order to evoke the feelings in the music. First piece of music that I'm study with this teacher and we spent 3 weeks on one simple page? I wonder how long will the Fugue by Bach take then...

Went to Esplanade to spend the whole afternoon alone. Listened to the Rite of Spring of Igor Stravinsky. Yes, a paganistic ritual where a girl is sacrificed by dancing herself to death. This is one of Stravinsky's hardest-to-appreciate piece due to the lack of a lyrical melody line. After opening myself up to this music and getting myself to listen through the whole suite, I now like it a little. Maybe if I understand a little more about the music, I'll be able to connect more with it. And I just borrowed a book explaining, or attempting to explain twentieth century music. Think Schoenberg, Stravinsky and some other modern composers. Hope that'll help me a little. But no matter what, it wouldn't change the fact that I'll specialise in the music of Bach.

How hurting yet sweet is my longing for thee...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

God and Music

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
-Revelations 1:17-18 (KJV)
Something just struck me hard today. I realised how similar God's Word and music affect me emotionally. During the Bible study session today, the revelation of God's Plan (thus showing his faithfulness) brought a passionate warmth in my heart. Such is the power of the Bible, that it renews our strength and gives us hope. Mentally, the image of the world is just complete darkness, while my Christian brothers and sisters are holding on to lighted candles, thus lighting up their near surroundings. When a heathen gets saved, they too inherit this lighted candle. Although darkness still dominates, such glimmer of light brings hope and warmth to our hearts and sustain our faith in the Grand Master of the universe. Isn't that our role in this world, bringing light to others around us?

And in music, there're certain pieces which evoke such similar feelings of warmth and hope. Take Bach for example, there's an overwhelming number of his works which touch me in the same way. As born-again Christians, our job is to glorify His name, who has been faithful in all His Promises. And yes, this is one man who has fulfilled the task of glorifying God's name to the best of his abilities. Bach's works show very much his love for the Lord and how he wanted to reproduce the feelings that he experienced through his walk with Him. And it's through Bach's masterpieces that we can feel God's presence. How amazing music is a tool for evangelism. And Bach is just one of the many composers who wrote for the glory of God. Comparing myself to them and people around, it just makes me think of how useless I have been to God. I shall specialise in Bach music and ensure that the very essence of his music flows through to my listeners.