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...