Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Home Studio

It's been almost a century since I last scribbled on this blog. Earlier, I had converted my bedroom into a studio by throwing the bed down the window and getting new furnitures, which include a white shelf, table and a few comfortable chairs suitable for playing the guitar in the classical position, for the studio.

Currently in the midst of clearing the cobwebs off my relatively new shelf and table of books, scores and other miscellaneous materials, and re-classifying them for the new year. Back when the shelf newly arrived, I had classified all my books and sheet music by just having a section each for classical sheet music (sub-classified into the various periods etc), ethnomusic books and sheet music, religious, philosophy and literature books and so forth. A pretty simple, systematic and organised categorisation, but it didn't strike me as being right, or meaningful.

Might as well, since it's the new year, that gave me some reason to re-organise the entire mountain of materials. I cleared the entire shelf and table of their contents and basically sat on the floor for the next few hours to re-organise all those materials once again. This time, I did it differently. Since the bulk of my books were basically classical music books, sheet music, method books, I decided that the music with their distinctive styles and temperaments were placed next to materials which have relations to the music. For Bach's music, due to their inherent spiritual value (present even in those works which were conceived as secular works), they were placed together with my religious materials and books, essays and treatises on baroque performance directions. As a matter-of-fact, these materials were placed within an arm's length from where I'll be sitting when I'm practising. I really can't do without them and not to mention that the music scene wouldn't be the same without our beloved Bach. Next to them, a little further but still within reach is a section exclusively for charming Schubert. I do realise that I have amassed quite a collection of his works (pretty surprising since he wasn't a guitar composer), especially his lieders, both with the accompaniment transcribed to the guitar and the urtext version. Right next to them, are of course, books and essays on Schubert himself, essays on aesthetic beauty and poetry. And not the mention the huge collection of Spanish music which are placed on a level further, right next to books and sheet music on flamenco culture, Spain and anything Spanish, including a language book on mastering the language. Modern music which I've yet managed to come to terms with were allocated a meaningful place too as they were next to the philosophy books with certain theories and parts which I have yet the maturity to comprehend.

It's a truly nostalgic experience re-arranging the shelves. So many a times have I felt tempted to stop what I was doing and put a particular piece of music on the stand and play it on my guitar. While I was browsing through the pieces of music, thoughts and reflections of the qualities of the music which first lured me to acquire them went through my mind. A truly spiritual experience. While I was holding the two versions of Bach's Goldberg Variations (Urtext and an authentic transcription for the guitar by József Eötvös) in my collection, Glenn Gould's most spiritually weighty 1981 recording just before his death started playing in my mind. Flipping through the pages of the sheet music, I was once again so thankful that Hungarian guitarist József Eötvös had done a masterful job of transcribing the entire work onto solo guitar. And for the mighty Chaconne of Bach as well, I could go on and on about the magnificent beauty of its structure and spiritual value. Currently, right on my music stand is actually the sheet music for Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata for guitar and piano. The other two versions which I've often compared it with were on the shelf. I was holding all the three different transcriptions of it (cello and piano, viola and piano besides my version on the stand) earlier and spending such a marvellous time flipping through them and playing such poetically intense music mentally. There were those times too, when I found sheet music which I never thought I had. It's a certainly wonderful experience re-classifying those materials which have affected my life, whether musically or not, at some point or another.

And I sincerely thought that the huge shelf I got from the furniture store was sufficient probably for the next year, but I'm now desperately running out of space soon, given the huge pile of materials left on the table which have yet to be packed. And right in the dark corner of the picture lies a humongous pile of CDs and DVDs which are still waiting for the arrival of rack.

In the midst of browsing through the books, I chanced upon a quote by T.S. Eliot, aptly stating that

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not
the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course,
only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to
escape from these things."

I certainly do find his argument coherent, even when such a statement is used for music in my case. Certainly, the emotions one, or rather, I, would like to express in a piece of music, would have to be firstly felt, pondered upon on the best way the music can evoke it before such an emotion would be able to be presented in a palatable, acceptable and stylistic manner to the audience. Somehow along the way, I had learnt to control and shape those most powerful emotions in a musical way, taking into consideration that I wouldn't lose that spontaneity along the way.

Somehow, looking back at all things artistic in the past year, I am glad to be a musician - another most blessed species of animals that God has created...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Day Before Competition

There were approximately twenty over people (apparently, the rest couldn't make it in time due to their flight delays, but out of kind understanding, the organisers shifted them to the 2nd day) in the briefing room at the hotel. I observed the overseas competitors in the room and realised most were seasoned competitors and despite being from diverse regions in the world, most could strike up a sincere conversation with their fellow competitors. I guess that's due to the fact that most of them, if not all, are feeling the same way (excitement and anxiety?).

I got to know quite a few of them from the previous international competitions and was pleasantly surprised that they were there as well. (No, I didn't join any of them, was at the previous competitions only as the audience) Somehow, in those talks with these musicians, I do realise that they were really sincere in their conversations. I guess that's the special thing about art competitions. We weren't intimidated by one another probably due to the fact that each of us possesses an individual style which we call our own. There was tension, not out of competitiveness between us, but due to the uncertainty of how our performance on the competition hall that day will turn out. "Competition are for horses, not for artists," said Béla Bartók. I certainly agree, but apparently, the people I had met this evening certainly weren't anywhere near horses. Well, I wouldn't be surprised to meet those nasty, nauseating and neurotic people like what we see so often on reality TV, but that actually wasn't the case. Thank God...

I struck up conversations with a few of them and they talked of the competitions which they've joined. Somehow, I felt that part of me that really wants to join the ranks of these seasoned competitors. Rushing to reach the venue in time, catching last minute flights, meeting friends and fellow competitors from all over the world, staying in different hotel rooms every other week, lugging the luggage and guitar all over the place and of course the preparations for the performing repertoire. Certainly isn't an easy life, I would say, but terribly tempting....

What would I do on the evening of a competition overseas? I would probably take a short walk in the surrounding area of the hotel after dinner, admiring the evening scene of the country. After which, I will go back to my hotel room, read a few chapters from a book from my luggage, run through my competition pieces at least three times. Lastly, I will jump and scream a few times on the hotel bed, maybe that's what all the competitors are doing this evening in their hotel room...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Choosing Pieces For Programmes

Got in the mood to work on my music on this lovely and went through my programme a few times consecutively. While going through the pieces, I got into an introspective mood and started asking myself why I had chosen those particular pieces in the first place. Of course, in the midst of practising those pieces, I had discovered the more intricate beauty of the pieces, but somehow, I felt a need to be re-captivated by the same qualities which had made me choose these particular pieces over the others in the first place. As my brain juggled with such thoughts, there seems to be this miraculous effect of enabling me to caress more musical sounds and phrases out of my instrument, despite having gone through the pieces a few times consecutively. Now, that's what I would consider a rare satisfying run and I certainly hope that I would be able to reproduce that form on the performance day.

A fellow studying musician suggested that I ought to go for my diploma certificate early next year. Well, I shrugged off her suggestion right away earlier today but I have to admit now that after looking at the Trinity syllabus, I am greatly tempted. It certainly caught my attention that a few pieces in the syllabus are already in my performance repertoire. Of course, I wouldn't be choosing the same pieces just to save some effort to acquire this paper qualification, but the very fact that I can easily churn out the pieces which was mentioned in the syllabus do signify that I might most probably be technically proficient to acquire a few of the other performance works mentioned in the same diploma into my repertoire in the next few months. And not to mention that it would certainly be exciting to start forming another new set of programme for this recital diploma.

Alright, let's take a look at the pieces which have caught my attention.

1. Grand Overture Op. 61 by Mauro Giuliani (A sumptuous work which I've been lusting over for the past few months but haven't gotten sufficient reason to start working on it) 8
2. Invocación y danza by Joaquin Rodrigo (One of the most hauntingly evocative works in the guitar repertoire. Love this work exceedingly) 9
3. Prelude, Fugue and Allegro by J.S. Bach (How can one do without Bach? Yes, this work is in my repertoire, but I've discovered a superior transcription from the lute to the guitar of it. Can't wait to try out the transcription.) 12
4. Valse en Skai by Roland Dyens

A pretty interesting mix of Baroque, Classical and Modern music, not suitable for a solo recital, but decent for a diploma programme. These are certainly big works and I have yet to try them. I'm apprehensive about mastering them by next diploma exam. Shall work on them soon later this month and see how fast my progress is before deciding.

I've decided to choose Yuquijiro Yocoh's arrangement of Sakura Theme and Variations for my teacher's Students' Concert as I'm really fascinated by the exotic sounds of the Japanese koto recently. That'll give me some pressure to practise due to the numerous techniques used in the different variations.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Repertoire Priorities

It's time to think over the repertoire priorities which I have set in the past two months.

I'll be embarking on solely two gigantic works - Bach's magnificent Chaconne from his Partita no. 2 in D minor BWV 1004 and Schubert's heartwrenching Arpeggione Sonata, for spiritual reasons more than practical reasons. Everything else musical, which includes pieces like the charming Histoire du Tango by Piazzolla, seductive bossa nova pieces and exquisite smaller scale works, shall be shelved temporarily.

More about these two works in the near future...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Teaching Music

Is it really that simple when teachers teach their students music? Is it merely about getting the notes out in a beautiful manner?

Now that I attempt to see the whole big picture, it's really about teaching them how to understand themselves through music and more importantly, to respect our fellow human beings as well. It isn't simply about getting the rhythm and notes right but about respecting what the composer had written down. It isn't about showing off your achievement to people who listen to you but to affect them in a spiritual and emotional manner, to touch them in the most special way before they know it, and even to help your listeners search for themselves in this lifetime on earth as well.

Now that I think of teachers, not just of music of course, it really is such a sacred job... If only all teachers in the world could know just how important they truly are...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Preparing A Wedding Programme

Having numerous requests to play for weddings before, I am currently considering to assemble a wedding programme. Think of the money involved. Guess I can't help but be practical. There really isn't any meaningful reason to be engaged to perform in such weddings, but I sure don't like the idea of seeing them walking away with disappointment. Now the question, what would be my programme consist of?

A conversation that occurs so very frequently to me just struck me at this point.

Friend: Hey, can you play the song Wonderful Tonight? (Or other similarly martian-sounding titles like Penny Lane. I have to admit out of the millions of titles I was requested to play, I could only remember these two.)

Me (Quizzical Look): Huh? What's that?

Friend (Exasperated Expression): Oh my, that's such a common song, for goodness sake!

Me: Common song? (Are they from Mars or something? Suggest some German Lieders back at them? No, they probably don't know them. Let's try some French chansons, any retard will probably be familiar with them.) Well, I know L'Hymne A L'Amour, or Ne Me Quitte Pas, or Revoir Paris or maybe Plasir D'Amour. (They sure look weirder. Ok, let's try something easier.) And I know songs like Fly Me To The Moon and Over The Rainbow.

Friend (Indescribable Expression): Eh, maybe you need to listen to the radio more often.

Me (Raising an eyebrow): Oh, probably so. (Silently thinking: Who's the one who needs to listen to the radio now? I'm not even talking about classical music. Duh...)

Well, even if I were to assemble a wedding programme, I guess the pieces I mentioned above will be what I'll be playing, together with certain hymnal arrangements. I've gone through the my collection of sheet music containing such music and have certain heart melting pieces in mind. I'm a little stumped at the level of such arrangements as they can easily require a higher, if not the same, technical level than the diploma pieces. Well, I can't really expect lesser if I'm going to choose arrangements by the legendary Roland Dyens, can I? Even hymnal arrangements played by Christopher Parkening can be exceedingly taxing as well.

Well, the good thing is that even if I haven' been approached to play for weddings, I would still like to pick up these pieces...

I'm giving myself a year to assemble an hour of programme of such level...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Charming Quote

As much as I love Beethoven and Mozart, the greatest is Bach. And they would be the first to agree. For me, to play Bach is a matter of hygiene. It's like taking a shower.

-Andras Schiff

I guess Andras Schiff had said it all. That's probably still an understatement of how powerful and spiritually uplifting playing Bach is...

I have to admit that the quote was stolen from Patricia's blog at oboeinsight. I'll have to apologise to her, but I really can't help but post up such a truthful statement which I completely agree with. =)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reading Adorno

Thanks to Jeremy Denk's honest entry on Adorno's essays, my interest in that particular book has been piqued. Now that I've acquired this book, I've been spending most of my available time between practices, rehearsals, lessons and performances reading it. (As you can see, the available time that remains is actually the travelling time on buses and trains. How pathetic...) Trust him when Jeremy had indirectly commented that certain sentences of the book are beyond comprehension. It really isn't an easy read.

For the time spent studying Adorno's essays, I could feel all my brain cells to getting to work, making sense of the ideas which were going through Adorno while he was penning down these essays. I guess it's my craving for the most ecstatic state of epiphany upon grasping hold of his intriguing ideas and theories that actually drive me to overtax myself in all the various aspects necessary. I reckon that out of all sentences which I've come across in my life, the single sentence which I spend the longest time pondering on would be from this book. Yes, it is that addictive. His statements have this strange effect of playing on repeat mode in my mind, somehow suggesting that there's a much deeper and profound perspective to them. I often find myself searching my limited musical experiences for cases whereby what I've encountered before can support his ideas and theories on new music. New music. His common citations of works by Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Wagner and a few other composers have pushed me to explore this personally unfamiliar ground and opened up my mind to the richness and defects in their music, and of course, about the human character as well.

I dare say that my personal fondness in the indulgence of this book has been almost as satisfying as playing music itself. Almost.

A strong recommendation for those who think or are willing to think and want to explore much deeper into the various aspects of music.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Just two days ago, a fellow musician explained that she's learning the prelude from Bach's BWV 1006a as that's the favourite piece of classical music of her beloved husband. I was amazed at how much effort she put into the piece of work which was slightly beyond her current technical level. An uncommon stimulus for one to work on a particular work but certainly no less sincere or potent a motivation for them to study the work.

The musical Phantom of the Opera is coming to town again next year. Well, I've never been quite into popular operas, but I do catch them occasionally and appreciate them for their simplistic beauty. This musical, however, holds an important position in my heart, in the same meaningful way how the fellow musician treats her Bach prelude. Despite not being drawn to this production due to the musical qualities, I do find myself having a most urgent need to purchase the tickets as soon as possible for this production which will only be here late March next year...

Apparently, the phantom in me still hasn't faded away over time...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Approaching Music

Wouldn't different people have different interpretations to a particular piece of music, given the almost abstract quality of sounds?

A deceptively simple and innocent question posed to me by a friend who is relatively foreign to the classical music scene.

I guess the presence of an almost infinite possible interpretations within the stylistic guidelines is one most charming and mysterious quality in music. The music exists in a sublime and abstract state until it is subjected to the process of interpretation by a performer or listener, when in that most special moment it crystallises to become something truly personal. I wouldn't deny the fact that the music was created with a main intention of music in mind, and how close others can reach in their interpretations would depend on their level of aural sensitivity and musical knowledge, but to insist that every one, trained or untrained, has to come to that similar interpretation of the composer would make an extreme elitist out of me. I've often restrained myself (unsuccessfully sometimes) in saying statements like "listen the church bells in this part of the music" or "pick out the fighting sounds in the orchestra!", which results in people mentally forming the effects of the music which are mine and matching them to the music. Such statements do make them appreciate the music better in terms of the surface materialisation of the sounds but deprive them of a chance to interpret the music or sounds in their own way through the more intricate music processes.

Approaching classical music is certainly no easy task. Music composed in the different periods are written with particular intentions to people with different expectations and tastes. One certainly can't seek to unify the process of music appreciation for different periods into one which can be readily applied throughout the entire timeline of classical music. Baroque music, created with didactic intentions, often requires a more spiritual and pedantic approach, while romantic music desires a listener willing to be moved emotionally. Baroque, classical and romantic music wouldn't pose much problems for the average listener who expects something meaningful or expressive.

How does one approach avant garde music then? The fact that such music is often unfairly dismissed as musical kitsch only shows how retrograde the listening tastes and approach of consumers of this artistic form are. Such works, created in the light of overwhelming information and knowledge in modern times, contains profound universal truths (in their themes), which wouldn't be uncovered by passive listeners who expects to be moved in the traditional way. The music demands listeners to be actively involved with the musical processes at work by stepping into the abstract world of sounds and rhythms, instead of waiting for something to hit them while they're not prepared to be involved musically. People in the modern society, too often caught up in the wild pursuit of fame and money, turn to music in search of a resting point, expecting a replenishment of the soul before sidelining the arts again for their materialistic pursuit of worldly targets. Avant garde music seeks to rebel against this phenomenom, not by creating random and repulsive noise created in the name of modern art, but by hiding what the human race is looking for in a musical form which is not accessible to those who are unwilling to put in their part to uncover what music has to give. Ingenious. And if one manages to cross this barrier and pick out that gem of truth intentioned by the composer, from personal experience, I can assure that the experience is no less satisfying than listening to a pre-modernism work.

Serious music aside, recently, I've been attracted by the rich culture of Latin America through their music. I have yet to be able to tell apart the more intricate forms of Latin music. Thankfully, a Christian acquaintance and musician in Brazil offered to clarify my doubts about the forms of music they have over there, at the same time mailing over several records of the music at his own expense. It's amazing how rich and powerful the music is. Such music which is created and played at a more common level sure provides a refreshing change from the serious music created for the classical community. Such culturally rich music, like flamenco in Spain, invites the listener into the heartland of the culture and is simply, the voice of the masses and natives. I never fail to be amazed by how easily digestible the music is by people on the opposite end on Earth despite me never stepping into the that continent before.

Maybe such are the music which have a lasting and genuine quality without much drastic changes over the sands of time...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cheesecake And Tea

It has been the busiest week ever since the year started, taking on unavoidable, extraneous jobs coming from those incompetent colleagues who lack the adequate skills and intellect to handle, and at the same time balancing my teaching and rehearsal schedules. Somehow, it is at such vulnerable and least rational times when strangely alluring artistic theories decide to introduce themselves and sell their ideas to me. As usual, the hidden adventurous streak in me decided to invite them into my comfortable home and try out their ideas. A costly mistake which almost destroyed the very core foundation of why I practise the arts...

Had a couple of hours to spare between my lessons yesterday, I sought refuge at my favourite tea room in the vicinity. Indulging myself in a pot of Darjeeling tea and a slice of Blueberry cheesecake, I spent the next two hours reading some literary materials recommended by a friend and pondering upon their contents. Staring in my face for the next hour or so was the preface to the novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Of course, one shouldn't treat this cynical aesthete so seriously, but it was the very basis of his art that had been eating into my soul for the past week or so.

Being fairly new in the arts and thus restricted my circle to mostly musical techniques at the beginning, I hadn't had the chance and privilege of being exposed to the more modern artistic theories put forth in the arts scene (thankfully!). After deciding to come out of my shell and open myself to the artistic world, I was overwhelmed by the multitude of artistic theories which seem so foreign and appealing at the same time. A part of me just wanted to subscribe to the one which seems to seems most appealing, but thank God, the conservative and rational side managed to suppress the impulsive streak and held out a little longer. What Wilde and many other modernists had believed in, known in French as L'art pour l'art (art for art's sake), certainly has certain most tempting qualities personally. The most transient aural and visual beauty alone truly appealed to my senses and often linger in my thoughts and soul for some time to come, just as the aesthetic visual beauty of the reddish tea in the transparent teacup on the black wooden table is one of the reasons I frequent the tea room I was in. I was on the verge of embracing that theory to be the basis of my music, till Bach chorales and Beethoven symphonies came into my mind...

Somehow, I interpreted the preface as Wilde's personal beliefs and perception of art itself, at the same time justifying each and every statement of it to the content of his works which I spent quite some time on in the past week. He pretty much summed his beliefs in this preface, and ultimately reveals himself in the last statement - All art is quite useless. Of course, on the surface, one can simply conclude that Wilde was trying to be cynical by apparently contradicting the previous statements which he had written earlier. But I would rather interpret that statement as the only and sole meaning in art was its aesthetic beauty, nothing else. Take away the emotions, morality, politics, didacticism in art and what was left (aesthetic beauty) was what he believed to be sufficient to form the basis for pursuing of the arts.

If I were to subscribe to that theory, it would be almost impossible for me to reconcile my art with my relationship with my beloved Father. Holding on a a beauty that is only transient in nature? I'm not quite ready to give up my faith just to pursue the short term preservation of an ephemeral beauty, neither do I think I would be ready anytime in the future. Somehow, such an artistic theory can only be embraced by athetists, or hypocrites...

Such aesthetic beauty, albeit important, wouldn't form the core basis of art itself. Whether which other element ought to be the core element, be it meaning, truth, atmosphere etc., ought to depend on the creator of the works. I wouldn't be in a position to reject any, for my place as a performer and teacher is subservient to the creator, but the least I ought to be doing would be to lay a firm foundation for my music to be performed. Like how Wilde's works reflect his artistic theory, it would be natural that my music would reflect my personal beliefs on art as well...

All this while enjoying the tea with the most sensual and spicy aroma, with the lovely cheesecake to go along with. A pretty charming and slightly mentally chaotic way to spend the evening...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I have always been trying to put that particular emotion which is so characteristic of some of the Latin American music. A pretty new word for an emotion which is probably older than sin itself.

Limerence. How ironic, such delicate yet powerful emotion, almost bordering on the state of obsession. Check the more scientific meaning by wiki-ing it.

Here're some statements in the article which describes the word.

Limerence has certain basic components:

-intrusive thinking about the limerent object
-acute longing for reciprocation
-some fleeting and transient relief from unrequited limerence
-through vivid imagining of action by the limerent object that means reciprocation
-fear of rejection and unsettling shyness in the limerent object's presence
intensification through adversity
-acute sensitivity to any act, thought, or condition that can be interpreted favorably, and an extraordinary ability to devise or invent "reasonable" explanations for why neutral actions are a sign of hidden passion in the limerent object
-an aching in the chest when uncertainty is strong
-buoyancy (a feeling of walking on air) when reciprocation seems evident
-a general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background
-a remarkable ability to emphasize what is truly admirable in the limerent object and to avoid dwelling on the negative or render it into another positive attribute.

Now, that's a new word learnt and some food for thought...


Came home on Monday evening at 8pm to an empty home, feeling blue from the day's mundane work, or rather half a day of mundane work, since I stole the earlier half of the day off to escape from some unnecessary attention at some corner of the city. Decided to take advantage of the rare moment of tranquility in my home to get rid of the blues. Dimmed the lights, played some Piazzollan music by the master himself from my collection, and sat down waiting for the rejuvenating spiritual and emotional bath. It sure came, when the suite - Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, was played. I sure got an overdose of the therapeutic listening when the particular movement Otoño Porteño came on and threw me without the slightest warning into a introspective state. Ended up going for a late night swim to clear my mind and heart of excessive and mindless emotional turmoil. Beneath the almost dark pool environment, save for a few pool lights and dimmed lamps, I swam a few laps at the most relaxed pace, after which I sat by the pool to indulge once again in the mental replaying of Otoño Porteño I heard ealier.

Opening with a most charming theme which would repeat itself in various sections throughout the work, the music paints a dreamy, fluid-like picture. She switches to and fro her angsty moments in a miraculously coherent style so characteristic of our beloved Piazzolla, before closing with a series of extremely heart-stirring and innocent arpeggios played with a alluringly floating touch. The musicians are certainly blessed with the spirit of the Argentinian tango in them.

For just that special moment of musical benediction, I saw myself in an intimately slow tango with a svelte lady in a dance bar in the culturally rich capital Buenos Aires. Somewhere at some obscure part of my mind which still remains rational, I'm thinking of how Piazzolla, who had come out of his ten-year dilemma of whether to be a classical composer or tango composer, with his powerfully evocative masterpieces had singlehanded started the nuevo tango movement. One can't help but acknowledge his talent in this area.

For the next few months, it'll just be incorporating this work of his, in its full soul and spirit into my repertoire. Now, that probably means a whole lot more study and research into the tango style. If there's one place I want to be for the next few months, it would certainly be in Buenos Aires to take in the rich culture of the Argentinians into my subconsciousness.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I sincerely believe that we need a publisher which focuses on coming out with urtext versions of guitar compositions. Just to make right the atrocities and abominable sins which Segovia himself had committed. It never fails to drive me mad when I find myself staring at his inferior arrangements and knowing at the same time that his version is the only available publication of that particular work in the market right now.

The last time I was working on Segovia's version of a work by Turina, it sure took me some effort to hunt down a copy of the original manuscript, and realise that the harmonic texture, melodic line and even dynamics have been altered by Segovia. Sheer desecration...

Anyway, besides venting my most childish frustration in this post, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to Italian composer Angelo Gildardino for providing me the copy of the original manuscript of the work as well...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Superficial Intentions

What do you feel when you realise that your government opens up a music conservatoire, offers scholarships to overseas talents to come over and study for free with allowance, and it ends up that the conservatoire is made up of all overseas students and the government proclaiming to the whole world that the country has a most vibrant arts scene to nurture artistic talents?

Apparently, they just don't see how their citizens being involved in the arts can help contribute to the economy. So unbelievably practical and myopic.

Such revelations certainly never fail to spoil my day...

Nonetheless, thank God for letting me chance upon this young lady with the sweetest smile in the evening during dinner with my teacher and friends. Now, that certainly lifted my mood and cleared my mind.

Now I think about it, there's not much point fighting the flawed system, is there?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Check This Out

Chanced upon this simple and interesting site which gives a brief introduction about most of the instruments around.

Here're some statements about the guitar which caught my attention.

Teachers do like to teach the thing they do best themselves, so if you have a classically-trained guitar teacher, he or she might be reluctant to teach you in any other style.

Makes me recall the number of times I tried to find tactful ways of changing discussions with my students whenever they start talking about pop or folk music. (Don't you see the big grin on my face?)

In our view it is very difficult to learn, and your progress is likely to be slow.

You can trust the writer's judgement on that. Of course, I can't exactly compare it to other instruments for I haven't taken up a second instrument, yet.

The classical guitar is quiet, and therefore not well suited to playing with other instruments, so playing it could well be a solitary pursuit.

Not quite a true statement. I would rather indulge myself in some chamber music than solo music. Anyway, I've realised that classical guitarists who prefer solo playing are often lacking in ability to listen and co-ordinate with other musicians. Or maybe the other way around, they probably don't like playing with other musicians for they can't co-ordinate and listen well.

That's pretty much about it. Not much, but do take some effort to visit this pretty decent site.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Simple Comments

While I was deeply immersed in my practice a few days back, a friend J walked in and sat there quietly. I was going through Albeniz's Granada from his Suite Espanola. After listening to a full run of it, J, in a state of reverie, remarked simply "I love the middle section.". He didn't bother to go on justifying his comments by translating what he felt from the music into words, not because he wasn't musically trained, but simply because he knew he didn't have to.

No, I'm not a pianist, but since this score is originally written for the piano, I guess I'll use the original piano score. The guitar transcription is transcribed a semitone lower, from the key of F to the key of E. I still sincerely believe that this work is written with the sounds of the spanish guitar in mind, for it truly sounds better on the guitar compared to the original instrument for which it is written for.

This is the start of his "middle section", the modulation into the key of F min. This dreamy section of the work momentarily transports the listener to the most tranquil and serene streets of Granada in the evening. Maybe it wouldn't be right to classify bars 41 to 44 (the first 4 bars above) as the middle section, as they form the transition bars from the opening section in F maj to the middle section in F min. The first section describes of the hustle and bustle of the streets during the day (for once, crowds are actually so lovely with the hills and mountains of Sierra Nevadas as the background) and as the night falls (as shown the the first 4 bars above), the intrinsic charm of the province reveals itself...

The F min chord in the lower registers progressed in such a lovely, misty manner into the G dim chord in the higher registers of the instrument in the first 4 bars here shown here. Nope, the noise from the day hasn't completely disappeared, but the crowds are either starting to go back home for dinner or head to the nearest taverns for a drink. And then from bar 45 time stops. Alright, that's not much of a description, but I thought that pretty much sums it up. Doesn't that how one feel when one behold the most alluring sight like the Alhambra? The repetition of the motive from bars 48 to bars 50 in various forms throughout the middle section. Somehow the composer is trying to recapture the very honest emotions which struck him when he was walking along the streets of Granada, beholding the picturesque surroundings of this most simple province in Andalusia.

Somehow, J captured the entire mood of this middle section upon the first listening when he opened himself up to the music. That remark was made with such honesty. Somehow, as a performer, it's truly satisfying to be able to touch the hearts of people and move them with my music.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Interpretation of Baroque Music

Despite being in an era which the classical music community shifts their focus to the historically informed performances, it isn't very rare for one to come across a recording or performance which romanticises Bach. Recall about the number of times when you hear a traditionalist, probably yourself, remark in disgust that the performance is overly romanticised. Common, aren't they? Recently, I've been thinking if such remarks and criticisms are justified. Of course, I do admit that I'm a traditionalist and the period and style which I have the most number of interpretation books on is the baroque era. And with the information I have received from these books alone, it wouldn't be too difficult to assess if a performance or recording is within those traditional baroque performance guidelines. But from a perspective of a performer, are things really that simple?

In my discussions with several friends who are musicians involving performances of baroque pieces which we have gone to, I would often approach their criciticisms of romanticism of the music with caution. I have experienced that some of these comments are uttered whenever the performer had expressed or rather, intensified, a certain emotion in the passage through the use of more modern devices such as excessive ritardando or accelerando, or wide dynamic contrasts which are often associated with romantic works etc. Somehow, such reasons doesn't quite register as a convincing argument to dismiss certain performance.

The more legitimate approach, it seems, would be to assess the intention of the performer when he used that expressive device. If those devices are simply used without much consideration to entire texture of the work and doesn't blend into the whole picture, the insincerity of the performance can be easily felt and that is definitely unacceptable. Of course, on the other hand, despite me being a traditionalist, there're romanticised performances of baroque pieces which I'm totally agreeable with. The non-conventional expressive devices used are just what the music can tolerate with, or even require. The performance, despite a non-conventional one, is widely accepted, even by traditionalists as listeners can connect with the artiste because of his/her sincerity and sensitivity to the music.

Basically, I just think that music listeners ought to approach this age old issue with more sensitivity and depth for most of the performers out there have put in so much effort to interpret a piece of music they respect and shouldn't be criticised simply because of the usage of non-conventional expressive devices which intensifies the emotions which the composer had intended centuries ago.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Woke up to the most beautiful of mornings despite my late night yesterday and attended church in the morning. Today's sermon was different from before in a special way. It felt more intense and the focus of the message, Romans 6, was brought alive in an extraordinary way. Our pastor, too, was thrown into an agitated state much earlier into the sermon than normal. While processing the contents of the sermon in my head, these observations entered my mind, just like a second melody line in counterpoint.

Why did our pastor comment that today's sermon wasn't easily digestible and yet his descriptions were so much more vivid and spontaneous, just the opposite of what one would expect when the message is supposed to be harder to expound and require more preparations? No, it certainly wasn't the sudden surge of divine inspiration regarding the passage, for he had understood the message thoroughly long before today, nor was it because of the passage containing the most special biblical truth. Then it struck me. Our pastor had empathised with Paul's most sincere need to address that biblical issue in light of the circumstances surrounding it during his day. Out of respect of Paul's intention while penning that passage, he was infected with the similar state of being. As a pastor, he had found out the way the passage demanded to be taught, resulting in such an honest delivery of today's message.

And then the sermon was taken over by the most perfect Teacher - Jesus Christ. Don't you see a connection to your music? How often have you encountered a pathetically empty rendition of a masterpiece? What exactly are those performers lacking? Why do you play that flattened 6th chord like it's the most common chord around? Have you been desensitised by those popular songs which uses that chord until it's becomes so cliche? Where did the colours of the flattened 6th chord which the composer had intended go to?

Have you truly appreciated and respected what the composer had written and where is your sincere need to recreate the emotions which gave birth to those masterpieces?

These questions just invaded my head. Teacher Jesus seems to be assessing my absorption abilities this morning and decided to bombard my puny mind with excessive information. He sure gave my sufficient information to keep my mind working for the rest of the day, both on biblical and musical issues.

I love my contrapuntal mind, though it gets a little overwhelming at times...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

(Un)Musical Nightmare

I knew I should have completed the entire work that night, or rather, early morning (given the fact that it was after midnight). I woke up after just an hour after entering dreamland, with my whole mind occupied with my most futile attempts to resolve that famous Tristan chord, with a physical effect of rendering me breathless. I sure I felt like I didn't breathe at all for the entire hour of sleep.

I had gone through the first act a couple of times earlier in the day in bits and pieces but I guess it was the final and most brain-cell-sapping attempt to dissect the first act alone just minutes before I go to bed which resulted in such a bad sleep. I spent the rest of the early morning listening to just the second act and thinking about the masterpiece, at least just the first two acts and depriving myself of the resolution of the chord at the end of the work a while longer.

Mark my words in the previous entry, when I described the harmonies and rhythms as "almost vulgar", not vulgar, for he has managed to express such passionate emotions in the least obscene manner. The profundity of the work can be heard and felt in just the first act, where the text itself shows forth an apparent enraged riposte between Tristan and Isolde, but the music hints at a deep and complicated romantic relationship between the lovers. Just done in the most masterful manner by Wagner.

Despite my wonder and admiration for Wagner's brilliance, do not mistake me for a supporter of Wagner's strong anti-semitic personality. Like what Solti, a Hungarian Jew, had mentioned, politics doesn't exist in the first four measures of Tristan und Isolde when he hears or conducts the work. It's just amazing how music can transcend such physical boundaries and affect the hearts of people in just the same way.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mass In B Minor

It was an evening of pure ethereal bliss. The Collegium Vocale Gent from Belgium came down to town to perfrom Bach's Mass in B minor. This ensemble founded by Philippe Herreweghe in 1970 is renowned for their interpretation of Baroque music and boasts of over 70 recordings since they were established.

The Mass in B minor was written when Bach was still holding the post of Kapellmeister at St. Thomas in Leipzig. The first question that seems to strike most people upon the realisation of the existance of this work is probably why Bach, a most devout Lutheran, would compose a Mass of such monumental proportion. Of course, the simple explanation that the work was too long to be used for a Catholic service was often put forth to appease the simple-minded that Bach was still the man with a firm protestant faith, but it doesn't quite answer the question about the significance of such this masterpiece. An honest listening to the music actually hinted a deeper and more meaningful significance of this work.

In this work, Bach had used a multitude of styles, from the traditional motets to the contemporary concerto and the different fugal forms, each honed to the highest level in both the ripieno singers and concertino singers movements. The existance of such a colourful myriad of styles hints at a composition to showcase the composer's compositional techniques, rather than one with a more coherent musical content. On top of that, the departure of the standard Latin text and standard structure of certain sections would bar its use from both the Catholic and Protestant masses. Given the importance and significance of the mass in traditional vocal music, it wouldn't be surprising that Bach would actually like to try his hands on this particular 'form' of vocal music which has proven itself to be able to withstand the onslaught of time and changing musical tastes.

Back to the performance last evening. The ensemble was conducted by the founder, Philippe Herreweghe, with Johanette Zomer (Soprano I & II), Damien Guillon (Countertenor), Julius Pfeifer (Tenor) and Thomas E. Bauer (Bass) as the concertino singers. So many aspects to talk about, but I guess I'll start with the conductor and ripieno section, for this work focusses on the choral genre instead of the concertino section, unlike his dramatic Passions and oratorio.

As Philippe Herreweghe walked onto the stage, he looked frail and walked with uneven steps, probably due to hsi old age. Nothing of the power and confidence that exude from the most of the professional orchestral conductors. Let me warn you, looks are deceiving. Beneath that facade is a man of true passion for and knowledge of music. Upon the sounding of the first tutti B min chord, our conductor was brought alive, infused with a musical sensitivity of the highest order. Nothing showy about his actions, but each and every minute action on his part yield a most charming musical effect by his very own ensemble.

Not having the chance to listen to this ensemble before, I was expecting a solemn and rigid playing posture which is characteristic of various professional groups which I had come across in the past few years. I was probably blinded by the fact that they are playing and singing a sacred vocal work. Nothing could be further away from the truth. The ensemble, under the leadership of their conductor, breathed life into this most marvellous work and at the same time, swaying together in the most harmonious and aesthetically pleasing manner. (Not everyone would agree with what they were doing, nor would I agree with every ensemble playing like that all the time, but the way they did it last evening was sure not exaggerated, neither did it affect their playing much from my perspective.) I was pretty amused by this violist who had a pretty awkward right hand position of holding the bow, but apparently enjoying herself as she joins in the music making with the rest of the ensemble. It's sure a most wonderful feeling to be able to make such lovely music with a group of dedicated musicians who feel and think the same way as you do. Alright, guess I should go back to my main topic...

In the ripieno chorus movements of the work, the one which struck me most last evening was no doubt the Cruxifixus. The musicians did justice to Bach's most refined instrumentation in that movement and on top of that, brought out the most potent effect that Bach had created in the concluding section of the movement. As the last two words sepultus est were sung in a cappella style, one could really feel the entire concert hall holding their breath. For that particular moment, time truly stopped and we were all surrounded by the grandest architecture of sounds.

The concertino section were truly charming last evening as well. Well, I didn't quite like the idea of the sole soprano taking on the parts of the two soprano soloists which Bach had intended. As such, the Soprano II role in Christe eleison was taken on by the countertenor. But despite that authenticity flaw, I was still charmed by their duet, with the violin I and II providing the other voice.

I just love the four arias in Gloria. In each, a different principal orchestral instrument is used for the solo, with the solo violin in Laudamus te, solo transverse flute in Domine Deus, the solo oboe d'amore in Qui sedes ad destram Patris, the solo horn in Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Bach gave the four solo instruments, together with the solo singers the most charming and highly individual parts, and blended them together in the most wonderful manner. The last was probably marred by some wrong notes and quite a string of notes with bad intonation, but I guess it's tough for the horn to be just playing one movement for the entire work, coupled with the fact of having to wait quite some time before the movement commences. A horn isn't exactly an easy orchestral instrument to play anyway.

The oboes were especially beautiful, with their most charming tone, coupled with a matured musical sense of the oboists. Oboe d'amore to be more specific. My favourite concertino section would have to be Et in Spiritum Sanctum in the Credo section, with the two oboe d'amore playing the solo instrument parts. They just sound so lovely with the bass last evening. Alright, it's probably a biased comment, for I have always loved the oboe.

As for the Benedictus, they gave the solo instrument part to the transverse flute. The basic practice in their time and all the way up to Beethoven was to attribute the part to the solo violin. In the case of this work, since Bach didn't specify which instrument to take the solo and the tuning fits that of a transverse flute more than that of the violin, I guess that interpretation is justified.

The interpretation of the work on the whole was just the way this masterpiece deserves - refined, charged with life and filled with the most profound spiritual truth. For the whole two hours, I believe that I didn't exist on this earth at all.

It is truly a work which shows forth Bach's invocation and praise for God Almighty. A work, as Christoph Wolff has aptly put it, to unite his creed as a Christian with his creed as a musician in a single statement.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Kissed By The Stars Tonight

I stopped by the pool on the way home from the Bible Study session to observe the night sky tonight. Surprisingly, on this developed island which boasts of light pollution, the skies are dotted with myriads of stars from my position beside the poolside on this night. Plugged in my earphones and saturated my surroundings with some light-hearted bossa nova music before lying down to gaze at the velvety skies. Indulging in such a lovely environment, I swayed to the underlying gentle rhythms, clearing my mind of all the chaos and clutter of the week. The most magical moment came when I caught a shooting star making its trip across the universe. It's such an indescribable joy to be able to behold the creations of our omnipotent God. Throughout the period I spent beside the pool, it truly feels as if time stopped and the God sent the angels to visit me tonight.

Earlier in the day, I made a mistake in choosing the wrong music to start the day off. The drama in Schubert's song cycles proved too much for my emotional threshold in the morning and sent me into a despondent state for the rest of the day. Thankfully, the Bible Study session lifted my spirits and with the most magical time spent beneath the velvet sky, I was in a much better state to practise for tomorrow's rehearsal.

Guess I'll take a sabbatical from classical music and go for some salon music this weekend. Shall be playing Vincente Sojo's arrangement of a Venezuelan tune for tomorrow's solo session. It's going to be a long night of practice again...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Fugue

After being in touch with different forms of music for quite some time, I have to mention that I really, really, really love fugues. In the hands of genius composers, their fugal compositions shine well above the rest of their works and never fail to amaze me. The complexity of the form seems to make the fugue fit for expressing the most profound of musical ideas.

I just got myself The Study Of Fugue by Alfred Mann. Well, I pretty much gave up after the first few pages. I realise I need a whole lot more knowledge of contrapuntal writing before I can start on this book which specialises in the fugue alone. Just thought an understanding of the fugue will aid me in my performance of those fugues which I most adore but I realise studying the fugue will take me on the most demanding musical journey. I'll take it easy for now, since I'm not much into composition, though I sure have a strong desire to find out how the whole form works.

Now, we shall see how it works out from here. Back to my practice for now...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Little Music In The Background

As I walk up the same path home in the drizzle today, I seem to be hearing some particular movements of Schubert's Winterreise at the back of my head. It's a strange feeling which no words can aptly express. And the walk definitely took a little longer than usual today...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Power Of Three

For these few weeks, 3 pieces have caught my attention. They're Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998 by J.S. Bach, Grand Overture by Mauro Giuliani and Granada from Suite Espanola by Isaac Albeniz. They aren't easy pieces and I wonder how long would it take for me to infuse all 3 masterpieces into my repertoire, given my busy schedule in the upcoming few months...

Don't you think it's just the most wonderful feeling when you can indulge yourself spiritually and emotionally in the most stunningly beautiful piece of music you have spent so much time and effort analysing and mastering?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Simple Pleasures

Isn't it amazing how the oldest music never fail to amaze us with their stunning beauty?

It has been a tramatic week filled with non-musical work and tramatic happenings. I shall do away with the details, but thank God, the week ended peacefully. For the first time in the week, I have the time to sit down and study a score in peace. Since the sheet music for J.S Bach's Flute Sonata BWV 1034 arrived this week, the desire for all things new drove me to make it the subject of my study on this beautiful Saturday.

The numerous themes which Bach had used in the crafting of this 4 movement (slow-fast-slow-fast) work are wonderously pure, weaved into one whole seamless musical fabric with such mastery. After studying the score and being moved by it immensely, it set me thinking. Bach's living conditions were far from comfortable, yet all of his pieces of music are filled with either joy, peace or hope, and every single masterpiece shows his yearning for the ideal state of life, where he could be at peace with the his Almighty Father. It's just how miraculous how every single work can be so mightily charged with a strong spiritual meaning. Our beloved Father has been truly gracious to leave humankind with such stunningly beautiful masterworks through His faithful musical servant. Amen.

5 weekdays facing the ugly sides of human nature before finding peace with God through His Word and music. The peace which eluded me for the past 5 days is sure a welcoming phase in my week. I shall be working doubly hard to infuse a Bach masterpiece into my repertoire.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

West Side Story

When first premiered in New York in 1957, West Side Story marked a new milestone in American theater history. Based on a modernised adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical is set in modern New York as a clash between two street gangs. On top of that, the story also highlighted the social problems which plagued the society at that time.

This year, this musical is brought into Singapore. A totally phenomenal performance, and the score by Leonard Berstein is nothing short of brilliant. Directed by Joey McKneely, one of the only three directors authorised to stage this most captivating musical, this musical is brought alive with the heartwarming story, powerful music and remarkable choreography.

This season, we have a group of cast and remarkably energetic cast performing here. Josh Young stars as Tony and Kirsten Rossi as Maria. Truly magical partnership and vocal skills. Both sung their parts splendidly and Kirsten Rossi sure got her Puerto Rican accent out well. The only problem is that her highest registers comes across as overly shrill. Other than that, the other aspects are just marvellous.

Would definitely consider this rare theatre performance nothing short of spectacular.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I was taking a train to a place that particular evening when I heard an orchestral version of Manuel Maria Ponce's famous composition - Estrellita (A Little Star). I couldn't quite get recall the title at first until I realised that it's a transcription of a guitar work which I've worked on before. Anyways, as the nostalgic music played on, a lovely couple caught my attention. The way they stared into each other's eyes, oblivious of all the people and noise around them, coupled with this special piece of music playing in my earphones, threw me into one of my introspective moods. Once again, I was overwhelmed by the flood of mental images in my mind.

It has been two years and yet, the events are still firmly etched in my mind...

It was one of the most special and memorable nights in my life. I was out with this most beautiful lady for dinner, after which we walked towards the cinema in the city to catch a romance movie with a sweet and lovely plot. What left a deep impression wasn't the events but was the intimate emotional rapport we shared which was more than that of mere friends. As the events and conversations played through in my mind, I was attempting hard to recreate the sensory and emotional affinity I had with the lady that night. Definitely isn't as satisfying, but it was sufficient to cast me into the intense nostalgic mood, with a longing for close companionship.

The mental images ended with us parting outside her house after midnight. She faded into the background, just as the C maj chord is arpeggiated in the sweetest possible way to conclude the piece.

I took off my earphones and broke into a silent prayer for her after that...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A State Of Wonder & Serenity

The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.

-Glenn Gould

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Night In Russia

Last Monday, Lorin Maazel conducted the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) here in Singapore with works by Russian masters Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Modest Mussorgsky. The first half consisted of two works by Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture and Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, the latter featuring a young Russian violinist Lidia Baich in a ravishing red gown as the soloist.

The high point of the first half is no doubt the first movement of the Violin Concerto that night. Lidia Baich played with such emotional intensity which left the entire concert hall breathless. She charmed the whole hall in the two heart-stirring themes before bursting out in the dazzling cadenza to conclude the movement.

The last movement was slightly disappointing, for the soloist failed to elevate or even sustain the emotional peak in the first movement. As the music entered into the concluding bars, she gave me the idea she didn't quite have the stamina to meet the technical demands of the last movement when the music is supposed to reach its peak. Well, I'm still willing to sit through the entire work just for the most heartwarming first movement. Throughout the work, SSO did an excellent job as a backdrop supporting the soloist under the baton of maestro Lorin Maazel.

The second half features the most famous work by Modest Mussorgsky and most famous orchestration of Maurice Ravel - Pictures At An Exhibition. The various soloists for the different movements played their parts truly well, with my personal favourite movement being the fourth - saxophonist as the soloist. I just felt that Lorin Maazel took the tempo for some particular movements much faster than what they are supposed to be played.

All in all, I did enjoy this enchanting journey into the heart of Russian culture.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Joining A Guitar Ensemble

In Hector Berlioz and Richard Strauss's Treatise On Instrumentation, Berlioz made the following introduction to the guitar -

The guitar is an instrument suitable for accompanying the voice and for taking part in instrumental compositions of intimate character; it is equally appropriate for solo performance of more or less complicated compositions in several voices, which possess true charm when performed by real virtuosos.

What a wonderfully true comment by the master of orchestration. After analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the instrument, he concluded with the following passage -

Its charm is undeniable, and it is not impossible to write for it so as to make this manifest. The guitar, in contrast to the other instruments, loses when reinforced in number. The sound of twelve guitars playing unisono is almost ridiculous.

Such a judgemental comment from this master is made through astute musical observation and sensitivity. Being a classical guitarist, I shall attempt to elucidate on the implications of such a statement which challenges the presence of such ensembles.

As Berlioz had put it, the guitar is an intimate instrument. In a small cosy setting, it is capable of a myriad of wonderful tone colours, richer than many other solo instruments. However, in a guitar ensemble who'll be playing probably the same repertoire as an orchestra or wind ensemble, the tone colours that all the guitars can come up with is so much more inferior to all the different instruments in an orchestra or wind ensemble.

Moreover, given the technical difficulties of the guitar, it really isn't easy to gain control of the full spectrum of tone colours on the guitar. How then are we confident to gather sufficient guitarists with such technical mastery of the instrument to come together to play? I seriously doubt that it is very possible to attain small scale sensitivity in such a guitar ensemble.

And of course, there's the problem of the narrow range of the guitar. Apparently, in the recent years, people have attempted to stretch the possibilities of the guitar ensemble by the introduction of Niibori guitars such as the Soprano Guitar, Alto Guitar, Prime Guitar Contrabass Guitar and Guitarron. Just today, I was asked to join a newly formed Niibori Guitar Ensemble, playing the arrangement of Isaac Albeniz's Sevilla and Cadiz. I always believed that the guitar works best as a solo instrument but I decided to give the ensemble pieces a try. I chose the Prime Guitar, which the normal guitar at its standard tuning. Well, basically I'm more familiar with it and the Prime plays the solo for the slow section of Sevilla, the portion which is truly captivating.

Well, after the experience, I still prefer playing in a small chamber group with other instruments. Despite my dislike for the guitar ensemble, I shall stick to this Niibori ensemble until it starts to interfere with my musical progress...

Monday, February 27, 2006

Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata

The arpeggione is an instrument which is obsolete nowadays. Pretty interesting instrument which is somewhat like a cross between a cello and guitar. Fretted, the instrument is played with a bow and tuned to the guitar. Back in the early 19th century, Schubert wrote a sonata for the arpeggione and piano, in an attempt to promote this instrument.

Written in November 1824, the Arpeggione Sonata is one of his many late compositions which candidly reflects this Austrian composer's volatile emotional state due to the effects of the syphilitic infection which he had contracted. This composition is such a gem in itself simply because it is the sincere reflection of how this one of the most gifted composer had felt in the last years of his life. This fact alone gives meaning and a deep emotional value to every single note and chord which is written.

This sonata was written two years after the dreaded disease had set in. The music exhibited the same cyclothymic characteristics as the effects felt by Schubert from the onslaught of his venereal disease. The more I listen to this music, the stronger the emotion of melancholy I feel. Somehow, it seems that Schubert, in the midst of his physical and emotional pain (probably from the social stigma associated with syphilis), laments the transience of life and reminisces the good times which he had had.

One feature of this composition which strikes me upon the first hearing were the various almost unexpected changes of mood throughout the music. At the same time, I'm well amazed at how Schubert had the magical musical ability to blend those extreme diverse emotional moods into a seamless music composition of the highest quality.

Though Schubert had immense respect for his contemporary Beethoven, the intensity of those emotions in his music isn't conveyed through to the listeners by intense drama found in Beethoven or Mahler's music, but his own unique poetic style. His lyricism and poetic qualities shines through even in the maddest moments of his music, touching the listeners in the most special way.

And of course, this gem, will soon be in my repertoire. I just can't resist learning this piece of music, no matter how technically challenging it is for my instrument. I'm surprised that they actually have the first movement of this music in the ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus. The almost 10-minute movement can easily be technically and musically more challenging than the rest of the music in there.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Homenaje Écrite Pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy

This piece of music represents one of the first modern compositions written for the guitar by a non-guitarist in the twentieth century - renowned Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. The work revealed his admiration and affection for Claude Debussy with its persistent habanera rhythm as heard in the latter's Puerta del Viño from his Preludes (Book 2) and a quote from La Soirée Dans Grenade to end the piece.

This modern music captured my attention quite some time ago with her ability to evoke the most colourful scenes of Spain, tinted with the pallet of French impressionism. The analysis by Suzanne Demarquez summed this masterpiece up pretty decently:
Falla's piece is a funeral dirge, a symbolic threnody, so frequent in Spanish poetry, influenced by the musical essence and spirit of his departed friend. Its harmony rests on the fundamental fourth of the typical - and so beautiful - chord of the guitar, E-A-D-G-B. Falla places a short rhythmic phrase on this fourth, a kind of muted and bitter lamentation which resounds like a knell throughout the piece. Several echoes of Ibéria (a symphonic poem by Debussy) form the beginning of a theme, a brief motif in triplets marked by the characteristic chromaticism and the augmented second. The special resources of the guitar are skilfully exploited through the arpeggios, very open chords, glissando scales, punteado effects and octave harmonics.
And of course, Demarquez describes this most beautiful ending section which...
sets in bold relief, like a brief ray of moonlight, the clear appareance of a textual citation of the habanera motif, evoking La Soirée Dans Grenade. It is followed by a brief pause. The knell sounds for the last time and gradually fades away in the silence.
How apt has Demarquez put it. Though this piece of music that lasts just slightly over three minutes, listening to it is a heart-stirring experience as the emotional intensity of this music manifests itself by grabbing your full attention.

And of course, this masterpiece will soon be in my repertoire... =)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bach's Ornamentations

These sure are complicated. Even for a simple appoggiatura written on the score, there's so much to research on - whether the ornament really is an appoggiatura or a nachschlag, whether it should be played on the beat or before the beat, the length the preceeding note ought to be etc. Sometimes, I really wonder how much of this research on ornamentation is justified. As musicians and interpreters of the music, we do have an idea of how the ornament ought to be played, and more often than not, I realise my research on how to interpret those ornaments are simply attempts to search for evidence to support how I feel they ought to be played, instead of digging into those books without any preconceived ideas.

So many complications beneath the simple idea of extemporisation. Maybe we should propose cloning Bach and he might just very well help us answer our doubts...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Glenn Gould - A State of Wonder

Indeed, no one can listen to this genius's masterly renditions of Bach's Goldberg Variations and not be completely enamoured by them. Acquired the recording recently and I reckon that it's the definite must-have in every classical music lover's collection. Listening to this particular recording, whether it is his 1955 or 1981 performance, is one spritually rejuvenating journey which I wouldn't get bored taking everyday.

The Truth About The Publications By Andrés Segovia

The guitar repertoire contains quite a number of works which were written for the late Andrés Segovia by various composers. In most of these works with the exception of those by guitar composers, Segovia often took up the job of devising his own fingerings before having the music published. Unfortunately, I've often found that his publishings are most of the time unsatisfactory and more often than not, unreliable. Besides the usual printing errors found in them, Segovia had the bad habit of changing many details in the works which he was dealing with, even to the extent of changing the melodic and harmonic structure of the work.

The most unfortunate fact is that the publications of many works written for him has been founded upon his own texts, and thus, his publication of a particular work is the only version of the work available. Also, the publisher, Schott doesn't seem to be interested in re-publishing the works in a more accurate manner. As such, the process of learning those music often involves a very tedious process of analysing the work to sieve out the more obvious problems and at the same time, sections which are open to interpretation.

In one of such published work of Joaquin Turina I've taken up recently, I've the honour of having the fascimile manuscipt of the work sent to me by the kind Maestro Angelo Gilardino (guitar composer and musicologist). Upon comparison, I realised that there're quite a number of errors whereby sharps and flats are left out and Segovia had actually changed the performance directions which include the dynamics, phrasings and articulation. On top of that, he had actually taken out a bar in the second movement of the work. Sacrilege! And not considering that the fact that the changes he made didn't yield any beautiful musical effects at all...

I'm glad Maestro Angelo Gilardino is currently attempting to rescue all the original manuscripts of those works and publish them. It would be such a consolation for musicians who just have to work with the initial purest state of the work without any filth added in them.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Musical Gathering

It's my first musical gathering which I've attended upon invitation. What a lovely environment among people who love music coming together to play lovely chamber and solo music. Isn't it such a beautiful feeling shutting the whole world out and indulging in just making the music amongst ourselves? Besides playing and listening to our music, we share our thoughts and comments on the music as well.

It's been raining the whole day here and I'm truly thankful to spend such a enchanting afternoon in the cosy company of friends who love music. Maybe I should organise another musical gathering and invite friends who share a common passion for music together... =)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Music To Start Off 2006

I've been cracking my head on how to spend a meaningful new year's eve this year for the past few days. Well, I could join the ranks of people who have nothing better to do and head down to Mount Faber for the biggest local countdown party, or go for my class outing, or join my group of friends who're having a small countdown party. Finally, I've decided to distance myself from the superficial mundanity of the world and focus on the things which are the most dear to me - God and music.

As for the music aspect, I've decided to start on a piece of music which I had always wanted to start but hadn't found time for it. Originally planned to choose some passionate Spanish dance music like the Danza from Manuel de Falla's one-act opera, La Vida Breve, but was browsing through my collection of CDs when I chanced upon the recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, 2, 5 & 9, conducted by the composer himself. The elegant and exquisite Aria (Cantilena) from his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 caught my full attention and demands that I start on it at that very moment.

Heitor Villa-Lobos is a towering figure in the history of Brazilian music and in this series of music, as the title suggests, fused the soul of Brazil with the spirit of Bach, whom the composer had a deep respect for. This particular fine masterpiece is originally scored for a soprano and eight cellos. The soprano sings a hauntingly beautiful melody of without an identifiable form, remotely resembling the Air in Bach's Third Suite. In the central section, the soprano intones a poem about the charming beauty of twilight, supported by expressive chromatically descending chords. Such immensely expressive music never fails to warm a cold, desensitised heart.

In my sheet music collection, I have two versions of it, one rescored for a soprano and guitar by the composer himself and one rescored for a solo guitar by virtuoso French guitarist Roland Dyens. Shall start on the former as it gives me a better idea of the layers of the music and not to mention the fun of playing chamber music.

English translation of text:
In the evening a rosy cloud, slow and lustrous,
floats across the lovely dreaming sky.
In its infinity the moon gently rises,
glorifying the evening, like a tender girl
who dreamily decks and adorns herself,
longing in her soul to appear beautiful
and crying to heaven and earth, to all Nature!

The birds cease singing their sad laments
and the sea reflects all its riches...
Softly now the moonlight awaits
cruel memories of laughter and tears!
In the evening a rosy cloud, slow and lustrous,
floats across the lovely dreaming sky.