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...