Sir James Galway (Review)
Flamenco Classico is an imaginative collaboration between the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong and choreographer Nina Corti. Led by two outstanding flamenco dancers from Spain, Rosana Romero and Adrian Santana, the show was rapturously received by a packed house.
Musically, the most unusual item was the Quintet No 4 in D Major and G.448 Fandango by 18th century Italian composer Luigi Boccherini. The only piece to showcase the guitar, the closing fandango was distinguished by a thrilling virtuoso castanet performance by Romero.
This was followed by two of the best-known Spanish (or Spanish-influenced) compositions of all time. The first, Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo was performed with elan by the orchestra and showed off the dancers' classic flamenco skills, with their tapping feet, claps and snapping fingers enhancing the score.
The second, Bizet's Carmen was presented in the form of Russian composer Rodion Schedrin's 1967 Carmen Suite, created as a ballet for his wife the great Maya Plisetskaya. Schedrin's inclusion of other Bizet music and extensive use of instruments like the marimba and vibraphone resulted in the work being banned by the conservative Soviet authorities. Daring in its time, it today sounds dated and the instrumentation works against the music - the vibraphone is not ideal for expressing sexual passion or homicidal jealousy.
Corti gets full marks for ambition in staging Carmen as a two-hander and sensibly opts for an impressionistic approach. This produces some exceptional moments, notably a smouldering habanera, while Carmen's murder was so dramatic the small girl in front of me flung herself into her mother's lap in terror, a tribute to the performers' power.
However, a cast of two is too restrictive - the succession of she-loves-me, she-loves-me not duets becomes repetitive and confusion creeps in with Santana portraying both Don José and Escamillo. And while flamenco is an ideal emotional match for the story, the dance vocabulary is limiting in this context.
Any quibbles about music or choreography were overcome by the spectacular performances of Romero and Santana, whose technical brilliance was equalled by the intensity of their interpretation. A dazzling encore of pure flamenco sent the audience home happy.
Natasha Rogai, South China Morning Post
Sir James Galway (Review)
World-renowned flautist Sir James Galway has been in town on several missions, but found time to pay an unexpected act of respect to the victims of the Lamma ferry disaster.
The Irish legend, along with his flautist wife Lady Jeanne Galway, performed to a packed audience at the City Hall Concert Hall on Friday as they kicked off the concert season of the City Chamber Orchestra.
The concert was part of a week's activities for the septuagenarian maestro, including masterclasses where he shared his expertise with more than 100 local flute players.
The couple made a brief appearance at the pre-concert reception to meet the orchestra's board, including chairman Bryan Carter and his wife Stella, new director of the Academy for Performing Arts Adrian Walter and Hong Kong Philharmonic board member Janice Choi.
The new season will also feature legendary percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who will perform and record with the City Chamber Orchestra, according to founder and executive director Leanne Nicholls.
The opening concert will be best remembered by Galway's third encore, when he played Danny Boy in memory of the ferry victims. You could have heard a pin drop during this heartfelt performance.
read online: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1057131/flautist-james-galway-pays-tribute-lamma-ferry-collision-victims
Oliver Chou, South China Morning Post
The Britten 100 Project - HK Arts Festival (Review)
"The surprise was the chamber orchestra, who with a relatively small number of players delivered nuanced and powerful impact in support of the speakers and chorus"
Alan Yu, Bachtrack
Flamenco Classico (Preview)
There's nothing new about fusing seemingly incompatible styles of art together. Although the classical scene has been late adopters, it doesn't seem to be going out of favour anytime soon.
The City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong will participate this Friday in a showcase of flamenco music and dance. The orchestra will perform under the baton of Jean Thorel, while Rosana Romero and Adrian Santana take centre stage as the dancers.
The programme features pieces by three composers: Luigi Boccherini's Fandango, Quintet in D-Major, Rodion Shchedrin's arrangement of Carmen Suite, and Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo.
"Flamenco music is quite different from classical," says choreographer Nina Corti, 59, "so the style of the movements have to change to adapt to the orchestral music. It's a lot of technical flamenco know-how mixed with the classical Spanish vocabulary of dance movements."
Corti knows a thing or two about packaging flamenco for a classical setting. She was raised in a family of professional musicians and developed a keen ear for music from listening to her father, a viola soloist, and his strings quartet.
Although ballet was her introduction to dance, it was the rhythmic stomps and the feminine yet powerful movements of flamenco that got her hooked.
Since then she's collaborated with a who's who of the flamenco world, including Pepe Habichuela, Enrique Morente and Jose Merce, and has arranged and choreographed works with international orchestras.
As chief choreographer of Flamenco Classico, Corti had her criteria. "I tried to find some experienced dancers who are active in both flamenco and clasico Espanol," she says of selecting Romero and Santana. "They also had to be virtuosos in castanet techniques and classical music."
In the early stages of the choreography, style was not a major issue. Once rehearsals began in November, however, the trio focused on perfecting movements and working out precisely what each was meant to convey. Corti says a significant part of the choreography process involves compromise, and allowing the dancers to add to or drop parts of the repertoire.
While Corti is in charge of the dancing, she also knows the important role that music plays. "I wish the audience is aware that without the orchestra, the whole event wouldn't happen. The most important thing is to make the music visual with movements."
read online: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/article/1135942/arts-preview-flamenco-classico
Barry Chung, South China Morning Post
The Snowman & The Bear (Review)
“The orchestra and the narrators were excellent...The two percussionists in the orchestra were perhaps the most entertaining as they ran around the xylophones, timpani, drums and bells”
Hong Kong Economic Journal
Interview with Raymond Briggs (The Snowman & The Bear)
For a man whose work is so intimately associated in the public mind with the festive season, Raymond Briggs isn't particularly cheerful.
The English writer, cartoonist and illustrator has written two graphic novels with Father Christmas as their protagonist, and is best known for The Snowman, his wordless 1978 picture book about a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life; it was made into a 1982 animated film - with music by composer Howard Blake, including the famous song Walking in the Air - that has been shown on British television every Christmas since.
It's also popular around the world, including Hong Kong: since 2003, the City Chamber Orchestra has been performing the score to The Snowman, along with another animated children's favourite also scored by Blake, The Bear, accompanied by the films. The ensemble will again perform the two next month.
However, you only have to read (or look at) Briggs' books to realise that here we have an unlikely candidate for festive canonisation. Father Christmas is constantly grumpy at the drudgery that his job entails; after the boy and the snowman go on various magical adventures together - including a trip to see Father Christmas that's in the screen adaptation but not the book - the snowman promptly melts.
Nor does the rest of his work make for much chirpier reading. In Gentleman Jim (1980), central character Jim Bloggs is thwarted at every turn in his attempts to change career from toilet cleaner to, variously, pirate, artist, highwayman and cowboy. Jim and his wife Hilda return in the indescribably downbeat and tragic When the Wind Blows (1982), dutifully following useless government advice before the world is annihilated by nuclear armageddon. Even his more light-hearted stories, such as Fungus the Bogeyman (1977), feature a central character whose job of scaring human beings is, like Father Christmas', actually quite dreary.
But Briggs sees his habitual pessimism as just telling it like it is.
"It's just being realistic. Father Christmas is old, fat, has an awful job, has been doing it for a lifetime, it's night work, it's freezing cold, he's alone all night - who wouldn't be grumpy? And the snowman melts, and nuclear war kills people in thousands. Am I pessimistic or realistic? Both. The light at the end of the tunnel is probably an oncoming train," he says.
"And none of my books are about Christmas, except Father Christmas obliquely - but Christmas always soaks up everything."
Born to working-class parents in southwest London in 1934, Briggs wanted to be a cartoonist from an early age. After spending several years at various art colleges, including London's Slade School of Fine Art, he embarked on a career as a professional illustrator and, to his initial horror, was asked to draw for children's books. He soon realised, though, that illustrating and authoring children's books gave him the freedom to pursue his distinctive vision. He pioneered the graphic novel format, where separate words and pictures had previously been the norm, and made the bold decision to go entirely without words for The Snowman.
He also moved from works aimed mainly at children, such as Father Christmas and Fungus, towards books with more grown-up, often extremely dark themes - but without changing his works' simple picture-book form. When the Wind Blows looks like a children's book but is about human powerlessness and horrific slaughter; likewise 1984's The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman, a satirical allegory for the Falklands war in which two ridiculous metal monsters wreak havoc fighting over a "sad little island".
But to Briggs, the apparent disconnect between form and content has never been an issue; in fact, his work effortlessly bridges the gap between younger and older audiences precisely because he makes no distinction between them. "You just do what you do the way you want it. I never think about whether a book is for adults or children. Apart from early learning books, 'The cat sat on the mat' and so on. Once a child can read, I can't see the difference."
But then, Briggs says that the audience with which he is most associated remains something of a mystery to him ("I don't know anything much about children: had none myself, never taught in school") - a fairly startling admission from an author whose work is so beloved by so many children.
He has, however, taught young people: for 25 years, from 1961 to 1986, as a part-time tutor of illustration at Brighton School of Art. It's something he misses to this day. "It was good fun. It was inspiring to be among a bunch of young talented people; I learned such a lot. Seeing one of them with rows of colour crayons laid out inspired me to get some myself. This produced The Snowman, all done in crayon."
He says creating a book without words is "much harder" than writing one with them ("every action has to be depicted, not just mentioned"), and that drawing is actually a far more challenging business than writing generally. "Writing is far easier and quicker than drawing. 'John picked up a mug of tea': writer - job done; illustrator - what does a 60-year-old hand look like? What angle are we seeing it from? What is he wearing? Etc, etc. It's much more of an effort. It's sometimes a drag to think when you've been writing for weeks to have to relive it again and draw it all - months of work."
In addition to child-friendly works such as The Man (1992), about a tiny human who mysteriously appears in a boy's bedroom and starts bossing him around, and Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age (2001), about a young caveman who comes up with various forward-thinking but unpopular inventions, Briggs' later career has also produced the book that he refers to as his favourite among his own works: 1998's Ethel and Ernest. Also the work about which he says he's had the most correspondence from children, it is the life story of the two people who dominate his works more than any others: his parents. They are also the basis for Jim and Hilda Bloggs in Gentleman Jim and When the Wind Blows, while a milkman based on his father is the only other person in Father Christmas with whom the main character interacts.
His most famous, successful and resonant work, however, continues to be The Snowman, which will be performed again in Hong Kong on December 8 and 9. Briggs says he had "no idea at all" when he was writing it that The Snowman would be so successful. In fact, he admits, he wasn't always such a fan of the animated version. "At first I didn't like the idea - visiting Father Christmas and so on - but the book is 32 pages, as most picture books have to be, with four lots of eight-page sections. Films like that have to be 26 minutes, so more story was needed. I came to like it when I saw it all together."
So he should: it's the work that's installed this least cosy and reassuring of writers as a festive family favourite. You could almost see it as a happy ending - except Briggs doesn't seem to believe in that either.
read online: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/article/1083978/author-raymond-briggs-hit-all-ages
Richard Lord, Sunday Morning Post
Our Dream 2012 (HK Chinese Woman's Composers Association)
“City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong was totally buoyed up. The string section was given the full rein to the perfect match of the woodwind section”
Ta Kung Pao
James Galway Live in Hong Kong
Satoshi Kyo, TimeOut
English Recorder Concertos (Review)
“Performed by the incomparable instrumental soloist Michala Petri and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong under the direction of conductor Jean Thorel, these varied pieces demonstrate the range of once-maligned woodwind. From the dramatic opening of Harvey's Concerto Incantanto through the pastoral meanderings of Jacob's Suite for Recorder and Strings, this is the music of European myth and history. Recommended.”
Chris Morgan, Scene
English Recorder Concertos (Review)
“What a lovely disc this is! This is a collection of three English recorderconcertos by Malcolm Arnold, Gordon Jacob, and Richard Harvey. The recorders are accompanied by a delicate orchestra, consisting of strings, flutes, clarinets, harp, celesta, and percussion. Harvey's concerto is a most enjoyable discovery, and so there's really nothing to do but to go out and purchase this CD!”
Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare