September 27, 2007

Albeniz – Granada (from Suite Espanola)

Albeniz – Granada (from Suite Espanola)

Recently I had one of the most enlightening lessons while teaching. I was teaching Bela Bartok’s Round Dance with a grade 5 student, and our discussion topic was on folk tunes and melodies, and a few composers and their music was brought up. I decided to show him how the charming landscape of Spain could be expressed in a piano piece. The first piece that came to mind was actually Granados’ Orientale (no.2) from 12 Spanish Dances, but not having that score with me, I proceeded to play something from the Albeniz scores that I happened to have with me.
Flipping the book open to Suite Espanola, I performed/sight-read the first movement, Granada. The notes were relatively simple, and that gave me freedom to add in embellishments and tempo-changes.
After listening to the whole piece once through, he sat in contemplative silence, as if brought into an altered state of mind, immersed fully into the music. After a while, he said, “The slow part is simply beautiful.” He didn’t say any more than that. Normally he would have asked questions or made statements of what he thought, but that day he didn’t feel the need to say any more. He had felt the music, not just heard it; and it was evident that he was deeply affected by it. And me? Of course I was elated. Overjoyed at the fact that my student had cultivated the sensitivity to music, to feel, at the young age of 12.
Granada opens with bright, tinkling arpeggiated chords in the right-hand part reminiscent of church bells in the distance. The melody, played by the left-hand, is based on the Mixolydian mode. It evokes the picture of the village life, simple yet fascinating. From the key of F major, Albeniz modulates it to the mellow key of A-flat major, and changes it just as quickly back to F. This dissolves with alternating F-major and F augmented chords into the dreamy, ethereal second section (the ‘slow’ section that my student mentioned about). A sunset, a heavy sigh comes into mind. It is as though time stops, and everything is frozen for a single moment. Albeniz describes it:

I live and write a Serenata…sad to the point of despair, among the aroma of the flowers, the shade of the cypresses, and the snow of the Sierra. I will not compose the intoxication of a juerga. I seek now the tradition…the guzla, the lazy dragging of the fingers over the strings. And above all, a heartbreaking lament out of tune…I want the Arabic Granada, that which is art, which is all that seems to me beauty and emotion…[1]

If Albéniz sat down today with a guitar in his hands, and the Alhambra in his mind, what would he play?

The piece ends off with the delightful opening motif, and dies down with an upward arpeggio to a quiet, serene ending. Such beauty in simplicity!
At the end of the lesson, my student asked, “Can I play this piece too?”

[1] From a letter written by Albéniz to his friend Enrique Moragas in 1886. Cited in Walter Clark, Albéniz: Portrait of a Romantic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), p. 65, fn. 132.
September 14, 2007

Advertisment – Folklore and Fantasy

Advertisment – Folklore and Fantasy

The Centre for New Life Wind Ensemble is having our annual concert on Saturday, the 29th of September at 1930Hrs. It will be at the Nanyang Girls’ High School Siew May Auditorium, at 2 Linden Drive.

Theme for the concert is Folklore & Fantasy, and the repertoire includes:

Hans Christian Andersen Suite – Adventures for Wind Orchestra
Soren Hyldgaard (ed. Johan de Meij)

Folklore for Band
Jim Andy Caudill

The Seventh Night of July
Itaru Sakai

Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Niccolo Paganini
James Barnes

A Longford Legend – A Collection of Irish Street Ballades, 0p.58
Robert Sheldon

Steve Hodges

Email me at or call 96838630 for tickets 🙂
September 12, 20070

The wanting and longing to learn the cello still remains.

And I realized that I haven’t felt this way since way back then when I was 9. The instrument in question was the Oboe (which I picked up only 8 years later), and what enchanted and captivated me was a character from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the duck. (yes, stop laughing already, would you?)

Now.. It wouldn’t be that difficult to pick it up, would it? After all, aren’t the playing techniques similar to that of the violin? 😉

September 9, 2007

On the uncontrollable urge to pick up the cello..


As I listened to Mischa Maisky play the poetic Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, followed by the sweet seduction of the Soul of the Tango CD by Yo-yo Ma, and afterward the heart-wrenching Elgar Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline du Pre, I had this sudden desire to learn the cello.

It’s as though… just being able to play the Arpeggione or the Elgar concerto will give me the satisfaction. All that money spent on lessons and the hours of practice and hard work just won’t be wasted.

Perhaps it’s just like practicing the violin like crazy just to be able to play the Chaconne.

Delayed gratification, that’s what it is.

Someone stop me from buying a cello, PLEASE.

September 6, 2007

Musicians wrestle everywhere


Musicians wrestle everywhere —
All day — among the crowded air
I hear the silver strife —
And — walking — long before the morn —
Such transport breaks upon the town
I think it that “New Life”!

If is not Bird — it has no nest —
Nor “Band” — in brass and scarlet — drest —
Nor Tamborin — nor Man —
It is not Hymn from pulpit read —
The “Morning Stars” the Treble led
On Time’s first Afternoon!

Some — say — it is “the Spheres” — at play!
Some say that bright Majority
Of vanished Dames — and Men!
Some — think it service in the place
Where we — with late — celestial face —
Please God — shall Ascertain!

-Emily Dickinson

September 6, 2007

Pavarotti (1935 – 2007)


Celebrated Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, 71, has died following his operation for pancreatic cancer in July last year and hospitalisation last month, ANSA
news agency reported Thursday.

Read all about it here.

Really bad news, and a great loss for the world of opera 🙁

August 27, 2007

Concert Review: Clouds of Glory by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (Part 1)


Sat, 25 Aug 07

Choo Hoey conductor

Li Chuan Yun violin

The Fair Melusina: Overture, op. 32

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35


Nocturnes: Clouds and Festivals

The Firebird: Suite (1919 version)

The long-awaited concert had finally arrived, and I attended it, hoping for an evening of good music. The conductor was Choo Hoey, who was the founding Music Director of the SSO in 1979. (Seeing that even my dad knew who he was, I assumed that he was some great conductor and was dying to watch him conduct)

Mendelssohn’s concert overture, The Fair Melusina, proved to be an amenable opening to the concert. The poetic essence of the story was captured by the light, shimmering strings beautifully. With the rippling arpeggios more than reminiscent of the Rhine motif in Das Rhinegold and sinuous wind playing, the orchestra sketched a convincing tone-picture of Melusine herself. Choo Hoey’s phrasing and sense of rubato was unflawed, and with the orchestra responding together, he brought out the irate minor-key figure of Count Raymond of Lusignan as a smooth extension of the first motif. The fluid melody of the clarinet was interwoven nicely into the picturesque, more urgent second idea. Despite its deeply inflective and nachdenklich nature, the piece ended almost ungracefully in what was supposed to be a serene conclusion. The last pizzicato chords were scattered and clumsy, with the orchestra musicians barely able to follow Choo’s inappropriately large sweeping gestures for a peaceful, quiet ending.
China-born, Julliard-educated Li Chuan Yun took to the stage in an extremely flamboyant attire – a black shirt with crystals around the neckline. Albeit slow, the orchestra set the right ambience for the entry of the soloist. There was no mistaking in Li’s matchless double-stops and his flawless technique. Li tackled the violinistic hurdles fearlessly, but much to my disappointment, without any character and power. It was apparent that besides technical virtuosity, there was nothing else Li had to say about Tchaikovsky. He made the triumphant first movement sound brooding and moody. What happened to the poetry, the passion, the imagination, the glory? His rendition of Tchaikovsky had obviously failed to move the audience.

There was tenderness in the second movement, and his sublime introduction had exhibited fleeting moments of beauty. His execution of the portamento and his ornamentation were gentle and graceful, and the movement died down to a tranquil close before the orchestra burst into the loud, rousing finale. The powerful promising start to the third movement died down as quickly as it came, and dragging back into its monotonous, sleepy state. This was very obviously ignoring Tchaikovsky’s Allegro Vivacissimo tempo marking! The cadenzas were disappointing, with Li pausing at unmusical places and altering the tempo as he desired.

The orchestra was untidy most of the time, sometimes with miscued entries, sometimes not together with the soloist. Nonetheless, Li managed to finish the concerto much to the delight and applause of the audience, even receiving a few standing ovations (sigh, what on earth were the audience thinking?!). He was accorded three curtain calls, and came back for a vigourous technical display of an encore piece, ending it off with a maori-like war cry, to the amusement of the orchestra and the members of the audience.

[the second half is not reviewed because I had to leave after the first half :(]

On a lighter note, I’ll be leaving for KL, Malaysia, for a performance on the 4th of September and returning on the 8th. Apparently I’ll be playing the violin for some pop-concert in Genting. Let’s see how this goes (: