2016年3月23日 星期三

Revisiting Lost Time (重訪失去的時光)

Music is a most peculiar media. Some sounds, some rhythms, some vibrations in the air and in no time, that art of time takes you outside of time altogether, to a land where there's absolutely no one to disturb your peace, your freedom and your joy, a land where for a while, time has somehow ceased to exist. For no particular reason, I decided to have some music during dinner tonight. I cast my eyes over my CD rack. They landed on a disc I haven't heard for a while. It was Ommadawn by one of my favorite electronic music groups led by Mike Oldfield.

Mike Oldfield was first introduced to me by a classmate from Newcastle, who also inducted  me into joys of that wonderful bitter darkish alcoholic liquid called Newcastle Brown. He had a casette-player with him and lent me his earphones in a pub so I could find out for myself the true reason why I always found him nodding his head with his eyes half closed, rapt in the sound from that tiny portable gadget whenever classes were over.

Ommadawn consists of two parts, the first one lasting about 20 minutes and the second about 14. Its sound a wonderful mix of acoustic and electric guitar, folk Irish wind pipe, synthesizer, various drums, including some African drums, high hat, cymbals and even a Chinese gong, with a dash of female vocal. It's basic melody is simple but that simple melody sounds very different with  the carefully planned variation of rhythms, loudness and with the sound of more and more instrument gradually added to create a rich sonic soup of complex sound as the music progresses until it reaches the climax which then abruptly stops. In Part Two of the piece, there is a very obvious change of mood with  the festive and complex world music sound backed up by a steady pulsating African style drum strokes producing a strangely hypnotic effect switching to a kind of old folkish Celtic sound. Listening to the music seems to effect a time travel moving at the speed of light, lifting you from a tribal African village into the distant Celtic past, with its wind pipes and rustic southern Irish lassies dancing around the village green hoping to find someone with whom they could spend the rest the rof their life in an existence dominated by fickle fortunes. But we got the same melody which we have got accustomed to in Part I but now played with a completely different mood and completely different feelings. What stays the same though is the steady rhythm, the rhythm of life and it's with rhythm that the music ends.     

2016年3月20日 星期日

Lisa Fischer and the Grand Baton at the Cultural Centre (文化中心的麗莎. 費雪與大指揮棒樂隊)

Every once in a while, you attend a concert in which the artist talks to you, whispers to you, talks to herself, talks a bit about herself, makes jokes, watches the other members of her group perform, appreciating, encouraging them, urging them on, gently helping them along with her own voice, her body movement, sings her own songs, sings the songs of others or those written specially for her, sings songs of widely different genres, cries, shrieks, coos, reflects, glides along, scats or suddenly explodes in a thousand expected and unexpected ways, all within two hours in an evening. 

I heard one recently. In fact, last night. It was the concert of the Grammy Award artist Lisa Fischer who used to be a background/back-up singer for such stars as the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Chaka Kan, Melba Moore and Billy Ocean now teamed up with an incredibly talented band called Grand Baton led by its composer, arranger and multi-string and keyboard instrumentalist Jean-Christophe Maillard, with Tierry Apino on the drums and Aidan Carroll as Bass Guitarist and backing vocals.

2016年3月16日 星期三

Classical and Jazz Fusion --The Debussy String Quartet with J-P Collard-Neven and J-L Rassinfosse

Tuesday evening was one of my happiest in recent months. I love classical music. I also love jazz. I love string ensembles. I love the piano too. I had everything that I could possibly hope for that evening. Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, A French jazz pianist and composer from Lyon, Jean-Louis Rassionfosse a bassist from Belgian teamed up with the famous Debussy Quartet which had been playing together for more than two decades in an evening of wonderfully elegant and by turns, contemplative and lively jazz music, improvising with themes borrowed from the quartets of such illustrious French Impressionist composers as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.

It wasn't the first time that the sextet played together. They first met in 2012 and have since sought inspiration from each other, united by their common love of sound and rhythm. I forgot who said it. There are no boundaries in music: no classicist, no romanticist, no pop, no rock, no jazz. There are just two kinds of music, good music and bad music. But their co-operation is the best kind possible. They do not require each other to abandon their own playing style or what they like to do, nothing against their own natures. Instead, they draw out from each other potentialities they did not know existed, experimenting, exploring, experiencing, feeling new possibilities. It's not at all a kind of peaceful co-existence of two otherwise different traditions in which one tradition merely demands the other to respect or at least to tolerate their own values or methods but an active reaching out into the other's territories and techniques so as to make good music together each using their own peculiar resources. It's in the best jazz tradition of spontaneous improvisation. But improvisation is not something exclusive to the jazz tradition. Even in classical music, there is a long tradition of playing the cadenza in concertos. Bach, Mozart, Joachim are all experts in impromptu music. In a way, classical and jazz are a match made in heaven, classical music provides the structure, discipline and beautiful melodic motifs which the jazz musicians can freely and spontaneously exploit and jazz adds its own "swing" into the otherwise too formal and regulated rhythms of classical music.

2016年3月13日 星期日

A Time for Flowers (花開時光)

It's that time of the year when flowers come into their own again. In Causesay Bay at least.

It's get together time again, no matter what one's condition is.

2016年3月11日 星期五

Netrebko & Eyvazov in Hong Kong (安娜.涅翠柯與尤西夫.伊瓦佐夫在文化中心)

Destiny is not something we can always control, no matter how earnestly we desire to do so. But sometimes, it may smile upon us.  It did so a few days ago, when the Netrebko and Eyvazov arrived at the Cultural Centre. I have heard Netrebko perform many many times and have a fair idea of what she can do but I never heard Eyvazov. So it is with a little trepidation that I settled down on my front row balcony seat. After the wonderfully delightful ouverture or sinfonia of Verdi's La forza del destino was played by the HKPO under the baton of our guest conductor from Crema, Jader Bignanini, I saw enter the two stars of the evening, Anna Yuriyevna Netrebko and the Algiers born but Italy-trained Yusif Eyvazov. Since her marriage, Anna has put on quite a bit of weight. I know what additional body mass can do for a lady's voice. So I am not worried. The other star of the evening was a totally unknown factor to me. He definitely has got the looks of someone from the Middle East. I could easily picture him with a turban and feather fluttering over his head, wearing a long loose fitting robe with a brightly colored sash over the bulge in the middle of his body, with the unsteady light glittering from some huge colored stones from the rings on more than one of his fingers, a pair of those long pointed leather shoes with its curly tips curving in towards himself. But what about his ability to deliver arias and operatic songs?

The first piece of the evening was The Ecco: respiro appena...lo son l''umile ancella from Francesco Cilea (1866-1950)'s Adriana Lecouvreur and the second was his É la solita storia del pastore from his opera L'arlesiana. Her sound was impeccable, powerful without sacrificing grace and elegance and totally unforced.

But what about the second? I did not have to wait long.

2016年3月9日 星期三

Teatro Regio Torino's Messa da Requiem of Verdi (都靈皇家劇院的威爾第"安魂彌撒曲")

I haven't heard very many Requiems with a full orchestra and a massed chorus. I heard one recently. It was Verdi's Messa da Requiem. The Catholic Requiem Mass is one dedicated to the memory of a member of the congregation who recently passed away.

The usual Catholic Mass consist of 4 parts: viz. the Introductory rites ("Introit" or entry) during which the priest will sprinkle holy water and bless the faithful. In a Requiem Mass, the bier holding the body is placed close to the sanctuary of the church with the feet of the deceased towards the altar but a deceased priest's feet are placed away from the altar, to recall their relative positions when he was still alive and celebrating Mass. This is followed by the Sequence Dies Iræ, ( Days of Wrath) which speaks of the day of judgment in fearful terms and which then appeals to Christ for mercy.

This is  followed immediately by the Penitential Rites in which the faithful will have to say a  prayer confessing that they have sinned (accompanied by psalms of "Kyrie" (Mercy) in which the faithful implores God to have mercy on their souls).

Then before the words of God from the bible is read, the faithful will sing psalms in praise of the glory of God ("Gloria") after which  two passages from the Holy Bible is read( the first reading will be from one of the 4 new testament gospel and the second from the "Acts of the Apostles). After that, the faithful will then proclaim their joy in having heard the words of God by singing the "Allelulia" (Praise Yahweh or the Savior) or the acclamation of the gospel and the priest will deliver what's called a " homily" explaining the significance of Biblical passages just read.

After that, the faithfuls will have to publicly profess their basic Catholic beliefs by reciting the Credo ( the Nicene Creed containing the most essential dogmatic teachings of the Church).Then follows the "Offertorium" (Offering) or song of offering gifts to God. Then begins the formal celebration of the Holy Eurcharist  (Body or the Lord) in which the priest will call upon the faithful to lift up their hearts to God and then all will proclaim the mystery of faith that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again or that when they eat the bread and drink his blood, that Jesus will as Christ the savior, have by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead in his resurrection, have freed and will continue to free man from all sins. Then everyone will recite the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to say, viz. the famous "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father" (Pater Nostra") and then the priest will in accordance with the Scriptures, do what Christ did :viz. bless the notional "body of Christ" (in the form of a wafer of unleavened bread) and the "blood" of Christ" ( in the form of wine") (collectively "the holy communion").

All will then sing the "Sanctus" (Holy), in which they proclaim three times, the word "holy" in praise of the glory, might and power of God and cry out "Hosanna (Praise) in the highest" to welcome the coming of Jesus Christ on earth, and the priest will then invoke the Holy Spirit to bless and enter into the prepared "bread" and "wine" and then give thanks to God for doing so and share them amongst those faithfuls who wish to do so. Whilst the faithfuls are receiving the "Holy Eucharist" (Holy Body or the Lord's Supper), a "Communion Song/Communion Antiphon" will be sung.

After that, the priest will make relevant church announcement.  In a Requiem Mass, he'll mention the name of the deceased and ask all to pray for the departed soul. The priest will again sprinkle holy water on the bier and sing Libera me, Domine (free/save me, Lord) But according to theology, when he does this  "absolution" (ordinarily taking away the stain of sin but here it doesn't really have the effect of absolving the dead from sins committed, as in the case of the sacrament of Penance or commonly called the "Confession" done when the deceased was still alive but is intended only to  ensure him a safe passage to Purgatory where the dead souls will have to do penance there for their sins until they have completely cleansed themselves and then ascend to heaven on the day of judgement (Dies Irae) when according to Catholic theology, all the dead will rise again and their body resurrected before going to heaven or being condemned to burn in everlasting hell fire.

Then follows the concluding rites in which the priest will bless all who have come and ask them go in the peace of Christ and all will give thanks to God for allowing them to participate in the feast of having found faith in God. During this part, a Closing/Recessional song will be sung or some organ music played. When the coffin is carried away from the church, the priest will sing In paradisum (in paradise). 

The most famous requiem is the Requiem in D minor (K 626) partly completed by Mozart up to the sequence of Dies Irae in the Lacrymosa movement and the Offertorium at the time of his death in December 1791 and later completed for him by others like Sussmayr. It was none the less a magnificent piece. There is an solemn elegance in it which is hard to match.

Another is Dvorák's Requiem in Bb minor.

The third is by the French composer Gabriel Fauré. also in D minor, a much quieter affair

The one I heard recently is that by Giuseppi Verdi (1813-1901), commonly acknowledged to be a most dramatic work in that the silent passages are really silent. But it contains a truly explosive Dies Iraes. it was performed for us by the Teatro Regio Torino under the baton of a hot Milano conductor Gianandrea Nosesa, named  as Musical America's 2015 "Conductor of the Year". He brought with him both the Teatro Regio Torino's orchestra and its chorus whose ladies appear in a beautiful vermillion color shawl over a black dress.  The sequence of this requiem are as follows:

1. Requiem and Kyrie with soloists including inter alia the Tenor Giorgio Berrugi and chorus
2. Sequence: Dies Irae with soloists and chorus
3. Offertorium: Domine Jesus Christie by the Soloists
4. Sanctus by the double chorus
5. Agnus Dei (lamb of God) by the Soprano Erika Grimaldi Mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona and Chorus
6. Communion:  Lux Aeterna by the Mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona and Bass Michele Petrusi
7. Responsorium: Libera Me Domine by the Soprano Erika Grimaldi and Chorus

The piece was composed for four soloists, a double choir and orchestra by Giuseppe Verdi. for Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist who wrote Il Pormessi sposi (The Betrothed)  whom Verdi admired and performed in 1874 in San Marco Church in Milan at the first anniversary of Manzoni's death although earlier the piece was originally intended for the death of the composer Rossini.

I must confess I have never heard a Requiem as powerful as the one I heard in this concert a few days ago. This is the Requiem.

The soloists and the chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino were uniformly excellent. The sound of the orchestra seldom overshadows those from the soloists, a most delicate operation to perform but by and large, they did it and the result is an ear opening and unforgettable musical experience. It seems that the sounds I heard that evening are still ringing in my ears even as I am now writing.  I like in particular the voice of the soprano whose quite "normal" size initially left me a little wary before she opened her mouth. But once she did, all such doubts seem totally unnecessary and we could really sit down and concentrate on simply enjoying the music. It was not only sheer joy to listen to the music, it's also a most uplifting and in a sense terrifying experience. Is that not what Edmund Burke meant when he said that the sublime is always tinged with an inarticulate sense of awe and of a certain indescribable terror?

Listening to the massed sound of human voices, each with its own peculiar mix of sonic texture and of the various musical instruments, each with its own timbre when they sing or play the same notes at the same frequency, in isolation and sometimes in combination somehow make us realize that whilst human beings are separate from each other and from the world, we also share the same joys and eventually the same sorrows, that we are also in a sense one with each other and with all of creation, that all must participate in the same ultimate fate, that one day, all must die and go back to whence we came, to that primordial silence from which we once emerged into existence. But what kept the terror from being too overwhelming is the esthetic distance created by the comforting thought that it's just art, something located in space and time, and just an ephemeral artistic experience, an art in and of time  and not really reality. Is that not what the Greeks sages meant when they told us that art is cathartic?

The lyrics of the Responsorium: Libera Me Domine (Free Me Lord)  are worth pondering:

Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death in that awful day
when the heavens and earth shall be moved
when Thou shall come to judge the world by fire

I am seized with trembling and I fear

the time when the trial shall approach
and the wrath to come, when the heavens
and the earth shall be moved

A day of wrath

that day of calamity and woe
A great day and bitter indeed

Rest eternal grant them

O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them

2016年3月1日 星期二

Out and about (外出)

 Exercise is good. It's better if in addition to moving your muscles, you can exercise a little the acuteness of your vision in the process.

When you go to one of the outlying islands, you'll never know what you'll find, no matter how many times you've been there.