Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall. Seat Front Stall D24 (HK$180).
Overture to Rosamnude by Schubert
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 by Brahms
1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky
Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai
This was the fourth concert we attended this week. We again found out about it in the newspaper we read on the way over from Los Angeles. David and Ruby also came along; they got into town the evening before. We had a quick bite at the Macau Restaurant beforehand.
The best way to describe this concert was that it was an unmitigated disaster; this is particularly true of the first half. Exactly as David predicted. David said he listened to the conductor play the violin a few years back, and said he wasn't quite up to job then. I was joking he had had that many years to practice, so must have improved a lot. Was I wrong!
Now, how was it a disaster? Let me count the ways.
Tuning. Usually after the cacophony of the different instrument trying to line up with the A from the oboe, there is this sweet harmonious sound that comes from the orchestra. You could definitely the some instruments were not quite there, but then the players set their instruments down. There is no clock that makes it necessary for the orchestra ready by a certain time. Now with this group, you may need another 15 minutes. This problem plaques the soloist as well. After the first movement (of the Brahms Concerto), we were quite sure his violin was out of tune, and he was struggling with his intonation already. He didn't see the need to retune his violin, to our utter disbelief.
Technical ability. The music was beyond the technical ability of many of the players. This starts with the soloist who had difficulty with many of the passages, and completely butchered the double stops. Now Brahms isn't an easy piece, but at least one should be able to do the second movement with some semblance of artistry. He should have gone for Mozart or Vivaldi instead. Since the Principal Conductor (Lin) was the soloist, the concertmaster conducted the orchestra. He conducted to the extent that he kept the beat, but the orchestra was certainly confused. During the 1812 Overture the triangle player managed to come in just a fraction late (which would mean she was reacting rather than anticipating). The funny thing was her colleague then worked with her by teaching her how to rock to the rhythm – amazingly, it worked. Anne knows this “teacher” from her company's Hong Kong office.
Precision. I suspect they did not work on this at all. When your players can't even count properly, it would be difficult to ask them to be precise. A glaring example was the last note of Schubert's overture where the concertmaster played it short while everyone else played it long. Also, during the 1812, there was great confusion for a couple of measures where a couple of section were a half measure or so off. They eventually fixed it.
“Yellow River” is a well known piece among the Chinese. It was written in the early 1900s but has been adopted (some might say hijacked) by left-leaning folks as a patriotic song. In my college days it was associated with Communist China and was quite popular during the days students were protesting against Japan on the ownership of Spratly Islands. After these many years, the political associated is greatly diminished. The cantata nonetheless is still quite popular – it is an enjoyable piece. The performance was okay, the soloists (except one) projected reasonably well. I had never listened to the entire piece, so was glad to be able to do it.
At the end of the program, the orchestra and chorus played a couple of encores. The conductor bowed and then launched into them. They repeated one of the songs (No. 6) in “Yellow River” and played a (I'm sure) Sousa piece. We suspected the conductor was afraid if he went backstage everyone would get up and leave.
The question I have is: Do they know they are bad? I look back on my high school and university orchestra days, and wonder if we were that bad. No, we couldn't have been this bad!