Sunday, September 03, 2017

Hong Kong Philharmonic – Jaap van Zweden, conductor; Yuja Wang, piano. September 2, 2017.

HK Cultural Center Concert Hall.  Balcony (Seat M123, HK$680).

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat minor, Op. 23 by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky (1882-1971).

As Chung Chu remarked on my Facebook entry, this was a great program.  Indeed it is, with Yuja Wang as the soloist, at that.

Perhaps I was somewhat disappointed at the last HK Phil concert I attended (in April), and perhaps my expectations were again quite high (I know these are counter-arguments in a way), I was somewhat disappointed at the performance.

Working from memory, it was a performance by Wang that brought out the Ravel Piano Concerto (in F?) for me, and I was fascinated by how adept she was in performing an arrangement of Mozart’s piece (the K.545 Rondo?).  And I saw her performance of the Tchaikovsky on YouTube which was really good.  Today was a few years later, so I was really looking forward to enjoy this war horse.

Wang did manage to make the piece look easy; perhaps not “one day in the office” easy, but there was certainly no anxiety that she might miss a note (not that I would necessarily notice), or some other mishap.

After a thunderous applause, she played as encore a piece that seemed to have moving pedal points with embellishments around them.  Perhaps pianists would appreciate the virtuosity involved, I couldn’t quite get the why and what of it.

My main issue with the Tchaikovsky was how disjoint the piece sounded.  Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, the performance was like a series of unrelated themes or passages stitched together.  The orchestra’s simply lurched from section to section, with precision problems every now and then.  My first encounter with van Zweden was a Hong Kong Phil concert in 2012, when he was a few months in his post.  My remark that his ego exceeded his capability needs to be re-visited in light of his appointment to the New York Philharmonic; however, while Hong Kong Philharmonic remains a competent orchestra, it has not made great strides in the intervening years since took over as music director.

That unease was confirmed with the Rite of Spring performance.  The introduction by the bassoon was tentative, and it took me a while to get over it.  There were moments of brilliance, but the performance was again marked by more disjointness (is this a word?) than I would like.

The annotator’s decision to include the “program” of the ballet in the Program Notes was certainly very helpful.  The young mother sitting next to me was going through the program with her son as the music progressed.  By putting in references to the instruments (e.g., “the horns dance cheerfully”) he made the music very easy to follow along.  The rest of the Program Notes was pretty boiler-plate, though.

The ushers were very strict about the "no photos" policy, even though it wasn't plainly stated in the program.  This out-of-focus shot of Wang and van Zweden leaving was the only photo I took after the Tchaikovsky concerto.

A full orchestra was used for the Rite of Spring performance.  Notice the two sets of timpanis.

One gets criticized for commenting on Wang’s sense of fashion; but if I walk on the street with a beanie cap with peacock tail feathers attached (think Cher), am I not inviting or even expecting remarks from others?  After much thought, the most politically correct way to say is Wang has the confidence to think she can pull it off with an outfit that would equally belong on a beach.  Another thought is many young girls were brought to this concert so they can be inspired by Wang, I wonder how many would want to grow up and emulate her fashion sense.

So happens I also attended Hong Kong Philharmonic’s opening concert last year; there I debated if I wanted to go because of the obscure piece on the program, and I ended up really enjoying it.  For tonight I had no hesitation to get a ticket (and solicited Tim’s help to do so as the concert was rapidly selling out), yet I ended up with a real sense of disappointment.

To put things in perspective, I also bought a ticket to the chamber concert this coming Wednesday where Wang will be performing with HK Phil musicians.  And of course overall I think the concert is worth the money and the time.

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