About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

17 June 2017

Decoda and The JPO

As the JPO is slowly regaining its feet, the new CEO and Artistic Director, Bongani Tembe, has really brought some interesting musical performances to the table. The Decoda ensemble - a group of 9 musicians affiliated to Carnegie Hall in New York, is one such example. Decoda are in South Africa for a 3 week tour - with shows still scheduled in Durban and Cape Town in the coming weeks.

The concert started with the debut performance of a commissioned piece by South African composer Matthijs van Dijk, Drop - featuring all 9 ensemble musicians and the orchestra. It's a relatively short piece - about 8 mins long, focused around the word "drop" - including water and electronic music references. It was upbeat, fun and very different to the rest of the program; and very enjoyable.

In contrast to previous JPO performances, the second piece was performed purely by Decoda - Lutoslawski's Dance Preludes. While originally written for clarinet and piano, the ensemble has rearranged it for the ensemble; and as noted in the introduction, the arrangement highlights the different instruments in the ensemble. The piece was far longer than the advertised 7 minutes in the program - and well worth the extra minutes :)

The final part of the first half  was Haydn's Symphonia Concertante, featuring the violin, cello, oboe and basson players of Decoda. This is probably the first Haydn symphony that I really enjoyed - again something really different to normal JPO performances; even though this is very much a classical music piece.

After the break, conductor Yasuo Shinozaki, led the orchestra through one of the best performances of Beethoven's 5th Symphony I have heard. It is probably my favourite classical music piece - and the tempo of the final movement was just amazing. It capped off an amazing concert - and things are really looking up for the JPO.

03 June 2017

Movie: Silence

Martin Scorsese's passion project spanning over 25 years, Silence, tracks the mission of two Jesuit priests in Japan. It's a beautifully shot movie - with stunning cinematography -  but it is difficult to judge the movie beyond its visual merits.

Primarily - this is a movie about faith and culture; and about changes in both. The story takes place at a time where Christians are persecuted for their faith; as the Japanese traditionalists see the usurping religion replacing, not only Buddhism, but also the traditions of Japan. This resistance is itself not investigated in detail - but rather, the persecution and the hiding from this persecution becomes the centre of this story; leading to torture and death - of both villagers and priests. 

My own interpretation is that this is a movie about Christianity (and by extent, Western civilisation)'s cultural superiority - about how people would rather convert, suffer and die, rather than stay in their own culture. It is unsettling and ultimately unsatisfactory - because in the end; there is very little looking at why - why would they convert? why are the officials unhappy? 

22 May 2017

Hamlet

It's probably Shakespeare's most famous play, and although I had seen snippets of performances before, this was the first time I had seen a full performance. The play itself is set on a ship - historically one of the earliest known performances of the play - which means that we are actually watching a play on the performance of a play which also happens to have a play in the performance.

The premise of the location leads to a stunningly minimal set - a smallish stage with a few crates - but this stage is surrounded by water - which is brilliantly used as part of the performance. The cast itself is only 6 persons - each playing more than one role - with a standout performance by Marcel Meyer as Hamlet (and the ghost of his dead father) - and the channeling of the ghost as a possession was a touch of genius!

09 May 2017

Reboot of the Rebooted Top Gear - Season 24

I did not enjoy Season 23, and The Grand Tour resurrected a lot of the magic of the old Top Gear. The reboot of the reboot managed to resurrect some of the old formula to good effect. It got rid of the rally cross, and brought back the old lap; albeit with an "everyday" sports car in the form of the Toyota 86. Matt le Blanc is an excellent anchor - and channels the James May weirdness in bringing heavy machinery for amusement. There are some crazy challenges - not as off beat as Clarkson shows - but still interesting - such as the taxi challenge in Kazakstan and playing Pac Man.  Extra Gear continued and brought a lot more behind the scenes views - which greatly increased my appreciation on what it takes to actually film an episode of Top Gear. 

All in all, Season 24 of Top Gear manages to resurrect the show - and it is more of a driving, car show than 3 blokes having fun. It's more balanced from the absurdities of the Clarkson era; a whole lot better than Season 23 - so there are signs of hope once more.

29 April 2017

Movie: The Accountant

The Accountant seems to be tailor made for Ben Afleck (or Keanu Reeves) - an autistic savant numbers person, who happens to be the tax guy for the mob, and basically does not have any emotional responses to most situations in the movie. The plot line is barely believable, but does manage to have some good action scenes; and while the autism drives a large part of the story it seems more of a crutch to make something more of a rather ordinary movie plot. It is fun though - so at least it has some entertainment value.

Movie: Hell or High Water

I wasn't sure that I would enjoy a pseudo-western, set in rural Texas - but Hell or High Water managed to convert a story of two bank robbing brothers to a story with depth examining a lot of social issues of poor (white) America. This is really a story about loan sharks (dressed as bankers), stagnant wages, gun culture, joblessness, abusive parents and the impact on their grown children, greed and Jeff Bridges in a brilliant performance of a cranky, but great, detective. It's a story that you start rooting for the bad guys (or at least one of the brothers); and the story somehow manages to achieve some sort of balance between heartache, justice and no-result ... a compromise that no one likes but strangely seems to work.

Movie: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is often commented as Mel Gibson's redemption - a story of a conscientious objector, who refuses to touch a rifle, but still serves (as a medic) in the front lines in the Pacific Front in WW2, and manages to save many soldiers in very dire circumstances. And while the movie is does, rightfully, portray Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) in a heroic light - the treatment of the enemy as subhuman, without any redeeming qualities, in my mind does nothing to redeem Mel Gibson. Yes, this is a war movie, written by the victors - but for all of the heroics of Desmond Doss, there was no righteous side.

26 April 2017

Three Virtues Restaurant

It's rare to find a vegetarian restaurant that has a bigger menu than Indian vegetarian restaurants. Three Virtues Restaurant, located near the corner of Jordan and Nathan roads in Kowloon, has a traditional Chinese menu, but with only vegetarian components - usually with mushroom or tofu substitues (at least in the items we had). Most items would also pass the vegan test. We went twice, both during dinner, and the place is packed - which is always a good sign with regards to quality. The cost is very reassonable, they have English menus and is at least a very a different take on Chinese food.

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden


Amongst the skyscrapers and hustle of Hong Kong, the Chi Lin Nunnery is a quiet oasis, easily accessible from the city centre. It has some stunning wooden architecture, with amazing attention to detail. In addition to the shrine rooms, there are a few amazing lotus pools, some very large bonsais and quite a large focus on crystal rocks.




Across the road, the Nan Lian garden, is effectively an extension of the nunnery. It includes a number of focused displays, mostly free, including a presentation of timber architecture, pottery and a rock garden, with amazing landscaping.



There is also a stunning vegetarian restaurant behind a stunning water feature (below). The food is very good, although maybe a bit on the expensive side. The restaurant has limited opening times, but highly recommended.





24 April 2017

Breathing Space at the Asia Society


Located next to the British Consulate, the Asia Society, Hong Kong Center is based at an old Royal Military Policy compound. Similar to the British Council, and Goethe Institut, it is an arts and cultural centre showcasing works from across Asia. There are some stunning permanent displays (as well as general architectural features) such as the Buddha and the water ature by the reception.




The centre currently showcases a contemporary art exhibition from Hong Kong focused on living in the city. Like an installation, they range from the obscure and academic to the though provoking and accessible; and the are a few cool tech inspired creations. The installations a across the centre in both outdoor and indoor spaces, some blending in amazingly well with the city itself.










Hong Kong and Kowloon Parks

There are a few free tourist places around Hong Kong, and the two big parks - Hong Kong and Kowloon stand out in terms of their size, the stunning landscaping and some of the freebies - such as the aviaries. 



The landscaping in the Hong Kong aviary is quite impressive, while most of the birds seem to be from the Pacific islands.



There are flamingos at the Kowloon Park!


Both parks have museums also, although we only went in to the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre charting a brief history of Hong Kong in Kowloon Park. Lots of Ming vases around though!

Mahler "Tragic" Symphony

I have seen circular concert halls on YouTube, but today (Saturday) was my first time sitting in one, and specifically behind the orchestra, which also happens to be the cheap seats. Concert tickets, even for the cheap seats were not cheap, but despite this, the hall was almost full. The audience was also quite diverse in terms of age group, with a number of children in attendance.


The concert started with a short 20 minute piece,"swallow harbour", by a young American composer Conrad Tao, in it's debut performance. The notes from the composer mentions that the piece is inspired by the city's jagged skyline - and thus the music is jagged with various short snippets. There isn't really a consistent theme or melody till almost the very end and the performance, to me at least, was not really that pleasant - too experimental and too distorted to make it pleasant and entertaining.

After a short interval, Mahler's 6th Symphony, was the highlight performance. It's the first time I have heard it, and the program notes made it fairly easy to follow the progression. The symphony is said tone Mahler's most personal, inspired by his wife - so it's a bit strange that it explores death and tragedy in its finale; and much of the joyous and passion are wiped out by the finale. 


It was a magnificent performance - and being next to the percussion in this specific performance was a pleasure to watch. The only complaint would be - the sledgehammer in the finale just didn't have the impact described in the notes ... but it still managed to break the box!