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).

09 February 2015

Final Concert

The final concert of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival had two standing ovations, featured a conductor without music, and was one of the best musical concerts I have ever attended. The music spanned centuries - 229 years between the oldest and the most recent in fact.

The concert started with a slight re-arrangement of the line-up, and featured the chamber work Peter Klatzow - Lightscapes for Marimba and Five Instruments. It's a compact piece, and was performed against the backdrop of projections of various images. For me, the second batch featuring the sun and Egyptian relics achieved the harmony of images to the music - while I thought the rest didn't really work. Peter Klatzow has an earlier version on SoundCloud.

The second performance was short - but it's the concept and the performance itself that brought a standing ovation from the audience. Misconduct, conceptualised by performance artist Anthea Moys, is a combination of dance and orchestra - although not necessarily in the way you would normally imagine it. In the first half, the conductor conducts a piece of music - but there is no music from the orchestra - and there is no music - instead, the dance group - Moving into Dance Mophatong - dances on the cues of the conductor. We are told at the beginning - that only the conductor, the orchestra and Anthea Moys herself knows what the music is - the dancers haven't heard it or practised using it - they performed spontaneously. In the second half, the piece is conducted again - this time, the orchestra does play (Mozart's Overture from the Marriage of Figaro) and the dancers now dance to the music itself. The similarities in the performance - and the differences are startling - their performance itself is amazing. It is strange, exhilarating, special and a wonderful performance all round - thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation.

The second half started off with the debut of the newly commissioned piece by Peter Klatzow - All People Become Spirit People When They Die; comprising of Choir, Piano and Orchestra. Based on a poem by Stephen Watson about the San - particularly their beliefs relating to the afterlife. It's an interesting piece - sometimes sad, and a bit like a requiem - but I am not completely sure what to make of it.

The final piece, also for Choir, Piano and Orchestra was Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. I love Beethoven's music, and this had it all - great piano (performed by Florian Uhlig), great orchestral movements and then the choir that caps it off at the end. As the programme notes, it's a forerunner to the 9th and it packs it all in. It was an amazing performance, and a perfect ending to an amazing concert.

08 February 2015

Buskaid and Melvyn Tan

Buskaid performances are becoming a regular feature of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival; and this year's concert was one of the highlights in Buskaid performances.

Rameau almost inevitably features in a Buskaid concert, and this year, his Overture to Pigmalion started off the rather short first half of the concert. Of the performance pieces this year, it was my least favourite - but that is not to detract from the performance itself.

At last year's concert, Sarasate's Navarra with 2 violins and orchestra featuring Kabelo Monnathebe and Simiso Radebe, was one of the highlights. It is a piece that shows of the soloist's virtuosity - and it is a testament to the talents of the senior Buskaid members. Debuted last year, Sancho’s Dance Suite by Julian Grant, a suite specifically written for the Buskaid finished off the first half.

In the first few minutes of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 12, there is only a few bars of the piano - as the string orchestra led the performance. Then, Melvyn Tan rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into the piano - and his performance with the Buskaid was mesmerising. He seemed to relish playing with the Buskaid - in the pauses while the orchestra takes over, he was paying more attention to the orchestra than Rosemary Nalden's conducting, seemingly bobbing his head, or shadow conducting to the music. And when the piano came to the fore - he was there, perfectly in time, and giving it his all. It was clearly an emotional performance - and one of the best piano concerto performances I have attended; a performance that thoroughly deserved its standing ovation.

I have head Aram Khachaturian's Waltz from Mascquerade Suite many times - though I wouldn't have been able to name it. The Buskaid members came on wearing masks, and played a perfect rendition - and a lively way to link up to their familiar Kwela and Gospel finale. The Buskaid has just finished recording a CD with 34 Kwela and Gospel numbers - none of them transcribed onto actual scores; and every concert seems to have a few new ones. It is a lively ending to the concert, and it is what makes Buskaid special.

Movie: No

Gael García Bernal stars in the Oscar nominated Chilean movie on the "No" campaign in 1988, which eventually leads to a peaceful transition to civilian, democratic rule from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Shot very much in the style of a TV documentary from the late 1980's, it follows the story of an advertising executive who lends his talents in driving a successful campaign that focuses on hope and happiness instead of regurgitating policy discussion points (which is favoured position of Pinochet's team).

While the acting is superb, and manages to interweave historic footage seamlessly within the movie; it is unfortunately quite simplistic (as per this NY Times article). My knowledge of Pinochet has mostly been from bits of his war crimes trial - and unfortunately this movie, while providing some view of the horrors perpetrated by his regime - glosses over what it takes to depose a dictator. Even within the movie, some of the mechanics of how the plebiscite comes to be, and the 15 minutes of opposition airtime is glossed over - and overall it ends up detracting from the power of the movie.

It is actually a good movie (as far as movies go) - but in my opinion, such oversimplification of historic events end up colouring the actual historic events, and the movie ends up being the known historic record. And for me, that is a big problem.