Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A Chetham's Diary: Friday 24 August 2007

Friday 24 August

I have breakfast with young Adelaide and her father Mr William Yue from Solihull, who is an engineer with Jaguar. Although born in the UK, his parents were originally from Kuala Lumpur. When I talked about prodigies, in particular the 8-year-old Abigail Sin who enthralled her Chetham’s audience in 2001, the intuitive Adelaide quipped, “She played better than I, didn’t she?” When asked whether she loved playing the piano, it was an unequivocal “Yes, but I want to be a doctor.” Smart girl.
The Yues: Adelaide and William

BM shared with the class two more of my reviews and articles. We briefly discussed the merits of the two Chinese glamour boys of the piano: Yundi Li and Lang Lang. BM thinks Li is a good pianist period. As for Lang, his honeymoon period with the critics is about over, and the knives are coming out in London. It does not really matter now that he’s made his millions, despite butchering Chopin and Schumann for his own fiscally motivated ends. As our Music Criticism sessions end for the summer school, I promised BM that lessons would continue via the Internet, as I plied him two more reviews. He has been warned!

Today’s the last chance for any meaningful tourist activities for me, and it’s fine and sunny. I make the short hop to Urbis, the glass building shaped like a wedge of cheesecake that greets me every morning when I wake up and peer out my tiny window. Urbis is a free exhibition on urban living and its main attraction is a glass lift that moves sideways and up an incline like a cable car or funicular railway. I would have been mightily impressed had I not rode a similar contraption up Penang’s Kek Lok Si Temple, to view a hideous bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy. Much more substantial was The Wheel of Manchester. At six pounds for four rounds, why not? I get fine views of the city including the cathedral, Chetham’s, the City of Manchester Stadium but not Old Trafford.

A view of Chetham's from the Manchester Wheel

Everyone at Chetham’s is friendly and outgoing. Everyone here is also a student, teacher and even critic of some kind. Young Toby Brook pulled me aside to hear him play Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, and begged me, “Please tell me what you think, and do not be afraid to say what is right and wrong!” He got most of the notes in but is clearly far from ready for its myriad challenges. I told him so and asked whether he knew any more Ravel pieces, and he suggested the Mouvement de menuet from the Sonatine. Much, much better choice. Then he proceeded to play the Rachmaninov Etude-tableau in D minor (from Op.33). Not bad, but I thought he should bring out more of the left hand melody submerged beneath the chimes, and he did so with quite nice results. With a firm handshake, he parted with, “You’re good teacher too, you know!”

Music often brings out qualities we never expect from certain people. There was one character in particular who fitted the stereotypical stiff upper lip Brit to a tee, someone who greeted every smile with a surly “Are you still blaming us for 1942?” kind of scowl. When he sat down and played the lyrical middle section Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor (Op.23 No.5), this cold hard exterior all but thawed, revealing some hitherto unknown facet that suggested that there might be redeeming qualities - after all - in someone like, say Osama bin Laden. “It took me 52 years to learn this piece!” he exclaimed with some degree of pride. “In that time, I might have learnt Busoni’s Piano Concerto and Messiaen’s Turangalila,” thought I, but this was no time to be uncharitable.

Over dinner, Peter Donohoe appeared and declared, “I would like to play in Singapore sometime.”

Only in your dreams, Pete! Or when I have the time.

After the final recital of the Summer School, given by the McLachlans, the notorious Chetham’s Cabaret began. I could go on and on about this riotous institution – one in which faculty members and students let down their hair and do crazy and drunken things on the piano and outside the piano - but I shan’t, without appearing a tad pedantic. Suffice to say, it was heaps of fun, although I suspect more so for the participants than for the audience. I shall come better prepared the next time around. For the first time this week, bedtime was well past midnight.

Even Ronald Stevenson was roped in for the Chetham's cabaret.

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