Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A Chetham's Diary: Saturday 25 August 2007

Saturday 25 August

How do I begin to describe the towering presence of Ronald Stevenson, who was the de facto composer-in-residence at Chetham’s this summer? He and his wife Marjorie were ever-present personalities at all the talks, masterclasses and recitals. When asked how they kept up with such a packed schedule, the witty reply was, “Like when Big Ben met the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you have the time, I have the inclination.”

What struck me most about Ronald Stevenson was the acuteness of his ever-inquiring mind, his wicked but not cruel wit, overall wisdom (as opposed to mere knowledge) and above all, his utter humility. Like the biblical Jesus, he had time and kind words for even the merest and humblest of children. As a composer, he harks back to the greatness of Bach, Liszt, Busoni and Sorabji. As a pianist, his forebears were surely Liszt, Godowsky, Busoni and Grainger. About his beloved Busoni, whom he rated far higher than Bartok and Stravinsky, he described as a composer “who did nothing to make himself popular”. The same could be said of Stevenson himself, whose popularity will surely come through the greatness of his intellect, rather than the transient trends of the times. I should now feel like a mule at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but somehow he makes it seem like Everest.
Acolyte & Master

As a gift for the Stevensons, I inscribed on a little book of Singapore’s historical sites, “From an admirer and friend from Singapore”. His parting shot was, “Tis better to be a friend than an admirer.” As I pen this diary, I am in e-mail contact with the Scottish pianist Kenneth Hamilton, who was a student of Ronald Stevenson. He will return to play in Singapore next year, and I have suggested he give the Singapore premiere of Stevenson’s Peter Grimes Fantasy.

In this last morning at Chetham’s, I have been so busy bidding farewell that I have missed all the piano recitals. The shame of me! The ever-beaming Murray McLachlan brings me the orchestral score of Erik Chisholm’s Piano Concerto No.1, which he hopes to perform in Singapore in the near future. The seemingly unlikely Scottish-Singapore connection: Chisholm was the first conductor of the first Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 1945-46. It’s a small world after all!

I leave Chetham’s with lots of fond memories; of corridors and cubicles suffused with piano music, of kindly and enlightened teachers, of friends and students of music, of all ages and cultural backgrounds. When I die and presumptuously ascend to the great conservatorium in the sky, and if heaven does not faintly resemble what I have experienced in the past week, I should be rather disappointed indeed.
Postscript: As much as I was keen to return to Chets in 2008, I was unable to. However Rosemary Hallum (aka Auntie Rosie), whom I have corresponded with some frequency, is booked for two weeks! Lucky lady! In the meantime, I am practising for my debut solo recital (6 October) which will hopefully feature the Singapore Premiere of Ronald Stevenson's transcription of the Mozart Romanze (K.466). Wish me luck!


gurugoldberg said...

hello Dr Chang

It was fascinating to read your account of the Leeds and Cheethams Summer School. Are you over this year for the Cheetham experience? It would be good to meet you.

Graham (ex piano pupil of Fanny Waterman!)

Chang Tou Liang said...

Hi Graham! Nice to hear from you!
Unfortunately not, I'm stuck in Singapore at this moment, having used up nearly all my leave in Sydney! Putting up my 2007 memories of Chetham's does in some way help cheer me up. I hope you're having a good time in Chet's, and do look up Rosemary Hallum - she's the life of a party!