Thursday, 22 October 2009

THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL 2009: Breakfast Meeting of The Chopin Society of Hong Kong

Tom Lee Auditorium, Megabox (Kowloon)
Thursday (15 October 2009)

Breakfast meetings of The Chopin Society of Hong Kong are held once a year and take place during The Joy of Music Festival or Hong Kong International Piano Competition. Attended by locals and delegates from Southeast Asia, wide-ranging issues about music are discussed and aired. Guest speakers have included Gary Graffman and Jeremy Siepmann, but this year’s meeting featured two child prodigy pianists, 13-year-old Aristo Sham (Hong Kong) and 11-year old Tengku Ahmad Irfan (Malaysia), who improvised and played their own pieces.

Dr Andrew Freris, President of the Society, pondered on what possibly a young person can offer in musical composition, neither having lived, loved, gained nor lost in their very few years of life. He also mourned the loss of the art of the composer-pianist, citing Rachmaninov and Prokofiev as the last exemplars of this once-hallowed tradition.
Tengku Ahmad Irfan performs his original compositions.
Note that his feet barely touch the ground.

Irfan was set to prove him wrong with two original compositions. The first was Tarantella, a prestissimo showpiece which sounded like a melange from Chopin and Liszt’s own Tarantellas and the finale of Schubert’s Sonata in C minor (D.958). Gary Graffman pointed out that it was uncannily similar to the Schubert “in twenty places”, and I asked whether young Irfan had known or played the above works. To our surprise, he was unfamiliar with any of these! So what were his influences? The answer was not too surprising given the times we live in: youtube! What on youtube had he remembered? “Chopin and Burgmuller” was his modest reply.

His second composition was titled Introduction and Fugue. Written in C minor, the chordal opening suggested Chopin’s Prélude in the same key (Op.28 No.20) and then there was an improvisatory section in the enharmonic A flat major, played in the Romantic style. The subject of the fugue sounded like a promising one but he was not able to develop it beyond the first few bars. The loud emphatic ending also indicated he had heard Beethoven’s Appassionata and Hammerklavier Sonatas somewhere along the way.
Aristo Sham improvises on BACH-DSCH.

Then it was Aristo’s turn. He was asked to improvise on any theme posed by the delegates. I gave him 8 notes based on the motto themes of J.S.Bach and Shostakovich to chew on, essentially two of classical music’s most famous “four letter words”.

B flat-A-C-B minor-D-E flat-C-B minor (BACH-DSCH)

What resulted was a 20th century styled piece, with the motto themes appearing in both right and left hands, as well as in bass octaves. It sounded more sophisticated (Aristo is after all 2 years older than Irfan) and something even Ronald Stevenson would have been proud of.

Irfan also improvised on a theme of D-F sharp-B flat-A provided by Dr Yeo Kuei Pin from Indonesia, and the result was a concert étude filled with Lisztian chords and octaves. He completed his morning with a performance of the Rondo from Beethoven’s early Piano Concerto in E flat major (WoO.4 from 1784), composed when he was only thirteen. Here was proto-Beethoven, assimilating all he had heard from Haydn, Mozart and the Bach brothers (CPE and JC). It was derivative for certain, but full of brio and even included a gypsy interlude in B flat minor thrown in for contrast. Aristo replied with the Rondo from the First Piano Concerto in C major (Op.15).

By this time, the delegation had seen and heard the craft of composition at the most organic stage. The boys (with Gary Graffman, left) had done exactly what a 13-year-old Beethoven did some 225 years ago: the process of learning, copying, assimilating, improvising and finally creating. Needless to say, it was a morning well spent.

1 comment:

Chang Tou Liang said...

Tengku Ahmad Irfan's present teacher is Prof. Snezana Panovska from Macedonia. Aristo Sham is taught by Prof Eleanor Wong, who also taught Rachel Cheung and Colleen Lee