Sunday, 17 October 2010

Breakfast Meeting of The Chopin Society of Hong Kong

Breakfast Meeting of The Chopin Society of Hong Kong
YMCA Salisbury
Friday (15 October 2010)

Thank goodness for Friday afternoon flights on JetStar, as this allowed me the time to attend The Chopin Society of Hong Kong’s annual breakfast meeting, held in conjunction with each The Joy of Music Festival. As before, this extremely informal event was a meeting of minds on the discussion of issues in music, and the subject on this occasion was about inspiration versus perspiration in musical composition. “How much of a composer’s work was an act of pure inspiration?” asked Dr Andrew Freris (above).

Thirty-seven Hong Kong composers were invited, but none attended (presumably there was neither monetary incentive nor publicity involved), however present were two composers – the Uruguayan Carlos Levin and the Malaysian Tengku Irfan.

According to Levin (above), inspiration was the least of a composer’s problems. He quoted Stravinsky who once remarked that composition was like living within a society – it is constrained by certain rules and social customs. A composer has to work within a narrow set of norms and utilising limited means. He does not create something out of nothing but brings together sounds and musical ideas, or what he refers to as “elements of original stimuli”. There is order in this self-limiting process, and anything that functions outside of this brings only a chaos of sounds.

It is thus more comforting for composers to work within form and a fixed framework, but they could be original, like the famous example of Haydn holed up for decades in Esterhaza, whom without distraction or influence was “forced to be creative”. Tonality itself effectively determines how a piece of music will eventually pan out. A classical triad of notes already predetermines how a melody would go. A composer just goes on to add a second line, turning monody to polyphony, and to build vertically, adding further notes that would alter the colour of the music. He demonstrated this on a piano, speaking in Spanish while the Andrew and Anabella Freris translated.

While this predetermination takes the “romanticism” out of composition, a creative composer is one who works well within these rules, developing his own ideas, elaborating and making variations. The most inspired of them go on to break with tradition and do something new.

Then Tengku Irfan was invited to demonstrate on the piano some of the ideas he had hatched in his recent compositions, which included a piano quintet and a symphony. Irfan is only eleven years old, and is already a celebrity pianist in his own nation, one who performs his own cadenzas in piano concertos. Immediately, he brought out an idea on the piano, a descending scale from his piano quintet and then went on to break it up into varying motifs and fragments, which became his exposition. Following that he played the opening movement of his symphony, much to the amazement of all around. He also spoke of his admiration of Mahler symphonies and their inspirations and looked forward to hearing all the symphonies played by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Clearly he had understood a composer’s craft. Was it something innate or was it taught? Perhaps it was a bit of both, and he was encouraged to continue learning, listening and experiencing all forms of music and the arts without limitation or constraints. This young man is well worth watching out for in the years to come.

Pianomaniac gets to meet Carlos Levin.
whose chamber transcriptions of Chopin's piano concertos
were premiered at The Joy of Music Festival 2010.

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