Thursday, 24 February 2011

A HONG KONG DIARY (20-22 February 2011) / Part II

The spanking new I Square Shopping Centre
on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.

Monday, 21 February
I make it a point to visit a different Hong Kong museum every time I come. The HK Heritage Museum is located in Shatin, in the New Territories, but nowhere is very far when you have such an efficient mass transit rail system. A massive hangar-like edifice greets you as one exits the Che Kung Temple station. It is huge, given the many different exhibits about HK culture, art and social life it exhibits. The offerings today include design, poster art, Chinese brush painting (the Chao Shao An school), Tibetan artefacts and Tang Dynasty figures (the Tsui collection), history and life in the New Territories and the Cantonese opera phenomenon (with a collection of legendary singer Yu Kai’s costumes). It is easy to get lost in two hours of wandering around here.
A Tang dynasty horse at the HK Heritage Museum.
Back in town, I approach the box office of the Cultural Centre in a hope of return tickets for the Bartoli concert. As luck would have it, they’ve got just one ticket, the very last one – at the princely sum of HKD 1280 - and I grabbed it like an Ethiopian meeting a breadroll. After lunch with my favourite Hong Kong aunt, another CD shopping spree, this time at Ladies Market and its smattering of delightfully uncoordinated shops, loaded like some musical Alladin’s cave, And of course, there is always Shun Cheong Records and its latest array of temptations. I succumb gratefully. Back at the hotel, I’ve discovered that my good friends at the Chopin Society of Hong Kong had also trawled for Bartoli returns, and netted a biggie too. Instead of a big fat nought, I now have two tickets!

They really love the arts in HK.
A typical scene at City Hall Concert Hall.
I don’t know when the next performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion will come again, so I had better make good this one. All ears, I allowed Bach’s musical evangelism to regale me with his vision of apostle Matthew’s account of Jesus’ passion. The opening chorus Komm, ihr Töchter (Come, you daughters) is serious rather than joyous, and one meant to reaffirm one’s faith and convert the unbeliever. “This was how Jesus died for your sins”, and the story unfolded through tenor Gerd Turk’s Evangelist (Narrator). Bass Peter Kooij’s Jesus, dark and rich in stature, was a sympathetic presence. The series of recitatives and arias followed, punctuated by the choruses and chorales, each making a comment on each turn of history. For me, the chorales are the heart and soul of the Passion. The familiar strains of the chorale, first heard as Erkenne mich, mein Huter (Recognise me, my guardian), and repeated another four times, each returning with ever resounding reassurance.

Again Masaaki Suzuki’s direction was authoritative, with two orchestral groups and two choirs on either flanks, and an assortment of keyboards (two chamber organs and a harpsichord) in the middle. In those days, such forces were supposed to be massive. I am overwhelmed by the show of evangelistic vigour, but the moment to die for was the sublime Erbarme dich (Have mercy) sung by countertenor Robin Blaze with Ryo Terakado’s violin obbligato. Has Bach written a more beautiful and beseeching melody? Probably not. Sixty-eight numbers and three and a half hours later (the concert ended at 11 pm), I am as bright as a lark and not complaining of a sore back. A hearty late night steak dinner supper at Sik Heung Yuen Café (on Saigon Street, off Nathan Road) in Jordan is further reward.

I'm not a vegetarian. Nobody's perfect.

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