Monday, 29 August 2011

Some Words with Singaporean Cellist LOKE HOE KIT

Singaporean cellist LOKE HOE KIT will be giving a recital on Thursday 1 September at the Esplanade Recital Studio, in conjunction with the launch of his newly-released CD recording featuring works for two cellos. Entitled A Double Life, he plays both cello parts for this his debut recording. Pianomania is privileged to have a few words with arguably Singapore's most colourful cellist.

Congratulations! You might be the first Singaporean cellist to produce his own recording on CD. Could you tell us more about this recording? Thank you!

This is my debut solo album, and one that I've self-produced. What spurred me to do it was the prospect of attempting something that I couldn't do in a live performance. The concept of partnering oneself in playing duets has always intrigued me; how I'd unilaterally blend two persons' parts to create a perfect union. More than just creating a novelty, it's a whole new artistic pursuit of creating a work of art possible only through recording technology. Admittedly, overdubbing per se isn't uncommon these days, but such is rarely attempted for 'serious' classical music, and I was game for the seldom-tackled artistic challenges that came along with creating a classical recording of this nature. With the audacious nature of this project, it seemed natural that I had to produce the album myself. You could call it a labour of love.

My friend Nicholas Loh was the very first pianist to accompany me since I started playing the cello. It's been decade since, so it's also a pleasure to be collaborating with him for my debut album.

Artists like Jascha Heifetz and Glenn Gould have done it before, by recording both parts of the score and playing them together for the recording. Could you elaborate on the overdubbing process and some of the problems you faced?

In preparation, I focused on the cello part that I would finally play with Nicholas in the recording studio, which would form the 'template' for the overdubs. In order to chart out a coherent interpretation, we obviously had to rehearse both the cello parts separately to get familiar with them, while constantly imagining the missing cello part each time to prepare room for it. All these called for a lot of 'pre-emptive' measures and actions. Conversely, the overdubbing was more simple and straightforward, so long as the template I had molded with Nicholas was sound. Obviously we did not record to a click track, although it was used for some practical exceptions, such as cueing in the beginning of a movement where all the parts launched in together.

The 1946 recording of Jascha Heifetz overdubbing himself in Bach's Concerto for two violins which you were referring to was in fact my inspiration, which initiated the whole idea. It also offered me the much needed 'immunity' for such an atypical classical recording. Honestly, even if I had thought of the idea myself, but none of these legends have attempted it, I probably wouldn't have dared to carry it out!

You are playing on one of Nathaniel Rosen's cellos, which you now own. It must be a dream cello, but what is the sound like?

The cello in question is a 1987 cello by Clifford Roberts of Philadelphia. It has a rich, brawny tone, which seems to suit my style of playing well. It's about as old as I am, but has certainly been quite seasoned. My principal teacher Rosen (above) had acquired the cello when it was brand new, and it served as a secondary instrument to his 1738 Montagnana in concerts and tours for some time. He subsequently acquired another modern cello in the late 1990s, which ironically was a Montagnana copy. This newer cello must have served its purpose better, as concertgoers would have a harder time distinguishing whether Rosen was using his primary instrument or not!

The luthier Roberts passed away only a few months after I acquired the cello from Rosen, and as we had corresponded with him just before, we were shocked to learn of it.

The repertoire you have chosen in your recording and recital has a special significance. Care to share it with us?

Duality is the obvious theme of my album, and I've chosen to reflect this in the repertoire as well. There are only two works on the album, each with four movements, and the sets of movements parallel each other.

The album's highlight, Gian Carlo Menotti's Suite for two cellos and piano, is a work that is close to my heart, and one that deserves to be heard more often. I was introduced to it when I was 17 during my first visit to the home of my mentor, Nathaniel Rosen, in New York City. A proudly displayed photo of him performing alongside his mentor Gregor Piatigorsky, for whom the Suite was commissioned, caught my eye. I quickly found out that they had played together. We subsequently read some of the Suite together.

2011 is Menotti's centenary, which makes the recording of his work this year all the more eventful. Composed in 1973, the Suite relishes a largely neo-baroque style, and I figured it'd make an excellent pairing with a 'true' baroque work, albeit a transcription, the Handel Trio Sonata for two cellos and piano. I wanted to give these rare pieces a wider airing by recording them for posterity.

The concert programme will centre on these two works; the rest of the programme includes lighter and rarely heard pieces that revolve around the core works. These include Anton Webern's Two Pieces, an early work which showcases the late romantic side of this composer, and a movement from the pseudo-baroque Suite for two cellos by the German cello virtuoso Julius Klengel, who was in turn Piatigorsky’s mentor.

Obviously you are unable to have two of yourselves performing in the concert. Who have you enlisted to play the second cello part and what was it like working with another cellist?

I've invited my friend and fellow Singaporean cellist Lin Juan to be a guest for my concert, and I'm no less thrilled to be performing with him live as I was recording the same works with myself in the album. There are two ideologies to performing duos - the two musicians can stylistically contrast each other to “make virtue of their differences”, or complement each other as closely as possible. For the latter, the most ideal would be to partner oneself, which I had achieved in the recording studio. Overdubbing myself required a lot of planning, and taking 'pre-emptive measures', which was intriguing to me. Playing with another cellist is more about spontaneity, giving and taking, and of course provides a fresh view of interpreting the works. You can be sure the interpretation of the works in the concert will differ from that of the album. Juan and I will switch cello parts for the Menotti and Handel, as well as for the other duo works on the programme.

You have been described as the "Boy George cellist" and "Korean matinee idol", which has something to do with the onstage image your are trying to project. Does this trouble you or detract from the more serious matter of music-making?

No, not in the least. It is important for a performing artist to project an image, and this extends to classical musicians. Audiences attend a concert not only to listen but to see. While music making of course takes precedence, musicians obviously don't spend all their time thinking and working on music. Personally, grooming myself the way I do for concerts has always felt like a natural thing, but I've never used it as a selling point.

I have taken as a model the image of pop artists, especially Japanese and Koreans, and wonder how I could translate some of that into a classical setting, bearing in mind any limitations due to the nature of our genre. It enhances an artist overall, and whether this image suits one’s taste is personal. If a classical artist like Mitsuko Uchida had the looks of and was groomed like Ayumi Hamasaki (above), would that be any vice? Maria Callas was known to have taken Audrey Hepburn as a model in transforming herself into a symbol of glamour. Spurred by a meeting with Hepburn in 1953, Callas placed herself on a strict diet and loss a ton of weight, becoming the iconic opera diva that we remember today. There is no correlation as such that detracted her from serious music making.

What does the future hold for Loke Hoe Kit?

Having just completed my debut album, I do not have any immediate plans on another album yet, but who knows what may come next! I'm 23 but I started playing the cello at 12, so I've not even been at it for half my life. My parents loved music but never had the chance to study it. They have lent me their unwavering support, but not being musically connected, few doors were opened for me. I've always had to spearhead many of my projects and endeavours, in this case my d├ębut album, but thankfully always with my family's support. I intend to continue down the road in this spirit as far as I can, and to hopefully be recognized for these efforts over time.

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