3rd Hong Kong International Piano Competition / Prize-giving Ceremony and Gala Concert


Prize-giving & Gala Concert / Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall

Monday (31 October 2011)

I won’t go into the details of the prize-giving ceremony, which are usually dreary affairs, but this one was at least given some life by the President of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong Dr Andrew Freris, who is also a legit television personality for appearing in shows about money and economic matters. He was joined by Bernie Law, another pundit whom he described as the “acceptable face of capitalism” or something to that effect. It wasn’t exactly David Letterman but at least we were spared of long and boring speeches. The prize-winners came on stage to a minimum of pomp and fuss, shook the jury’s collective hands, and then the music started.

1st prizewinner Giuseppe Andaloro accepts the congratulations from members of the jury.

Dr Anabella Freris also gets a first prize, a kiss from hubby Andrew.

Ilya Rashkovskiy, 1st prizewinner of the 1st HKIPC (2005) was up first with a most anti-virtuosic programme thought possible. Yet it does take a virtuoso to invest Mozart’s Rondo in D major (K.485) with a joyful, skipping lightness. He performed all the repeats, each time delighting in Mozart’s witty shifts in modes and tonality. Especially in seemingly light pieces, his propensity to surprise is a hallmark. Rashkovskiy’s crisp and clean lines also served Beethoven’s Seven Bagatelles (Op.33) to a tee. Even in these miniatures, almost wood shavings from a master’s working table, there were hints of greatness. Sometimes dancelike, sometimes lyrical, but always imbued with vitality, there was no shortage of wit and humour from Rashkovskiy’s hands. The idea that these pieces are facile is fallacious, their simplicity does not equate with simple-mindedness. Only a consummate artist can bring these off, and Ilya is just that.

After an interval, it was the turn of Jinsang Lee. The 1st prizewinner of the 2nd HKIPC (2008) offered more cerebral offerings. The toccata-like opening of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue came like the wind, articulated with a feathery lightness that suggested a harpsichord. His delivery was like an eloquent soliloquy, bringing out all the inflexions of speech to the manner born. The fugue was an epitome of clarity, and its celebration of counterpoint a crowning glory of a masterly performance. Massive octaves and chords opened Liszt’s Fantasy on B-A-C-H, where Lee’s all-encompassing mastery of sonority had the listener riveted in their seats. His flying fingers were a marvel to witness, as was the stunning accuracy at that speed. All this would not have counted if it was not matched by a probing mind behind the conception and architecture of the music. It could be said that Lee had built and capped a cathedral of sound, a mighty fortress of contrapuntal grandeur.

This uncanny thread of counterpoint continued into the recital by Giuseppe Andaloro, the newly crowned 1st prizewinner of the 3rd HKIPC. Beginning with Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor (Op.87 No.24), it was almost a history lesson on the art of the fugue. Very clean lines distinguished this reading, with the fugue’s subject heard first early into the prelude. The fugue which began simply soon built inexorably into a valedictory climax that brought to mind the titanic finale of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (also in the same key). Andaloro closed with the fourth movement of Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata. Here he did not choose to shock and awe with its fusillades of loud dissonance but rather to dwell on its more witty and sarcastic undertones. He flew with the music, and its many percussive bits were not hammered with brute force but rather chiselled with the skill of a Michelangelo. Andaloro showed that Prokofiev’s music was not all about violence, but rich with nuances.

That was not the end of the concert. All three pianists came together to perform the two short pieces, the Waltz and Romance, for six hands by Rachmaninov. Originally written for three young sisters, it was a curious sight to see three grown men crouching by the keyboard to tickle the ivories. Andalaro, who had earlier played Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto for the finals, was given the honour to open the Romance, which had exactly the same notes in the opening of the Andante sostenuto slow movement. The concert ended on a quiet by totally satisfying note, the joy of music had triumphed over the cut and thrust of competition. Isn’t that what music is all about?

The piano version of "The Three Tenors"

Breakfast Meeting of the Chopin Society of Hong Kiong / Another Breakfast with Jeremy Siepmann


Breakfast Meeting of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong

YMCA Salisbury, Monday (31 October 2011)

As with previous instalments of The Joy of Music Festival, the Chopin Society of Hong Kong’s annual Breakfast Meeting was another meeting of minds, bringing people from all over the globe for a friendly and spirited powwow. Veteran writer, broadcaster and teacher Jeremy Siepmann was back with another erudite and thought-provoking lecture, with the unusual title From Sigh to Scream (or the Meter as Murderer).

He could have easily spoken for four hours on the subject on “Why music matters”, but he limited it to a quarter of that. Very often music can express what words cannot, but it can also mimic speech patterns, and that is the basis of how “music can imitate all the physical manifestations of emotional and spiritual life”. We are born with rhythm in our cells. The first thing we hear is the comforting heartbeat of our mothers. Even our heartbeat is not static and unvarying, but one in triple rhythm, possessing an upbeat, the momentary beat itself and an afterbeat, the speed of which varies according to our mood and adrenaline status. Even a newborn’s first cry or scream follows in that pattern. These aspects, uniting life and music, are universal.

Early music was based on speech patterns, but with the advent of polyphony, the meter (hence bar-lines in musical notation) came into being. Siepmann lamented on how strict timing in all musical notation had “murdered” the natural rhythm and inflection of speech itself. Mister Alberti (of the Alberti bass) was named as the chief perpetrator and defendant on the dock. He gave several examples in Nigerian poetry, Lionel Hampton’s doodling on the keyboard, as well as how certain of his piano students could benefit from converting the played notes from a score into spoken poetry. He also touched on the limitations of music criticism, and how subjective views can get when listening to a same piece of music performed by different artists but heard in a different order.

This summary will never do justice to the actual event, and I cannot remember when the last time I heard a speaker pack in so much in such a short space of time. But now I do, it was Siepmann himself in the breakfast meeting three years ago! Here are some pictures of the lucky people who attended!

Jeremy Siepmann autographs some of his books.

Jeremy Siepmann gets an invitation from Singapore and Shanghai.

Finalists Tsai Min Hao, Ann Soo Jung and Sato Keina.

Drs Andrew and Anabella Freris

Peter Frankl, Gary & Naomi Graffman

Prof. Li Mingqiang and Dr Yeo Kuei Pin (Indonesia)

Hong Kong pedagogues, Mary Mei Loc Wu and Eleanor Wong.

William Chen and Gabriel Kwok.

Weekend Recap in Pictures

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone is having a fantastic Halloween! I'm loving the costumes and candy corn everywhere I turn. I can't join in on Halloween fun tonight because I have my internship bright and early tomorrow but I did get to last night! I decided to celebrate last minute and therefore lacked creativity in my costume. Pumpkin, not original. I loved it however because I was SO comfortable and warm! It's getting quite chilly in this part of NC!


The results of the 3rd Hong Kong International Piano Competition were delivered shortly after 10.20 pm, which did not take very long to arrive. According to Chairman of the Jury Vladimir Ashkenazy, the decision was unanimous. By 10.30 pm, everybody was ready to go home, but many stayed behind to meet and greet and have their photos taken.

The final placings were as follows:

FIRST PRIZE: Giuseppe Andaloro (Italy)
SECOND PRIZE: Sato Keina (Japan)
THIRD PRIZE: Tsai Min Hao (Taiwan)
FOURTH PRIZE: Ann Soo Jung (South Korea)
FIFTH PRIZE: Elmar Gasanov (Russia)
SIXTH PRIZE: Chen Han (Taiwan)

Giuseppe Andaloro learns he has just won the 3rd HKIPC.

Even at 14 years of age, Tsai Min Hao (red and white stripes) stands out among the throng.

Prof. Li Mingqiang congratulates Andaloro as Ashkenazy looks on.

Garrick Ohlsson has some words for the winner too.

All the winners, Jinsang Lee (2008), Ilya Rashkovskiy (2005) and Giuseppe Andaloro (2011) with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Drs Andrew and Anabella Freris. Winners all!

A lovely Korean pair: Jinsang Lee and Ann Soo Jung.

Chen Han with the Boss.

Peter Frankl congratulates Sato Keina.

The winners have a victory smoke.



Finals Day 3 (Sunday, 30 October 2011)

CHEN HAN (Taiwan)

The second of two Taiwanese boys, 19-year-old Chen Han, opened the evening with Howard Blake’s Speech after Long Silence. Playing from a score, his was a glacial account, very slow to the point of being stultifying. Soporific might be the more appropriate term, and it sounded very much like a struggle. However there was some method to this madness, as if it were a protracted rubato, making the faster passages sound more brilliant in comparison. This extreme swing in dynamics also had the uncanny effect of reminding one of Scriabin’s more frenzied pages, so it all worked out in a weird way.

Only in a piano competition will one get to hear two performances of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto in the space of one evening. It’s either piano heaven or an overdose of romantic excess. In either case, the results can be quite exciting, as tonight proved. The first performance of Rach 3 came from Chen Han, who is studying at The Juilliard School. His was a steady and quietly confident account, as if keeping his emotions in reserve until some pivotal movement. I waited, and that moment did not occur in the first movement, which sounded for most part restrained and small scaled. The lyrical second subject was lovingly shaped, which underlined the young man’s sensitivity and sensibilities. The choice of the lighter and more scintillating cadenza was the right one, as the brooding chordal alternative would not have been appropriate here.

The slow movement’s orchestral introduction was taken a little too slowly, in fact it dragged, but Chen’s entry was excellent and it was here when his performance began to take wing and soar. The whimsical little waltz episode was brilliantly dispatched, a good prelude for the finale’s fest of prestidigitation. His fingers did not fail him for a second, and if there were a point of regret, it was he did not shape the movement’s soaring (and more vital) second with greater clarity. There were two chances for it, and he did not make the big melody happen. And there was also a tendency to rush the fences, almost leaving the orchestra in his wake. Nevertheless, this was a performance which grew in stature, and one that made a listener care about the music and the performer.

My verdict: This young man has potential and bears watching, and even if he does not win here, the experience would have been immense.



Finals Day 3 (Sunday, 30 October 2011)

ANN SOO JUNG (South Korea)

Appearing in a stunning orange gown, the pretty young Korean is an artist who can also make heads turn in many ways than one. In my humble opinion, she gave the most beautiful account of Bake’s Speech. Even playing with a score, her conception of the work as a nocturne was breathtaking, delighting in its lyrical beauty yet revelling in its turbulence. In fact she combined the best qualities of the earlier readings in a sumptuous whole which bears repeated listening.

Her Rach 3 was to be totally different from Chen’s. While the young man was happy to go along with the flow, Ann seemed to dictate the pace and proceedings. She had better sound projection and articulation, and one could sense her going for broke even at an early stage. Although always conscious of making a beautiful sound, the risk-taking had its drawbacks, the number of lapses and flurry of wrong notes was to dog the performance, most notably in the opening movement. Like Chen, she played the shorter mercurial cadenza, even though she might have succeeded with the bigger-boned one. Perhaps it was a case of damage limitation.

The second movement worked much better for her, and it was sheer delight through its rapturous pages, and the ensuing rush into the hectic finale. One has to feel for her as not all the notes were there for the Alla breve finale, and there was an uneasy sense of an accident waiting to happen. However she delivered the big melody well, on both occasions, as the performance worked to a heady conclusion. Here she gave her best shot, and even if this was not to be her day, it was an admirable effort. Her conception and view of the music and its trajectory was close to perfect, it was the execution which fell short.

My verdict: A very musical if flawed account of Rach 3 may have put paid to her chances of a top three finish. Would still definitely want to hear her again.

Having not heard the earlier rounds, I hazard to make any predictions of the final placings, lest one gets egg splattered on the face. However based on the showings in the concerto finals, my choices were as follows:

Winner (Numero Uno): Giuseppe Andaloro

Most raw potential: Tsai Min Hao

Best performance of Blake: Ann Soo Jung

3rd International Hong Kong International Piano Competition / People Watching and Behind the Scenes

The audience waiting at City Hall Concert Hall.

Pianists Ann Soo Jung and Colleen Lee (finalist in the 2005 competition) with family and friends.

Tsai Min Hao now looks like a 14-year-old, with his teacher Lin Yiling (right) and Christine Khor, Director of the National University of Singapore Centre for the Arts (left).

Almost the LCO Quartet: Violinist Magnus Johnston, cellist Pierre Doumenge and violist Louise Williams (violinist Andrew Haveron was serving as concertmaster in the orchestra).

Hong Kong celebrity pianist KJ Wong (right) with his admirers.

Piano technician extraordinaire Yoshi Nishimura travelled from Hawaii to look after the competition's four grand pianos.

A segment of the audience.

French pianist Pascal Rogé obliges with an autograph.

Dr Andrew Freris speaks... which means the concert is about to begin.