Saturday, January 30, 2010

HKMOA, The Fringe Club and surrounding area/events, Eno, Opera

-Hong Kong Museum of Art-

The HKMOA has fairly impressive collections of classical Chinese art (the stuff w/the landscapes and the characters - I believe I saw the phrase 'literati art' applied to this) and historic Chinese ceramics. Beyond that, it now has a special exhibit of art from the 1700's-1800's from the city of Guangzhou (i.e. more old Chinese art) and contemporary work in the style of old Chinese art.

If one is really, really, into old Chinese art, then the HKMOA is for you. I however, was significantly disappointed. I don't believe I was the only one as I overheard one youngster within a family of tourists rhetorically ask, 'That's it!?' It's funny (both kinds of funny) how a single experience can so color an entire vacation, an entire city, an entire continent.

-The Fringe Club and surrounding area/events-

In the area known as Central, just adjacent to what feels like the financial center of the city is the artsy district. this is comprised of the area called Soho (every worthy city has one I suppose), Hollywood Rd. (nothing like Sunset Blvd.) and the vicinity east of that.

Still grumpy from the let down at the MOA the day before, I ventured into these quarters. After dismissively walking by many small galleries I went into the institution known as the Fringe Club, was unimpressed with some photography displayed there, and made note of the events calender for their theater. I continued my aimless, grumpified, journey around this district until I found that which was to turn my day around; the Flying Pan.

Those who know me well, know that I find indescribable joy and comfort in the western style breakfast diner. Those who know Asia, especially Korea, know that these are foreign to the East. This diner is even better if it happens to be counter-culturey and therefore serves acceptable coffee. And so it is with the Flying Pan, saviour of Hong Kong, saviour of Asia.

After my breakfast at 2:00pm, and in a much better mood, I went back to the Fringe Club to buy a ticket to their currently running play, Montovaldo as performed my the Theatre du Pif (sp?).

This small production, based on a series of short stories, depending on your perspective, could be profound, absurd, or both. I chose to turn off the inner critic and enjoy the show, which I did. After the show I was able to share a drink with the three actors, one of whom is from Korea and will be performing in Korea this summer.

-Eno: Music for Airports-

When on my way to the aforementioned play, I saw a flyer for a multimedia production emblazoned with Eno's name. I hurriedly booked this for the following night.

This ended up being a wonderful series of Audio/Visual pieces arranged/composed by several young performers, video artists, animators, etc. It included some live instrumentation; piano, clarinet, violin, viola; film/video/animation and other bells and whistles. The technological interaction going on with the live performance was pretty trippy and way beyond my grasp particularly in one piece.

There was a Q&A session after the show. My question to them, after thanking them for doing the work, was how much of this actually had to do with Brian Eno. Only one of them fielded the question with an answer with something about Eno not being a controlling composer and that he has some tape loops with the name, Music for Airports. (Note: That album features tempo phasing, there was no phasing going on in their performance the other night.)

My interpretation: Put Eno's name on it and they will come. And so they did, so I did.

-Cantonese Opera-

This performance was at the North District Town Hall Auditorium. That is exactly the kind of venue one would expect from that name. In addition, it was out in the burbs, or should I say the burb as Hong Kong really only has room for one. I was the only non-Hong Konger and almost certainly the only person in the audience that was not at least in their 60's. It was awesome. I was asked by an usher, 'How is it, that you are here?'

It was four hours long, no exaggeration, four hours on the dot. Someone did give me a printed synopsis in English, it was a comedy and there was a lot of funny personal interaction going on. The name in case you are : A Passionate Suitor.

Oh yes, one important fact: I believe most of the actors, if not all, were in gender reversal. The men playing women and vice versa. I knew that at one time the women's parts were played by men but I didn't realize that the opposite was also true.

The pit orchestra was small, 7-8 people: percussion (drums and what we called in college 'China cymbals'), bamboo flutes, reeded winds, and one cello to fill out the low end. The music all sounded traditional, pentatonic, in unison, call and response, or some heterophonic variation of those. It did include a lot of talking (without music), much of which was punctuated with percussion, like a Vegas comedy act.

I got some good photos, perhaps illegally, of the actors applying their make-up!

Today is my final full day in Hong Kong, I believe I may do one of the few touristy things of my trip for my final experience, Victoria's Peak. But first there's meeting, and before that I must start my morning with coffee and some Hong Kong breakfast.

I will likely make my next entry from cold, stark, Korea and will include links to photos!

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Action Packed 6 days: Macau Art Gallery, Portuguese Family Style Restaurant on Taipa Island, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Hi-Lak's departure for the Mainland

It's been a packed 5 or 6 days without an occasion, until now, to write and finish a hopefully worthy blog entry, so here it goes-

-Macau Art Gallery-

After my evening of song writing inspired by Ms. Chang and the composer who shan't be named, I indulged in the Macau art gallery. There were a few things on exhibit which were purportedly there to celebrate two things; 1) The 10 year anniversary of the handover of Macau from Portugal to China and 2) the 60 year anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

The two exhibits that I found most interesting were of Macanese artists and a collection of oil paintings from the Mainland. The Mainland exhibit is works from the beginning of the PRC up to now. Photos were allowed and I will post several of these on facebook soon. The paintings in the 50's begin as one might assume, in style and content, but take some unexpected departures in the last few decades.

-Portuguese Family Style Restaurant on Taipa, and surrounding events-

The Macau Art Gallery, together with some aimless wandering and chilling in public parks, took about a day and a half. For my final evening in Macau, I took a suggestion from the Lonely Planet book and went out to one of the nearby connected islands to Macau (in this case, Taipa) to find a Portuguese restaurant. The neighborhood was interesting in itself. Small colorful houses, feeling quite Iberiany, though I have nothing to base that on.

I heard most people speaking what sounded to me like one or both of the Chinese-es, someone shouted something at me that sounded latiny (when I was looking for a public privy, and apparently this was obvious) so I'm assuming they thought I was Portuguese speaking, ha.

(In this neighborhood, I did find an English academy by complete circumstance and spoke with one of the Native English speaking teachers there.)

I found my restaurant, Amagao, and entered to find a Chinese family, a Chinese couple who looked as if they were vacationing, and a 60's something Chinese waitress looking at me a bit dumbfounded. I held up one finger to indicate that I was solo and she kind of shook her head in a kindly bit of confusion and directed me to a table in middle of the small restaurant.

The menu was, of course, in Chinese and Portuguese. Again following the suggestion of Lonely Planet, I was looking for something like 'pollo' on the menu. Well, I guess chicken is not the same in Portuguese as it is in Spanish. I looked up at the motherly server and asked, 'chicken?'. She knew what I was looking for and pointed at it saying slowly, 'Portuguese chicken'. I nodded in return.

While the food was coming, many filtered in the restaurant until it was full of Chinese locals and tourists. Combining this and the western homey decor it created a wonderful cultural dissonance for me. The food came and it was a big bowl of chickeny-gravy goodness; down-home comfort food. I pointed at a bottle of red wine for a glass and it was a perfect fruit bomb to match.

-Chinese Orchestra and the Hong Kong Phil-

Friday evening I came back to Hong Kong to hear the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra conducted by a guest, Liu Wenjin. Who is an award winning composer for the Chinese Orchestra from the Mainland. I will reserve any comments upon the music or the ensemble except to say that harmonically and melodically it is what most would expect. The stage organization is quite indebted to the western orchestra we know. The orchestra is made up of many urhus taking the place of the fiddles, and that about half of the orchestra is made up of what seems to be authentically historic Chinese instruments and the other half pseudo western instruments made to fill out the orchestra.

Saturday evening the Hong Kong Phil featured Chinese harpist, and fellow Indiana University Music School Grad, Dan Yu, who played the Ginastera harp concerto. The orchestra made me feel right at home by concluding the concert with Copland and Bernstein.

-He-Lak's Departure-

With somewhat ironic timing, my new Korean friend after living here for eight months, has just now left Hong Kong and is going back to Korea via a trip to the Mainland. I was invited to the going away party the other night, meeting anew many who were just saying goodbye to who has been a large part of my trip thus far.

Today I will likely be going to the Hong Kong Museum of Art and tonight spending some time with a couple, friends of friends also from Korea (they are Special Pioneers assigned here). After this evening I will have five days remaining with nothing planned except a Cantonese opera so we will see what this town has in store for me.

Till next time!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A brief conversation with Ms. Chang

Me: One word of criticism?

Sarah: Yes, please.

Me: I applaud you for programming new works (pause for emphasis), but it's -not- a great piece (referring to the one contemporary work of the evening).

Sarah: Ha! Well at least it's short enough.

Me: know what I mean.

There were adoring teen-Asian girls standing behind me waiting for their autograph. I was trying to be as polite as possible and I wasn't ready for her, what seemed to be, rehearsed reply.

I'm not sure she did know what I mean. Yes, yes, it was short. But! If she is going to program a new work then she should make it worth her while - make it worth our while. Why do mere filler in between the dead relics? (The relics now so beyond polishing regardless of how many bow hairs one breaks!?)

Calling it filler is actually friendly. Many of you will know that I have a wide palate of tastes so I am not judging the style. Most first year comp students from any miscellaneous university could have composed something just as, if not much more, competent. I know, I was one.

I was really looking forward to hearing a new bona fide piece of music. It just nearly ruined the entire evening for me. I channeled the anger into some new lyrics. I wandered the casino lit streets of Macau writing until 1:30am when I found myself lost on the cobblestone, curvy, residential, streets.

One of my old composition professors says that he is 10% inspired by good music and 90% inspired by bad music. Amen.

I believe the song title will be 'Unlike the Lights of Macau' and it will be about the death of classical music.

Stay tuned!

p.s. the weather is perfect.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Short update from Hong Kong

In Hong Kong where I visited one of the English congregations and met a young Korean fellow who has been living here for the last 8 months and who speaks fluent Mandarin and some Cantonise. We hit it off right away and have been walking the streets of Hong Kong engaged in spirited discourse about English, Korean, Chinese, and all things linguistic and cultural.

The two of us were just fed Arabic food made by a Filippina and I am now breaking off to take the ferry for Macau where I will hear Sarah Chang and stay for a couple of days visiting the galleries and eating Portuguese/Chinese fusion food.

A new camera was bought and many pictures have been taken which will be posted soon.

Alas, now the ferry must be caught! Stay tuned...

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Anticipated Problem with Upcoming Travels

"What problem?!", you plead in your wide-eyed, manic, feverish, bewilderment.

"Still your lil' heart, and read on", I reply with disgusting, patronizing, smugness, and in an oddly convincing southern belle like voice.

The problem is not where to go (Hong Kong & Macau) nor what to do (art galleries, concerts, things of a snobbish variety). Actually, for the first time ever I am planning an itinerary. Though there are still some gaps I believe these will fill themselves in. Nor is the problem where to stay as there is ample cheap hostel-like accommodations in both of these former, and according to the wisdom o' wikipedia might as well still be, city-states.

The problem, my loyal fans, is the high possibility that I will have a lack of significant pun opportunities.. This is a solo trip, so there will be no other native English speakers with me so as to help in the pun generation process. Also, the things I will be doing will likely be rather devoid of humor in themselves and therefore unlikely to inspire said punnery. You could say that the cir-pun-stances do not look good.

Hmmm, let us brainstorm...and remember, there is no judgement in brainstorming:

I will be hearing the Korean-American violinist Sarah Chang, or who is known to Koreans as 장영주 (Jahng Yuhng-Joo) in Macau. Perhaps I could say to myself, while walking away, "That didn't sound like Yiddish fiddle to me." (No judgements in brainstorming!)

Ummm...I am going to hear a Cantonese opera near the end of my trip. Perhaps in a dramatic, sappy, moment, if there is such a thing in a Cantonese opera, I can think to myself, "Cantonese? More like Cantoncheese!"

Ok, ok...if I am offered drugs on the streets of Hong Kong (as I was in Seattle for those of you 'stuff Shawn did' history buffs) I can say something like, "Oh come on guys, what do you think this is, Hong BONG?"

Ok, that's the best I've got, please help a brother out!