1997 World Harmonica Festival
Date: 15 - 19 October 1997
Location: Trossingen, Germany
14 October (Tuesday)
The members of the Quintet re-united in Trossingen since its last practice in Hong Kong on 2 Oct. The reason for such an unusual break before entering a competition is that being an amateur, each member has his own schedule for his full-time job. So it ends up with three troops starting from Hong Kong and Paris, joining force luckily on the same day (if not later) at Hotel Hirt, a new and nice hotel in Deisslingen, a town which is some 15 minutes drive from Trossingen.
15 October (Wednesday)
Although the official opening ceremony starts at 7pm in the Dr. Ernst Hohner Konzerthaus, we learnt from the organizer beforehand that the practice session with the piano accompanist for solo category is scheduled in the afternoon. The problem is to find our way there. After a brief practice of the Quintet in the morning, we take a taxi which brings us to the Hohner office. With the guidance of the Hohner staff there, we walk for 15 minutes to the Konzerthaus. We are warmly greeted by Mr Maik Berchtold, the main contact with the organizer in the past couple of months, Mr Gerhard Muller, the head of organizing committee, and Mr Arnold Kutzli, the president of F.I.H., the organizer.
We are then given a ride to the Conservatory where the practice session is held. We are overjoyed to meet Mr and Mrs Yasuo Watani again whom we first met in the last World Festival and to have Mrs Watani accompany 2 of us in the solo competition (we have 4 entries). The practice session goes well through the afternoon.
Towards 7pm, we return to the Konzerthaus for the opening ceremony. The ceremony consists of welcome speeches by the Mayor of Trossingen and Mr Kutzli, with interludes of harmonica/accordion music presented by the local harmonica orchestra.
16 October (Thursday)
We have the second practice session with the piano accompanist in the morning, again in the Conservatory. The presentation of the test piece for the chromatic solo category starting at 1pm marks the beginning of the competition. The competition is held in a smaller hall of the Konzerthaus. The jury consists of James Hughes, Yasuo Watani, and of course the composer of the test piece, Paul Lewis. This is the the first part of the chromatic solo category. The second part is the presentation of own choice piece tomorrow. From the performance of the test piece, we unanimously agree that we have identified the top 3, and Ho Pak Cheong, our first treble harmonica player, is one of them.
After the competition, we dash back to the Lindensaal, just opposite to the Conservatory (alas, another 15-minute walk!), which is the venue for the trio and group category competition. We want to get ourselves prepared for the sound effect of the venue.
The next highlight of the day is the concert starting at 8:15pm. We have the harmonious combination of harmonica and guitar from Wolfsberger and Steinkogler, the pure sound of James Hughes, a rare performance of James Moody's divertimento for harmonica and string quartet by Yasuo Watani, and some nice duets between Hughes and Watani. The concert is enjoyable, but we have to skip the second half (which is already 10:15pm) to better prepare for the 3 competitions - solo, trio and group categories tomorrow.
17 October (Friday)
We finally see sunshine since we arrived in Germany 3 days ago! It makes us feel better even though it is tough work ahead today. The scenery during the ride from the hotel to Trossingen is marvellous - as the sunshine is trying to break into the area, our bus is travelling in and out of the fog masses that are starting to give way to the sunshine.
The day starts with the presentation of own choice piece of the chromatic solo category. In general, our performance is up to our own expectation. Something worth special mention is the quick passages of notes in Ho Pak Cheong's presentation of Bach's flute sonata. Also, the use of Super 64X by Lau Chun Bong to play Tchaikovsky's Canzonetta is also special - the range of notes in this piece is more than 3 octaves. Furthermore, to deepen the tone color of the piece, it is transposed down which fully utilizes the low register of the Super 64X. The solo competition ends at noon.
We then need to quickly have lunch, do a little rehearsal for the competitions in the afternoon, and take another dash from Konzerthaus to Lindensaal to catch the trio competition there starting at 2pm.
It has been quite a chaos. We are barely on time to arrive there, face a large audience packed in the hall, try to find some space to settle down, and then are asked to draw a ballot to reshuffle the order of appearance. The performance of both entries we enter suffers - a solo passage of the Rumanian Folk Dances are missed (it is probably the biggest noticeable mistake ever made in a public performance), while the group playing Horse Racing is struggling for the right tempo.
Despite these difficulties, we quickly concentrate on our next target - the group competition which starts at 3pm. Unlike trio, the quintet is our 'home' combination. The piece we play - the American Quartet has been played numerous times. All we need is concentration. The fresh cool air outside Lindensaal really helps. After we play, we know that we have performed our best and the rest is with the jury.
We skip the jazz concert in the evening, in preference of a leisurely dinner after a stressful day.
18 October (Saturday)
If the word 'fun' is to apply to a competition, it should be the open category starting at 9am. The variety of entries really shows off how versatile a musical instrument harmonica really is. With more than 20 entries, nearly every entry is unique in style. This was actually our original intention to enter 4 different entries - a sextet (in the style of the original Quintet) playing arrangement of Chinese orchestral music, a trio consisting of all tenor harmonicas to demonstrate the capability of tenor harmonicas, a 'traditional' duo playing Bach's masterpiece of Double Concerto (we are sort of forced to do so as the duo category was dropped by the organizer - we notice that as a result, there are a number of duo entries in the open category), and finally a showpiece for bass harmonica - the Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No.5. We are glad that we are in the 'carnival' and we don't really feel that we are in a competition. It is hard to compare oranges with apples!
Besides a marvelous experience to the ear, we do gain something else. Paul Lewis (who writes the test piece for chromatic solo category) is in the audience and we manage to catch his attention and appreciation of the way we play.
Our second next highlight in this Festival (apart from the group category competition) is the scheduled performance in the "Friends for Friends" concert tonight. We play the Villa-Lobos' String Quartet No.1 and an arrangement of Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture. Despite the tiredness after days of competition and the late evening concert time (10:15pm which is normally the closing time of a concert in Hong Kong), we manage once again to concentrate and show our best group work to the 1000+ audience in the Dr. Ernst Hohner Konzerthaus. Here, we recall, by the standard of an amateur group, the lengthy practice sessions (minimum 3 hours, and up to 6 hours at critical times before a concert) and irregular practice time (until midnight after a day of heavy office work). These must be helping us to overcome the tiredness.
19 October (Sunday)
The sweat and adrenalin in the past few days turns into cheers in the prize-giving and closing ceremony starting at 10am. For details of the results of competition, please see the main page. The way the prizes are given out worth special mention. All the competitors are requested to be present on the stage. The result of every competitor is announced, starting from the entries of the lowest mark. So every competitor will have his/her own time to receive recognition. Also, the stage is filled up, creating an atmosphere of a party.
The ceremony closes with the performance of children harmonica players at around noon. The photo taking time lasts for a hour or so, when we meet some more people which shows interest in our style. We have a late lunch as a result. The pity of this Festival is that we have little time to talk to other harmonica players and make more friends, mainly because we are so engaged in the competition. The other bigger pity is that we do not have the time to visit Hohner and its factory although we are at Trossingen. Nevertheless, it is a festival already packed with memories.