Date: 13 December 1996
Location: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
Well, the concert is over, but the heat of the concert will certainly last in the heart of the audience and the performers. The concert was attended by a full-house audience of 463 (we might have disappointed some people by encouraging them to come but could not get a ticket - our apology for that). The programme contains enough variety of music that should keep most people awake and anyone should be able to pick one's favourite from the programme no matter what musical background one has.
To recall the memory of those of you who were there and to share with you who missed the occasion, here is an account of what happened.
13 December 1996 - it was a sunny and mild day in Hong Kong. Although it is a Black Friday and the stock market slipped by 2%, everyone in the City Hall Theatre was in good condition, preparing for the best in the evening. (Recall another Black Friday in 1995 - 13 Oct, when the Quintet was awarded the first runner-up in the World Harmonica Championships).
7:45pm - the stage was set - piano at the right, harpsichord at the left, five chairs, music stands and microphones in front.
8:00pm - the audience were seated, browsing through the 16-page programme leaflet which contains 8 pages of biography of the Quintet and the individual performers and 5 pages of programme notes.
8:05pm - the concert opened with the light-hearted Mozart's Divertimento K.136 played by the Quintet. Members of the Quintet then had their own programme item. First item was the virtuoso Bach's Flute Sonata in C (oh, so many notes!) played by Ho Pak-cheong and accompanied by harpsichord. Then came Kuan Man-hou's bass solo of Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 with piano accompaniment - a bold and remarkable transcription of the original soprano solo over cellos accompaniment. Another Baroque piece - a double concerto by Vivaldi (Op.3 No.8) was interpreted by Lok Ying-kei and Chan Shu-keung, with harpsichord accompaniment (and bass harmonica giving more substance to the base - this was missing in the programme leaflet). The famous Canzonetta from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was transposed down to the range of the tenor harmonica and played by Lau Chun-bong (with piano playing the whole orchestra!) to demonstrate how beautiful a tenor harmonica could sound.
The remaining items on the programme before intermission have strong national characteristics. The four Transatlantic Dances - Beguine, Tango, Blues and Barn Dance were short but each evoked an entirely different mood. They were played by an ensemble of treble, tenor, and bass harmonicas, and guitar. The standard harmonica trio combination (treble, bass and chord harmonicas) presented two well-known pieces - Czardas and La Virgen de la Macarena. Between the two pieces, the audience was delighted when Ho Pak-cheong played an episode of Oh Susanna with the one-octave, one-inch-long Little Lady harmonica.
The second half of the concert began at 9:25pm. Although the number of items in the second half is only two, compared to 8 in the first half, the musical contents are equally rich. Both of them are Quintet pieces. We made a risky choice in the programme here by including the works of two less well-known composers at early 20th century, Myaskovsky (Russian) and Skalkottas (Greek). But of course, we were relieved after checking with the box office:-) The reasons of our decision are that we like them, they sound good with harmonicas, and we think people would like them.
The highlight of the concert was a full string quartet by Myaskovsky. The piece lasted for about 30 minutes and consisted of four movements. The first movement established the basic mood of the piece - serene, calm and lyrical (anybody who didn't fall asleep please raise your hands?). The second movement should wake people up with agitated streams of notes. These are interleaved with a lyrical passage which became the theme for the third movement. This movement should be loved by people who prefers melodious music because there is not only one melodious theme, but two. The final movement began with 4 energetic chords. The resolute and quick principal subject was linked to the jovial secondary subject with a lyrical and chromatic episode. The middle section of the movement was 'cantabile e sostenuto' and in triple time. The theme was developed in various parts before returning to the principal and secondary subjects. The piece ended with a forte and unison F after a short recapitulation of the major themes of the movement.
The last item on the programme was three Greek Dances by Skalkottas. The harmony structure of these pieces are by no means familar, yet they are not harsh. Hope they offer a chance to refresh the bored ears.
We did three encores. All of them were very popular tunes - Popular Song, Butterfly Lovers' Concerto, and Sleigh Ride. This was the first time we played Popular Song. Audience were surprised that we played the percussion parts of the piece as well, screwdriver tapping on the chair, ring on finger hammering the coverplate of harmonica, hand clapping on thigh, tongue clicking in the mouth.
Time was 10:20pm. We left the stage, the audience left the theatre, and all of us were still treasuring the sound and experience in the past 2 hours. We all got some new experience.
We would like to thank:
Miss Nerissa Yeung, who accompanies us at the piano and harpsichord with absolute reliability and flawless skills;
Mr Bunny Leung, who plays the guitar, giving the essential flavour of the Transatlantic Dances;
Miss Peony Tse, Assistant Manager (Cultural Presentations) of the Urban Council, who does all the administrative chores of the concert and relieves us to concentrate on the music;
the crew of Urban Council Cultural Presentations Section and City Hall Theatre;
and of course, you who were in the audience and you who care to visit our home page