15 June, 2009

Singapore Arts Festival Blog #3 - "Arrival"

Image: Ronan with Singapore Festival Director Ching Lee at the Esplanade. Photo: courtesy Singapore Arts Festival.

After an adventurous start to his trip, prize winner Ronan Paterson has arrived at the Singapore Arts Festival and is enjoying his first performances. Read on for his latest blog entry.

Well, we got here. The flight to Dubai had been great, but the flight on to Singapore was hell. I was sitting behind this Completely Ignorant Person. First of all, a woman who was travelling with two really young kids had a seat apart from them. She asked if he would change places with her. He was travelling on his own, but refused to change. The woman was demented all the way, and the little kids weren’t happy either. He then leant his seat right back and refused to put it upright for any reason whatsoever. I sat for seven hours with CIP’s seat crushing me. I had no room to eat, the stewardess couldn’t serve the person next to me, no-one could get in and out of their seats in our row. Was he bothered? Was he wheech. I hope he’s sitting somewhere in Singapore right now, trying to void a hedgehog.

Nothing, however, is going to be allowed to detract from the sheer excitement of getting to Singapore after all our trials and tribulations. Son and Heir Who Despises Me is a high maintenance travelling companion, but then, so would the Beloved Spouse have been. At least S&H watches the films in silence. We are seated right in the middle of the plane, so can’t see anything of Indonesia or the various bits of Malaysia we fly over, but it FEELS different. I just want to get off the plane by now. I don’t know if the hospitals of Singapore do buttock transplants, but if I don’t get out of this seat soon I’m going to need one. On arrival we have our first surprise. The guy who checks our passports is nice. The ones in Britain usually have a pile of lemons hidden under the counter to sook occasionally to get the right pinchey-faced Calvinist look to make sure visitors feel as unwelcome as possible, but here the guy is nice. We have momentary frisson when S&H’s case is the last one off the plane (Well, after the saga we’ve already had...), but soon we’re in a (thankfully air-conditioned) taxi speeding along a flower-lined motorway into town. They have a lane closed – so they can water said flowers. Sweet.

The first thing that strikes you about Singapore is how GREEN it is. Having lived in Ireland much of my life I thought I knew green, but this is a lush, tropical, sort of Fujicolour green. The city is spacious and one of the cleanest places I have ever seen. Makes the Swiss look positively moochey by comparison. We get to our (lovely!) hotel, and are met by the delightful Fan Wong and her colleague Wei Zhen from the Arts Festival who make us feel incredibly welcome, and give us tickets for the various events. The first is in a couple of hours’ time. S&H groans audibly. Bless him, we’re both knackered, and he’s not a hard-core Arty-Farty like me. We change, and I go to the concert. He doesn’t. I leave him flat-tailed like a fish on a slab, crashed out on his bed. Our hotel, the Redezvouz, is well-situated for access to the main city centre, and very comfortable. The staff are all polite, friendly and accommodating, and the air conditioning a blessed relief. They give us bouquets when we arrive, and make a huge fuss of us. Compared to the actual aggression we take for granted in hotels in London, for example, this is paradise. S&H likes the pool and the gym. I check out the bar.

The Esplanade Concert Hall is amazing. I’m used to the Sage, in Gateshead, which I really like. (Not everyone does. It is known locally by some as either the Armadillo, or the Glass Arse). The auditorium is similar to the Sage, but bigger and more expensive. Big enough for a Take That concert, I’d say. The stalls and the first tier are pretty full. They have a knowledgeable audience for piano music in Singapore, being in their sixteenth year of hosting a major international piano festival. Joanna MacGregor comes on, a small woman with blond dreadlocks, dressed like Wyatt Earp, in black frock coat, trousers and very nice stilettos. Nicer than Wyatt Earp’s anyway. (I know shoes. Beloved Spouse is the Imelda Marcos of Alnwick, and she would have LOVED Joanna’s shoes). She is alone on a vast stage with her piano.

The first half consists of alternating Bach and Shostakovich pieces. She plays superbly well, and the contrasts are revealing. I remember Jack Bruce at the height of his fame with Cream talking about Bach having written the ultimate bass lines, and certainly Joanna’s left hand is fabulous. Shostakovich is no slouch in the bass department either. There is one wild piece of his which makes me want to shout with joy. The Bach is lovely and sensitive. You are slightly conscious in places that the modern piano is really a slightly harder sound than the pieces were written for, but she plays so well you forget that.

The second half is Brazilian and Argentinian music. The link is that these musicians all loved Bach, which she pronounces in her English accent in the same way that she would describe the outside of a tree. As a revelation this is on a par with discovering that a few individual raindrops have turned out to be wet, in that every single musician of any type I have ever met loves Bach, but it’s as good an excuse to include the South American pieces as the occasion needs.

There are two Villa Lobos pieces that I remember being played by Segovia on a record my mother had when I was a kid. I loved those. There are some wonderful tangos. In the midst of this she stands up and beats notes on the piano strings while playing something different on the keys. It’s marvellous, and very exciting. I’m sure music enthusiasts may have seen things like that before, but I haven’t, apart, perhaps, from Jerry Lee Lewis when particularly away with the mixer.

A thoroughly enjoyable, exciting evening in a fantastic concert hall, and a great advert for the Festival. Can’t wait for tomorrow.

1 comment:

Ernest Moretti said...

The singapore arts festival is an annual arts festival held in Singapore. It is one of the most significant events in the regional arts scene. Very cool festival. I love every festival but specially I love singapore arts festival. I'ved been to singapore and you'll really enjoy their safari. It's really magical to be in this part of Asia. Singapore really great place. I am very happy to visit your site. Thank you for posting and sharing it.