I was going to report on my trip to Guam this week, but I’ll put that on hold until next time and actually report on something in a timely manner this time around. Last weekend, Jeonghee and I checked out the decade-old Tongyeong International Music Festival. We had gone last year about the time we started dating, and listening to several virtuosos from all over the globe play classical pieces in the intimate setting of the smaller ‘B’ auditorium was an experience I was happy to revisit.
We did catch two concerts in this hall as well. The first, the Lutoslawski Quartet, was a Polish string quartet playing contemporary Polish compositions. I was excited for this until I realized that every single one was going to sound like a horror film soundtrack composed by the crazed offspring of Psycho’s Bernard Herrman and whichever of the ten composers scored the version of Nosferatu that I saw. Jeonghee actively hated it, while I made my peace eventually and just imagined getting chased through the woods by a serial killer… relaxing stuff indeed. The best part was the encore, when the quartet sat down and played a piece by Mozart, very ably.
They look harmless enough, but…
The second concert featured several Korean musicians playing the works of French composer Pascal Dusapin? And Chinese composer Qigang Chen?, who Jeonghee informed me wrote music for the Beijing Olympics. We seemed to have a knack for finding the horror film composers, or TIFF invited a bunch of them this year, as Dusapin’s work in particular was more of the same. Perhaps sharply twanging violin strings and aggressive cello riffs are just where modern classical music is at these days. If so, I’m happy staying the Philistine. Chen’s stuff was more interesting, to me at least, especially the final piece which featured an entire mini-orchestra complete with conductor. It was less discordant than the other pieces, and had a definite Oriental flair to it that I found interesting. Here’s Chen’s first piece that we heard, thanks to Youtube:
The last performance I’ll write on was actually the first we saw: Semele Walk, based on Handel’s opera, Semele. This was also by far the best, as well as the highest-profile attraction at this year’s TIFF. The trick to this one was a new arrangement by German director Ludger Engels with makeup and designs by punk couture queen Vivienne Westwood.
Sid Vicious and Marie Antoinette meet in a bar…
The opera is performed by three singers, with the rest of the cast being models in kabuki-style makeup who walk a catwalk wearing Westwood clothing like it was just another fashion show while the singing and operantics happen all around them and the punk-costumed orchestra plays off to the side, occasionally standing to meander through the action while playing their instruments. A last, really cool conceit was to seed the crowd with chorus singers, who rose and began to sing next to dumbfounded audience members when the first chorus hit.
The music itself was excellent, tailoring Handel’s compositions to electric versions of classical instruments, which nicely bridged the gap between the 1700s and the 1970s, and the singers all had gorgeous voices (even Zeus… now I know what a libretto is) even if it took me about halfway through to figure out the opera was in English. The lighting and stage design was also awesome, particularly in the climax when the lights dim and Zeus pulls the body of his beloved across the stage, in the form of a orange bar of light that was beautiful in the dark.
As for the clothes, well… of the forty or fifty outfits we saw I counted maybe three that a normal human being would consider wearing. I guess that’s par for the course for high fashion, as well as the almost disturbingly thin models teetering on giant platform heels and looking for all the world like a bunch of baby deer taking their first steps. Still, it’s not my bag, exactly.
Overall, though, it was an incredibly interesting experience, and overall I was pleased with the portion of 2013’s TIFF that I got to see. Especially for a town of this size, it’s a hell of an event to boast of.