Monday, 19 June 2017

A Concert Not To Miss: VICTORIA MEMORIAL HALL 1930 by LOKE HOE KIT & Friends

Here's a concert you should not miss:


Saturday, 1 July 2017
Victoria Concert Hall, 7.30 pm

Programme includes:
DUPRÉ Sonata for Cello & Organ
R.STRAUSS Cello Sonata
VICTOR HERBERT Cello Concerto No.2
BLOCH Prayer

Tickets from $25-45 available at SISTIC


You have titled your cello recital “Victoria Memorial Hall 1930”. Why “Memorial Hall” instead of “Concert Hall”? And why 1930?

Today, it is widely misperceived that the Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH) only started life as a noteworthy concert venue after it was renovated to serve as the home of the SSO in 1980 (which was when the name Victoria Concert Hall [VCH] was introduced). In truth, the hall has an illustrious musical history that goes way back.

1930 was the year that VMH started serving as a concert hall, following a refurbishment that explicitly transformed it into Singapore’s premiere concert venue. A truly stellar lineup of musical legends appeared at the hall over the following decades (preceding 1980). This significant part of the hall’s history has however been severely neglected; it has been largely overlooked even by the local music community today.

The likes of Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Benjamin Britten, Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky all played at the hall that the world knew as ‘VMH’. There is such resonance attached to the name VMH, and thus, I’ve chosen to use it to evoke this fascinating history.

Furthermore, the name VCH was introduced in 1980 to apply merely to VMH’s auditorium, and not the building at large. It is perplexing how it came to be widely accepted that VMH was ‘renamed’ VCH then.

Your interest and research into the history of Victoria Memorial Hall sounds like an absorbing one. Which historical figures who have performed in the Hall captivates you the most?

It’s certainly got to be Gregor Piatigorsky (left), who appeared in 1956. He is after all my ‘grandteacher’ – I studied under two of his protégés (Nathaniel Rosen and the late Paul Tobias). To think that his great and warm tone had resonated off the walls of VMH means a lot to me.

A few other notable cellists also visited during the 1950s, including Gaspar Cassadó and Pierre Fournier. Even today, visits by great cellists are rare affairs, and this must have been such a treat for Singaporeans back then. 

I’ve been aware since my youth, through reading their biographies, that many historic musical legends have visited Singapore. I was thus astonished that present-day local sources make virtually no mention of it, and felt compelled to fill this glaring gap in the narrative of our musical history. Coupled with my passion for Singapore’s history (in particular, local built heritage), I spent years researching the hall’s history to uncover the full extent of its legacy.

I’m very excited, in the coming weeks, to present a comprehensive two-part write-up about the hall’s history on your blog, which I’m sure your readers will enjoy.

Emanuel Feuermann & Gaspar Cassadó

Your programme is a rather unusual one too. Which of these were performed at VMH by those cellists in history?  

Richard Strauss’ Cello Sonata was featured by Feuermann in his second of two recitals in 1934, while the Toccata ‘by Girolamo Frescobaldi’ (a work that Cassadó claimed he merely arranged, but actually composed) was played by Cassadó himself during his visits in the 1950s.

Also, as a tribute to my ‘grandteacher’, I’ll be playing Bloch’s Prayer, which Piatigorsky performed in his 1956 recital. I’d like to add that although I’m only featuring one piece that Piatigorsky actually played, I’ve consciously modeled the structure of my recital programme after that of Piatigorsky’s.

There will be some Singapore premieres on your programme. It appears you are   setting your own mark on the Hall’s history as well. Tell us more about these works.

In addition to celebrating the past, I wish to add to VMH’s history as well by including some Singapore premieres. This is in fact in keeping with the recital’s theme, as the visiting legends often featured works that were being heard here for the first time.

There has in all likelihood never been a major solo string recital in Singapore that has featured the use of pipe organ accompaniment, and I wanted to take on this challenge. Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the organ for its sheer majesty. In fact, before I decided to pick up the cello at age 12, I briefly considered learning the organ. Who knows what might have come out of that! Although I never got around playing the organ, I’ve long held a desire to play with it. The great French organ virtuoso/composer Marcel Dupré composed a very fine Sonata for Cello and Organ, and it makes a perfect showcase for the two instruments.

I have also chosen to feature Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto, the work that notably inspired Dvořák to write his own great cello concerto. It’s an appealing work with such beautiful lyricism; yet, it’s not been heard in Singapore.

How was working with organist Joanna Paul and pianist Khor Shang Jin like in these works? How does a cello even begin to challenge the might of a pipe organ?

Both Joanna and Shang Jin are such fine musicians, and I couldn’t be happier collaborating with them.

The organ may be a mighty instrument, but in the hands of a skilled and sensitive organist, we can ensure that the instrument does not overpower the cello.

What do you hope your audience can take home with them on 1 July?
I certainly hope that they have a greater understanding and appreciation of VMH’s history. Of course, I also trust that they’ll enjoy my selection of cello repertoire that has rarely or never been heard in Singapore! 

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