Sunday, November 9, 2014

From Roti to Rachmaninoff

9 November 2014

 We've had a pretty low-key week, with Richard having a few dental visits and both of us getting around KL despite the daily rain.  Nothing major going on, just the usual stuff one does in a city - shopping, walking, reading, trying new places to eat, all that.

On Saturday, there was what the hotel staff called a "carnival" right outside the hotel, in the parking lot.  There were a variety of stalls (a table under a party tent) with food, and some people doing gymnastics on metal bars they put up - again, under a tent because it was raining most of the morning.

So I tried a new food item, roti jala.  Which comes with a nice spicy chicken curry.  The roti part, the bread, was sort of a spongy pancake thing - I watched the women making it, and they use a cup with spouts on the bottom to pour multiple drizzles of batter on a griddle, in a big circle; after one side is cooked, the thing is rolled up into a sort of lacy pancake cigar thing.  Pretty tasty.  Some people ate the roti jala mixed in the chicken curry, but I like my bread dry.

There was also a stage with local celebrities singing along with what was essentially a karaoke machine.  Everyone except us seemed to know who the guy was, and they sang along with him.  The two of us especially liked when he had a few guys join him on the stage, two with soccer balls and one doing yoyo tricks.  No idea if the song was about soccer or what.  It was just rather bizarre.

But the absolute best were these two guys who were selling home-made tie dyed tee shirts that were riffs on the Malaysian flag - just really great designs!  They were happy to pose for me, along with their cardboard cutout model friend.  I loved it!

Today, Sunday, we went to the Rachmaninoff Rocks concert at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall.  Really, the concert was publicized as Rachmaninoff Rocks.

Okay, before I get into the concert - first, the concert hall is beautiful.  The lobby area has an inlaid floor with geometric arcing lines making almost a flower pattern, in alternating metal and stone inlay.  The design doesn't even look like it's on the floor!  The various chandeliers are the same shape as the Petronas towers, the interlocking squares forming multi-point stars.

Inside the concert hall, it's all warm teak and soft lighting, with a huge central light fixture that's essentially concentric circles of lights embedded in the ceiling.  The rest of the ceiling has diagonal lines of lights that form geometric constellations criss-crossing their way over the whole hall.

There are the usual seats on the ground level, and boxes along both sides, on three levels.  Along the back of the hall, facing the stage, there are two levels of boxes, and a huge central box reserved for royalty - the Sultan of Malaysia, we presume.

Richard and I splurged on the top circle box, right of center, with two seats in the front row, all the way to the left.  Absolutely wonderful seats, with a great view of the entire stage, and fabulous sound, all for the middle price.  There didn't seem to be any microphones or amplification, just the natural acoustics of the concert hall.  And our whole box, which normally seats maybe about 30 people, only had three of us - Richard, me, and some other guy who sat a few seats down.  That was it.  So it felt almost like a private box.  It was lovely!

Oh, photos of the interior are all lifted from online, since photography is strictly forbidden.  Our sweet little usher had to tell everyone that as they entered.  She and I had a nice chat before the concert started, since she didn't have much to do, with only the three of us in this quadrant of the concert hall.  (And I had the ladies room all to myself, absolutely no line!!!!)

So, the orchestra was heavy on strings, with small wind, brass, and percussion/tympani sections.  The musicians seemed to be maybe half from this part of the world, and half from European ancestry.  They all wore black and white, the string instruments were all warm wood colors similar to the wall panels, and the brass and drum sections were all bright and shiny golden.

The pieces they played were:
The Rock, Opus 7 - composed in 1893 - hence the title of the concert - this is one of Rachmaninoff's earliest works, taking its title from a Russian poem about a little cloud spending the night on a giant mountain crag.  So the music sounds like a dark and stormy night rolling in, with the lilting flute melody sounding more like a bird than the golden cloud of the poem.  Big kettle drum thunder, plucking bass and cello string rain, horns heralding dawn - it was all there.  (The concert notes say that the poem is an allegory taken from Chekhov's story "On The Road," in which crags and clouds symbolize an older man and a younger woman who meet briefly at a roadside inn.)

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Opus 40 - composed in 1926, so there are parts with Rachmaninoff's signature dissonance, a reminder that he's a relatively modern composer.  Not enough dissonance to make your ears cringe and eyes water, just enough to know that he's not of the same school as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, or Tchaikovsky.  This concerto featured the French pianist Alain Lefevre, who was fabulous on the grand piano and with all the passion and intensity one would expect from a French pianist.  Parts were soft and melodic, other movements clashed and crescendoed, and I swear there was a musical earthquake in the middle of the piece.  Seriously, the piano rumbled like nothing I've heard, the other instruments joined in, and I was convinced the building rattled and there were aftershocks, that's how sudden and intense the music became.  Our friendly pianist, Monsieur Lefevre, said a few words after the concerto, and gave us a little encore of Chopin.

And then the interval, or intermission, where I went for a walk up and down our empty corridor, and then chatted with our usher some more.

Third piece:  Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Opus 44 (1936) - this symphony alternates between Rachmaninoff's dark, melancholic, quintessentially Russian passion and softer, melodic, lyrical passages.  I especially liked one section in the second movement where the violas and cellos were the only instruments playing, enveloping us with their rich warmth; then the French horns came in, brassier but still full-bodied in sound.  Then the violins joined in, taking over the melody like the prima donna sopranos they are.  Each instrument had their own short solo, maybe with the exception of the sad tuba.  And there was a gong in the middle, a big loud gongongong sound, absolutely unexpected and not in keeping with the usual symphonic style, which is rather typical of Rachmaninoff's surprises.

So all in all a wonderful concert, we had a great time, and really enjoyed the quality of sound at our seats.  I also felt rather la-di-da having an almost private box.

And if the dental work takes longer, there's a concert in early December that we'd both like to attend - now that we know where to sit!

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