Hong Kong Sinfonietta excels in stifling heat of concert hall
Valeriy Sokolov plays Bartok
Hong Kong Sinfonietta
City Hall Concert Hall
If being in a non-air-conditioned hall on a hot summer evening is miserable, try playing an instrument on stage, dressed up and under spotlights, for two hours.
More than 50 musicians of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta did just that on Saturday at the City Hall Concert Hall following the breakdown of a centralised cooling water pump that failed to deliver cool air to the 1400-seat venue.
"I have never experienced this before," said music director Yip Wing-sie. "It was worse during the rehearsal and we were all soaked in sweat. But we went ahead as it didn't go above the contractual limit of 28 degrees."
But for Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov, who played his Hong Kong debut in Bartok's Second Violin Concerto: "This is nothing as I once performed in Crimea in 45 degrees".
The 28-year old soloist and conductor Ken Lam were the only two on stage wearing jackets. The one with both a jacket and bow tie was orchestra violinist Yip Siu-hay. "I think this is what classical musicians did in Europe in the old days ... I am no exception." he said.
In fact, the heat had conjured up a sense of special occasion that resulted in extra focus among the musicians. Without a warm-up, they played with vigour in Witold Lutoslawski's Symphonic Variations and with lyricism in the Bartok concerto.
The sweet tone in Sokolov's violin lines was evident in the early entry after the harp. The excellent playing defied the damp air and his pricey Stradivarius, dated 1703, delivered alluring resonance.
He and the orchestra risked the rugged rhythms and came through with refreshing results. No one left after the last note and the violinist rewarded warm applause with an encore, Kreisler's Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice.
Those who stayed behind for Schumann's Fourth Symphony got to hear the wonders of a Hong Kong-born conductor leading his home band.
Lam, now music director of the Charleston Symphony in the United States, brought out the best in the Sinfonietta which played with natural flow and clean texture in one go.
The transition to the final dash was compelling, bringing a relief after the explosive ending.