Without thinking much, I bought tickets to David Fung’s piano recital in Hong Kong, scheduled for a few weeks ago now – a Thursday of March 2015. On the program was Schubert, one of my favourite composer: 2 Fantasies, the Grazer and the Wanderer, and the Fantasie sonata. Not on the program was the trip to Sha Tin, a place it seems only its inhabitants ever visit, and the little fantasies in my mind when I set myself to observing the people and the things around.
From the train station, the concert enthusiast and Sha Tin explorer needs to go through a shopping mall, then a strangely laid-out set of ramps and staircases, to finally arrive in front of the Town Hall, where the concerts take place, and which only compete with the adjacent Public Library for architectural non-invasiveness. While waiting for the gates to open, two things concerned me then: drinking and the library. I bought a cold “apple tea” in a glass bottle from the Hall’s little café, while studying with discretion the androgen traits of the clerk. 22$. Behind me was a young woman also concerned with two things: sipping from her oversized coffee (the cup taller than the height of her head) and frenetic typing on her iPhone. I guessed stress had come upon her because her companion(s) were not about to be on time for the concert. I then decided the café clerk was a girl. 55% certainty.
While sipping the sugar-strong tea, yellow through the glass bottle, with a yellow sticker and a yellow cap – I believe no one thought of that kind of things, I walked towards the Library. There was book drop boxes. They looked like post boxes, but with the capacity to accommodate the whole of an encyclopedia in 38 volumes. Someone had decided to paint them black, or very dark blue, so much was not clear. In the darkness they were hardly visible. The night had set an hour ago. No one thinks of that kind of things either.
The concert hall, when filled up for classical events or recitals, often turned into a world of strangeness, and the scene is now set like a patchwork. Small chunks of lives and stories there to trigger the imagination.
Behind me, there was a young western couple, blonde and hipstery. They were quite attractive, a good match. They enjoyed themselves before the concert, cracking jokes I could not hear and smiling loudly, and that I could hear. Smiles are contagious. They turned dead silent once the artist walked onto the stage. Good crowd.
Two rows ahead of me, there was a man in a red beanie. I had no idea about him, but decided that Mr. Beanie was a very sick person. Because he kept his head covered all the way, because the wrinkled skin of his neck betrayed a sudden loss of weight, because of his pale complexion.
On the right, with an empty seat between them and me, a mother and plausibly her young daughter. They were the pros. Their tickets, loosely left on the empty seat atop an expensive doudoune, said they had a discount for buying 7 shows at once. Sometimes they spoke French, sometimes they spoke Cantonese – sometimes, I could not hear them, and sometimes I wondered if she was attractive or not. Between the pieces, mom would explain with numerous hand movements the piece, its rhythm and its construction. I suspected she knew a thing or two about classical music forms. But then I immediately suspected that Schubert’s rhythm got something of an easy thing to be explained.
On my left were the solo music goers. First, immediately on the next seat, a young lady, in her twenties and here for the music; focused, undistracted, polite and mannered. Besides here, a young man she did not know, equally in his twenties but given his snores later on, turned out to be probably there for neither Schubert nor Mr. David Fung, nor the music at all. What a strange thing to do. I decided he must have received the ticket for free, and/or that he was a distant relative of the artist, filling a seat to give support.
The Hall was far from being full, I guessed a 55% occupancy. The warm up of the artist could be heard from the front rows.
There was in front of the snoring boy an old and seemingly out of place couple. He was in tie, an exception tonight, and jacket; she was in a tailleur chic and showed a taste for accessories of all sorts. They were certainly retired, perhaps he was a British officer who had settled in Hong Kong many years earlier, and saw no reason to go back to the homeland. They likely filled their days with cultural activities, and Sha Tin or not Sha Tin, the piano was being played here tonight and they followed it.
At last, Mr. Fung we all came to see made his entrance. Schubert’s Grazer fantasy is not the composer’s most well-known work and I was hoping to discover something new, but David Fung’s rendering appeared bland, forced. I felt that he did not enjoy playing this piece so much, there was a feeling of mechanic repetition. He was not helped by the piano, which had a funny tone on the 5th octave.
Funny tone or not, the Wanderer, in contrast a well-known work, was rendered beautifully. The snoring boy’s mechanical inhaling and exhaling was off rhythm and too high in pitch to add anything to the recital – perhaps had he closed his mouth while sleeping he would have contributed. But sometimes these things don’t matter much. Mrs. British Officer applauded extensively and with vigor, hands above her head. And the Interval was called.
Mom and Mr. Beanie went – separately! – to the restrooms while the rest of the little crowd I chose to observe remains in their seats, phones or programmes in hand. Cracking jokes, if they were blonde hipsters, in silence if they were alone. Sleeping, if they liked to snore.
After much banging on the D and F keys, the piano technician left the stage. I realized this was one strange job. The intermission ended and Mr. Fung returned.
He is his early thirties, and appear shy and concentrated. Somehow, I felt that he was worried his family was in the room. I do not know why I thought of that, but looking at him looking at the audience, this is how it seemed. The Fantasie sonata unrolled and the presentation made was very enjoyable. Our friend the snoring boy kept his mouth almost closed and his eyes opened. A sign there was something to the second part of the concert that first had missing.
There was one encore, which I could not recognized. I place a 55% certainty (actually more than that) on a Schubert’s piece; a Moment Musical, perhaps.
Mr. Beanie had a great time, he left with a big smile which I thought was very humbling. Mom took off promptly while my musical neighbor took her time. On the way out a Taiwanese guy approached and asked my impressions of the concert. I shared pretty much the above with him and he seemed disappointed. It turned out he is an acquaintance of the artist, although he never made it really clear how. I have not asked. He had missed the concert, unable to get a cheap ticket a student could afford. That was a little strange. More interesting, was his very narrow mind about the music world. We chatted a bit and he told me he is studying music theory. How interesting, I thought. He asked about other artists I had seen live, and made point comments about each one of them.
Kissin? “Only playing for his Jewish family.”
Zimerman? “Since I heard his arguments about YouTube I decided not to record his concert I attended” (look for the contradiction here).
The HK Phil? “A bunch of foreigner who could not find a job elsewhere” I pointed out that most were Asian, many with experience in the US or Europe. “Oh really?”
About an upcoming recital given by a Korean artist? “Koreans are all nationalists, they play for the cash then run back to their hometown”.
On the way back from Sha Tin, I thought of him and Mr. Beanie, the British officer’s wife and the blonde hipsters. How can a student of music be so narrow-minded, while others can keep an open mind and take an artistic performance for what it is: an expression of feelings and an invitation to reflect on otherworldly themes?
If it feels good it’s good. There is no need to be an intellectual about everything.