2010年5月31日 星期一

HKPO's Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue under David Alan Miller

Got slightly soaked for Gershwin last Saturday evening. For no reason, there was a sudden downpour when I emerged from the I-Square exit of the Tsimshatsui MTR Station, where I got stuck with a group of garrulous Italianos and Italianas just returned from Beijing and about to leave for the Expo in Shanghai. They were discussing where to go for dinner and were worried if the normal 8 p.m laser show at the harbour front would still take place. I told them that they better pray to God that the rain would stop soon. I told the couple standing beside me that if they did so,  I'd certainly become an unintended beneficiary and they would have done their good deed for the day as I too needed to hurry to more or less the same location where they were headed. But apparently, they did not pray hard enough or didn't at all.  So I got to continue to engage them in conversation as the minutes ticked away until  I saw 7.50 p.m. appearing on the tiny screen of my handphone. I had to rush out, rain or no rain. With tens of skilful manoeuvres between dripping eaves or canopies of various buildings and a mad sprint through the pedestrian crossing outside of Star House, I was finally within the comforting protection of the Cultural Centre lobby! I breathed a sigh of relief to the sound of the last of the three-minute reminder bell for the start of the concert. 


The concert started whilst I was still busy wiping off the rain from my shirt, my face and what little is left of my hair! But it was worth all that nuisance! It was an all Gerswhin programme that evening. We had in the order of play : Oh Kay! Overture (orchestra alone), and My Man's Gone Now, The Man I love, They Can't Take that from me from Porgy and Bess sung by Indra Thomas, soprano and then Rhapsody in Blue played by the famous jazz pianist Kevin Cole for the first half of the evening. For the second half, we had Love is Here to Stay also played by Cole, Embraceable you, "It's wonderful by Cole and finally An American in Paris by the entire orchestra. 


There are not that many classicial American composers whose work I like. Charles Ives is now rarely played. Aron Copland does not fare much better. Apart from many fine composers for film music,  George Gershwin has simply got to be my favourite. He is a nervous genius, always afraid that he is not good enough and always asking various more established contemporary composers like Arnold Schoenberg, Maurice Ravel etc to give him lessons in compositions. According to our guest conductor of the evening David Alan Miller, a short stocky American conductor full of enthusiasm for life and music, when Gershwin asked his long time tennis partner Schoenberg for lessons, the latter asked him how much he made a year and after the latter learned what it was, he told Gershswin that he ought to take lesson from Gershwin! And when he asked Ravel for lessons, Ravel told him, "Why would you like to be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first rate Gershwin"!". So that tells us how good in orchestration and composition he already was. 


Gershwin's style is a little difficult to describe. He does not compose in the traditional classical style. Yet that is not entirely true either .  He does have main motifs which are developed and then repeated by various sections of the orchestra and he does have climaxes and refrains too. This however would give us a point of entry. Just like the work song tradition in jazz, he does have a certain call-response pattern in which a leader states or sings a certain key line to which the chorus singers respond. This tradition later developed in instrumental jazz in which at each moment, a certain instrument would be given the entire floor for his cadenza in which the soloist pours out his soul by doing all kinds of variation upon certain component notes of the relevant chords which form the backbone of the piece. To a certain extent, Gershwin does that too in his orchestral pieces. But in addition, he also adds the blues element which has its own tradition of the singer trailing out his voice which rises and then falls to a particular kind of 4/4 rhythm with emphasis on the first note which then trails off in trembling or wavering melancholic tones which in turn may be traced to the Spanish Flamenco jondo tradition. To me, there is that in Gershwin's music too. The role of the "leader" in Gershwin's music is usually given to the trumpets or trombones or some other wind instrument whilst the strings would play the role of the chorus or the response.  This is to me, the specific "jazzy" element which distinguishes his composition from those of any other composers. And the "weepy" blue notes which suddenly fall in volume or energy is also usually given to the brass because the brass was the very first and most important element in early New Orleans jazz. Of course, how can jazz be jazz without jazzy rhythms? And how can there be rhythms without drums. And Gershwin does use a lot of drums: the snare drums, the tom toms (high and low), the timpanis assisted by the tuba in particular passages which give it its peculiar jazzy "feel". And in the piece An American in Paris, which must count as Gershwin masterpiece, he does make use of some form of "dissonance" which characterizes the so-called "modern" compositional methods initiated by Schoenberg. This is a piece which he composed whilst he was staying in the Paris of the late 1920's  which was then really the very seismic centre of the waves of modernist music and modernist art like Dadaism, stream of consciousness novels, imagist poetry etc. during which time he was fascinated by its sights and sounds. And he attempted to capture its bustling, lively, colourful, and zesty city life as well as the cacophony of the Parisian taxi horns with episodes of nostalgia for America. To reflect the peculiar city sound of Paris, he actually bought a number of Parisian taxi horns of various sizes and pitches in the shape of small flare-mouth contraptions with a rubber balloon at their rear which one would have to squeeze with one's hands to produce that very special loud but not shrill sound of the horns and brought them back to New York and which he actually used in his composition. His nostalgia for America appeared in the sound of the blues theme.


The various songs in Porgy and Bess were sung by Indra Thomas, a huge black woman who appeared in an evening gown with a shiny greenish gray shawl over her shoulders and a huge glittering necklace band around her neck.  She has a very powerful voice which turns slightly metallic at the highest notes at maximum volume and of course, as a black woman, her voice was eminently suited to jazz type singing which requires the singer to be able to sing at maximum volume then modulates on the same note to suddenly but smoothly drop in volume as the sadness or melancholy of situation portrayed in the song hits her heart. She got thunderous applauses for her rendition of Gershwin's songs . She fully deserves them. I cannot imagine any female singer ( Chinese or European)  in Hong Kong being able to do what she did. And how could I not mention that inimitable and simply charming Kevin Cole, a tall man with round head, round face, round body and chubby hands who would romp on to the stage in small broken steps as if he were walking on thin ice which may break any moment but whose fingers would fly on the keyboard faster than a bullet train. He reminds me of the speed of play of Thelonius Monk or an Oscar Petersen . And he gave a simply fantastic display of his keyboard skill. Miller introduced him as "the" best Gershwin pianist alive today. And he did not lie. His fingers simply flew on the keyboard producing strings of continuous notes with occasional strikes upon certain notes at huge volume to emphasize the rhythm which is characteristic of the jazz style piano playing.  And he played with swing! He played so well that the audience simply would not let him off without an encore. And he very graciously obliged. It was a wonderful evening of all Gershwin music. I do not think that Miller was exaggerating when he told us that he found the HKPO an extremely versatile and malleable orchestra. I love the HKPO! It was an extremely tiring day for me. But as I said, it was worth all the mad rushing and the soak!

2010年5月30日 星期日

Art HK 10.2

Yesterday was an exhausting day. I worked at the office until 1.15 p.m., went home to pick up a book I had bought for my friend Peter, grabbed a snack, rushed back to meet him at the exhibition hall of the Art HK10 Fair, gorged my eyes at the visual delights on offer, dashed to Tsimshatsui where I was caught in a heavy downpour and barely made it in time for the HKPO performance at the Cultural Centre (about which more later in a different blog piece), had our usual after concert snack before going back home to collapse in my bed for a 9-hour swoon.

It was also a delightful day. I was delighted to find that there are still so many people in Hong Kong whose hearts and minds are still stauchly resisting being completely deadened by the numbing rhythms of commerce and the hectic pace of modern city life. I found lots of teenagers, giggling, laughing, posing, poring over exhibits, clicking their digital cameras and handphones with photo functions. But there were also lots of young girls in the late 20s or early 30s, but not that many boys in that age group. Perhaps the boys were busy being drowned by the agititating, expectant or disappointed voices of the commentators and the occasional cheers of the stadium spectators of the World Cup Finals resounding from the TVs to which their eyes were glued, beer in hand, cigarettes on their lips, and piles of nuts and chips on their coffee table. There were also not that many women in their 40s or 50's. Perhaps they were busy doing their weekly pilgrimmages to the supermarkets or wracking their brains over whether they should put more or less potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, scallions  etc into the obligatory Chinese soup or whether they should prepare one or two dishes with pork, beef, chicken etc and in what combination with what kind of vegetables and spices in anticipation of the weekly invasion from the returning horde of their sons, daughters, with or without their children in law and their tottering or totally uncontrollable but "adorable"  or "cute" grandchildren.

I was delighted for another reason. I was so happy that I am still a member of one of the most innovative and creative species to have ever walked upon the surface of this planet. There is literally no bounds to what the human imagination can do. At the fair, we get a chance to glimse that world of imagination, of creation and of child-like joy in our ability to make something from little or nothing. Through the eyes of the artists, we learn how the world could be looked at and sometimes even how it should be looked at. We learn that we do not always have to take the kind of perspective we are taking. That world may be calm, serene, static, or dynamic or even violent. That world can be beautiful, bizarre, ironic, disturbing, even shocking. But whatever world that may me, we find that complex and often ambigious  "beauty" and delight in form for its own sake which is one of the highest expressions of our humanity. In those simple, sometimes convoluted or distorted forms, we find the splendor of the human spirit in its strenuous struggle for expression sometimes under the most unbelievable conditions. We see how our artists can make use of the most common or ordinary materials that we all see around us in our daily lives at one time or another: sand, earth, stones, metal, wood, bamboo, sticks, paper, cloth, glass, crystal, fibre-glass and in one case even sealing tape for paper cartons which one normally would find only in industrial godowns. Some of them are not slow in seeing the new possibilities for creative use offered by modern technology: the photograph, the slide, the film, the video, the projectors, the LED screen, the TV and create new patterns of light and shade, of the illusion of movement of colour and of novel forms. 

There are so many exhibits from 150 galleries from 29 countries from all over the globe that it is literally impossible that I describe each and every one of the exhibits which I have seen, not even 1/200th of them. My eyes were bombarded with so many visual delights and images and my legs  so tired that I had literally to close my eyes many many times to dampen a little the information overload upon that ingenious data processing machine I call my brain, on the seats or sofas mericifully placed around various locations on the exhibition floors.  I am technologically backward. But fortunately, my fellow blogger 舸兒 has taken some impressive photos of some of the exhibits which she found of interest and also given us the website of another fellow blogger who has taken photos of other exhibits which he found of interest. . So if you are tempted, you may like to click into her website to take a vicarious tour of that wonderful exhibition of human ingenuity, innovation, creativity and beauty. And who knows, you may find some exhibits which may keep you happy for days, if not, perhaps for a few seconds! . Here is the website: http://hk.myblog.yahoo.com/coco-sailor. Perhaps you may also like to click into the website of my good friend Peter at http://hk,myblog.yahoo.com/cky879  He promised me that he would later send some of the pictures he has taken at the exhibition to me and which I am sure he would place on his website too. I also understand that another fellow blogger 葉子 has also taken some photos she found of interest from her own perspective. Her website is: http://hk.myblog.yahoo.com/yipyip2020yip Enjoy yourself!

An exhausting day certainly, but one which is worth all the exhaustion, and more. It was a most emotionally rewarding day despite my purely physical fatigue! It will leave hundreds of images and feelings evoked by them in the treasure chest of my memory sufficient to nourish my duller moments for days to come and to rekindle a little those residual sparks of fire of my undying quest for form and beauty. 

2010年5月27日 星期四

Art HK 10

I was doubly lucky today. Yesterday, a fellow blogger 舸兒 wrote a piece on her blog about the second annual Hong Kong International Art (not Arts, which include more than just visual art) Fair 2010 or Art HK 10. In addition, a meeting with the provisional liquidator of company which I liquidated for one of my clients supposed to be held this afternoon at the liquidator's office in Wanchai had to be adjourned because the debt claimed by one of the company's creditors was called into question and accordingly its capacity to vote at the creditors' meeting was also in doubt. But we needed at least three of the 4 creditors to be present at that meeting before its proceedings could be considered lawful. As the 4th creditor was absent, there was thus an insufficient quorum for the originally scheduled meeting and it had to be aborted. After a technical discussion on how to bring the matter of the winding up of the company forward and the time frame within which further steps should be taken, I could go. The afternoon I originally set aside for this meeting was now free. As the meeting took place at a building just less than 10 minutes on foot from the Convention Centre, where Art HK 10 was held, I decided to make a whirlwind tour there just to have a general idea of what is on offer so that I can go there again on Saturday to look at the those artworks which deserve my undivided attention. But once I was in, I was hooked. There were so many interesting works of art on offer that I could hardly bear to leave until well past 6.30 p.m.!


I could not possibly introduce each and every artist whose works I had seen. So I will  just single out two. The first was the work of a very talented Hong Kong artist called Teddy Lo. He returned to Hong Kong from North America some time in 2003 and now runs an LED design and consultancy company in Kowloon Tong doing LED light and wall monitor displays for various buildings in Hong Kong and also computer controlled Christmas lighting which now earns him his bread and butter. But in his spare time, he is researching into the use of computer-controlled LEDs for artistic purposes and possibly later commercial exploitation. At the exhibition, he has got a darkened booth inside which he sits on a little desk close to the entrance cum exit. At the time of my visit, two Germans journalists were looking at his display. It seemed interesting. So I joined in. There was a screen about 6-7 feet by 4-5 feet on whose edges lights of various colours were constantly flashing, sometimes yellow, sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes orange, sometimes red and sometimes white. You may think that there is nothing unusual about that. But the interesting thing is that from time to time, you seem to see the faces of certain men and women. Half of their face might appear inside the frame or the screen and half outside and sometimes, the whole of their face would appear but only for extremely brief moments. Later the artist explained to me that if we want to see them more clearly, then all we have to do is to move either our eyes or our heads! The reason is that we have got something called "residual vision". What does that mean? When we see an image, light will enter our eyes and fire certain cells at our retinas, either cones or cylinders, which help us to process light of different frequency wave lengths and light intensity. But it takes time for the visual images received by our retinas to reach the brain through our optic nerves. The interval of time between the moment the relevant light hits our retinas and the time such light signal reaches the visual processing centre of our brain is crucial.  If that interval is too short, our brain will simply "fail" to see or register any meaningful pattern and we will normally say we did not see "anything". However, after the images of one picture is seen, they stay in our brain for a little while so that we may have sufficient time to be "conscious" of what we have seen. The time interval is about 0.5 seconds. Therefore even if by the time our brain perceives image 1, image 1 has in fact disappeared from our field of vision, we can still see that "after image" of image 1. In other words, we always see image 1 NOT at the time the light from image 1 hits our retina but always a little bit of time AFTER that moment. In the same way, when we say we see a star, the light originally emitting from that particular star might already have travelled light years through space before hitting our eyes or our telescope: the light that we "see" at that moment in time might well be the light from that particular star maybe thousands or even millions of years ago! This is a principle which is in fact "exploited" to produce the films, and the TV that we see every day. If the time interval between image 1 and image 2 which is slightly different from image 1, by less than 1/24 second, the "residual" image of image 1 will "appear" to be "continuous" with image 2 and we will see the person as "moving continuously" as if there were no interval beween the time when image 1 was flashed upon our eyes and the time when the slightly altered image 2 was flashed upon our eyes. Thus when disparate images of a person are flashed at us at different points in time, they will still "appear" to be a "continuous" image of that person moving in a particular direction! This is the principle of "continuous motion" in film and cartoon production. Thus if we show one frame of film per 1/24 second, our eyes will "see" motion as continuous. Making use of this principle skilfully,  Teddy Lo has now "invented" a method whereby he may flash an image for a very brief period of time so that when we move our eye-balls or our head, the very briefly flashed images projected on to the LED screen will become more visible than when we look at the images without turning our heads! But at the moment, he has not yet produced any very "artistic" images using this technique of flashing periodic images at a speed faster than the processing speed of such visual images by our brain.  I asked him if that is not the principle of "sublimal" vision  employed by advertisers when they tried to influence consumer choice "unconsciously" or "sublimally" by flashing images of their advertised products at a speed faster than the speed which it takes our brain to process and consciously register those images. He said yes! But what he does here is that he would flash an image at a slightly different place on the screen so that our later vision will tie in with the earlier residual image which by the time we see the second image, will already have disappeared. In a sense, he is just making "reverse" use of this principle by adjusting the position of the later images to our vision!


The second invention by Teddy Lo is an interactive "visual harp". There is a leg-high pillar-like device which can sense any movement our hands make on top of it and/or and at its side. How far we are from the -measuring sensor and how fast we move our hands will cause the individual "strings" of his "visual harp" connected to the measuring device to change colour. The colour change can occur on one string alone or on different strings at the same time. But again, apart from this change of colour of light with physical movement of our hands, he has not yet found any application. Teddy Lo told me that he wished to introduce this concept to the public at the exhibition first and will see if he can get a sponsor for the commercial exploitation of this new technique later. Who says Hong Kong lacks creative people!


Another artist whose works impressed me at this exhibition was a Korean artist by the name of Chun Kwang Young. What he does is that he would fold paper into various shapes like triangles, rectangles and squares of various sizes, hand dye them and then paste them together to form very beautiful patterns, as if they were rocks, pebbles, sand etc.  I told the gentleman manning his stand (which I later discovered to be the president of the studio) that I love the way the artist was able to use such innovative methods to create the realistic "illusion" of texture by turning something as "delicate" as paper into something as "solid" as granite screes or pebbles or big or fine grains of sand or powder and other geometric shapes and also the very clever way he could create order by making some artificially regular lines like oval, ovoids, circular-shaped hollows to give form and focus to the otherwise formless or chaotic bigger, smaller rectangular or pyramidal looking  "pebbles" or sand and the clever way he created or highlighted the contours of lines, a sense of three dimensionality and of light and shade simply by gradually increasing the colour tint of the relevant "component elements" .. I told him that the way the artist makes use of the hollows, voids and emptiness is very much like the way a Chinese philosopher advises us to make use of emptiness or the void viz.  in the philosophy of Laotzu. I told him that Koreans might  probably have heard of the name of Confucius but not many may have heard of the name of Laotzu but that in my opnion, Laotzu was a much deeper and far wiser philosopher than Confucius. He was very surprised. I told him that if he was interested, he should get a copy of Laotzu's Tao De Ching which is book of just about 4000 words divided into some 80 or so chapters and might well be worth his while to read for its wisdom.  He immeditely asked me to write down the name of the philosopher and the names of some bookstores in Hong Kong where he might find one. After that, I asked him if there was any catalogue of the artist for sale there. But he said that unfortunately, the only catalogue that he had was not for sale. They were printed only as promotion materials for various galleries! I told him I love the works of that artist very much and whether he could somehow ask for permission to sell me one. He said he would have to see if it could be arranged and told me to give him my email address so that when he got something, he would email me. But he told me that if I were interested, then I could find out some pictures of the works of that artist on the internet. After I got back to the office, I did so. This is the website: http://www.google.com/images?q=chun+kwang+Young&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=ynb-S9bgD8-gkQWZv6TFDQ&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=4&ved=0CCkQsAQwAw. There you will find many examples of the artist's very creative use of paper! The manager at the booth told me that the artist does not use airbrush at all and insists on hand dyeing each one of his paper artifacts! I really admire his meticulousness. Really wonderfully creative and most impressively beautiful patterns and textures! I find that there is a kind of serenity, a kind of peace, a kind of purity, a kind of distance in his world that is so calming, so soothing that it is almost spiritual. I do not know if he is a Buddhist. To me, it certainly has a very strong Buddhist feel to it. There you find a kind of distant and cleansed emotion that one can only find in the dust free world of Zen contemplation. I do not know if I am right. Even if I were, I do not think he probably knew it. As an artist, he merely feels it, lives it. He may not even think about it! Nor has he the need to. I really must thank my blogger friend.

The gentleman at the booth apparently felt grateful to me for drawing his attention to LaoTzu and asked me if I would like to visit his stand again. I told him I intended to come again on Saturday when I would be less pressed for time. He was so kind. He gave me a guest ticket!

2010年5月26日 星期三

Another Peculiar Dream

Just had another strange dream. I do not know why. I had the feeling that I was back in the house of my childhood. There were three bedroooms in that house. But somehow I felt even in my dream that it could not have been the same house. That was because the way the wall-to-wall wardrobes in those rooms in my  dream were not in the positions they were in the house I actually lived in when I was a child. Besides, the shape and colour and style of that huge wall-to-wall wardrobe (not a walk-in closet) in my dream were also different. The style of the wardrobe in my dream belongs to that popular in the 1980s: long rectangular vertical doors with a horizontal row of two drawers below. In the dream, it was painted almost completely white but with a hint of beige. In fact, our house had already been torn down and replaced by a more modern building which I still see from time to time whenever I eat at a restaurant opposite to where that house was when I attend court at the Kowloon Magistracy.


Whatever might have been the difference in style and size and location, I had the distinct feeling in my dream that it was our house. What was peculiar in that dream was that my eldest brother was there. He told me that he had just managed to remove a huge clock hanging on the wall to the left of my younger sister's wardrobe from her room to his own room. In fact, in my dream, I "knew" that he had placed the clock on the upper part of the wall to the left of his wardrobe, in exactly the same position it occupied in my sister's room. But in real life, my sister never had such a clock nor such a wardrobe.  He was asking me to take a look at it and to give him my opinion on how they looked in his own room. In fact, in that dream, I never saw how my younger sister's room look like. Of course I know what it looked like in real life. My brother's room in the dream was actually my father's room, my father having died more than 30 years ago.  It was the biggest bedroom in the house. The clock was a rectangular shaped brown electric clock maybe three feet wide at the bottom and perhaps a feet and half tall. It has a very smooth, lacquer like shiny coffee brown surface. The face of the clock was in brownish beige. It had huge hands. The time on the clock was maybe 1.50 p.m. What is most peculiar is that my brother had for some reasons placed three mirrors which I had bracketed on to the back of the doors to my own wardrobe in my own room in real life when I was still living there on to the exterior of three of the wardrobe doors in his room in that dream. And the way he did so was most unusual.  He simply clipped the three long rectangular mirrors on to the top of three of the wardrobe doors in his room with the kind of black metal clips one normally uses in the office to clip together loose sheets of related papers. Of course, they were  much bigger or else they would not be able to hold the weight of the mirrors. To prevent the hard metallic surface at the bottom of the huge clips from scratching the smooth top  surface of the three mirrors, he just used some white bath towel folded in double but in order not to obstruct viewing the mirror, he had just a tiny portion of the white bath towel overhaging the top edges of the mirrors. It was a very sloppy job. I took a look at his masterpiece in my dream. I told him that whatever he might think, to me I did not feel that it was right to take away the clock which used to be in my sister's room without asking or even informing her beforehand. Then I woke up. I did not however ask him why he took my mirrors!


Why that clock? In fact, we never had that clock in our real home. And why did it show 1.50 p.m? And why did my elder brother take my three interior wardrobe mirrors and why did he place them on to the outside of his wardrobe in a such a sloppy way or at all? What is the significance of those mirrors? And after he did that, why did he ask for my opinion? I cannot figure it out.

2010年5月25日 星期二

Neruda's Oda a la cama (Ode to the Bed 聶魯達 之 床之頌)

Today, I intend to start translating a new series of Neruda's poems: those in which he writes not just of fruits you often see in the Chilean fruterias, marketplaces, family kitchens or dinner tables, but normally life-less everyday objects. Let me see. I'll start off with...ah, the bed, that companion of rest but also the seat of one of the most vigorous and most intense activities known to men, upon which all human lives ultimately depend. But let's see what Neruda has to say about that.


Oda a la Cama                                     Ode to the Bed                                    床之頌


De cama en cama                                From bed to bed                                  這是床至床

es este viaje,                                        is this voyage                                       之旅

el viaje de la vida.                               the voyage of life.                                生命之旅,。

El que nace, el herido                         That which is born, the wounded          生、傷

y el que muere,                                   and that which dies.                              與死,

el que ama y el que suena                   one who loves an  one who dreams       愛與夢

vinieron y se van de cama en cama,    come and go from bed to bed,              他們來與去

vinimos y nos vamos                          we come and we go                               我們來與去

en este tren, en esta nave, en este        in this train, this ship, in this                  在這火車,這船,在這

río                                                      river                                                      河

común                                               shared                                                    一切死亡

a toda muerte.                                    with all deaths.                                       與共。

La tierra es una cama                         The Earth is a bed                                  大地一牀

florida por amor, sucia de sangre,      blooming through love. dirty with blood,以愛為花,以血為垢

las sábanas del cielo                            the bedsheets of the sky                          天之床鋪

se secan                                              dry                                                          正乾

deplegando                                        spreading                                               將軀體

el cuerpo de septiembre y su blancura,  september's body and its whiteness,      蓋上九月及雪白,

el mar                                                 the sea                                                     海

cruje                                                   rustles                                                      在蕩漾

golpeando                                          beating                                                     正扣探

por la cúpula                                      upon the green                                         那深淵

verde                                                  dome                                                       之

del                                                      of the                                                       綠

abismo                                               abyss                                                        拱

y mueve ropa blanca y ropa negra.    and moves white vests and black vests      而抖動白衣黑衣。


O mar, cama terrible,                          O sea, awesome bed,                                噢,汪洋,了不起之床

agitación perpetua                              perpetual agitation                                   死生

de la muerte y la vida,                        of death and life,                                     在成肉身之空氣與泡沫中

del aire encarnizado y de la espuma,  of incarnated air and of foam,                  無休之恍動,

duermen en ti los peces,                     fishes sleep within you,                             魚群與你同睡,

la noche,                                            the night,                                                  夜

las ballenas,                                        the whales,                                               眾鯨

yace en ti la ceniza                             the centrifugal and heavenly                    在你那兒披上

centrifuga y celeste                             ashes of the agonizing meteors                掙扎磒星留下

de los agonizantes meteoros:              rest in you:                                               離心和天堂般之灰燼。

palpitas, mar, con todos                     palpitating, sea, with all              你心噗通地跳,海洋,與你全體

tus dormidos,                                     your sleepers,                                            睡眠者,

construyes y destruyes                       you are building and destroying                          你正在建築與摧殘

el tálamos incesante de los sueños.     the incessant stems of dreams                    無限美夢之婚夜床。


De pronto sale un rayo                      Suddenly a ray comes out                         特閃出一線光芒

con dos ojos de puro nomeolvides,   with two pure eyes of forget-me-nots,       兩顆純潔之無忘我眼眸,

con nariz de marfil o de manzana,     with a nose of marble or apple                  瑪瑙石或蘋果鼻

te muestra el sendero                           and show you the path                             你指向滑溜床鋪之

a suaves sábanas                                 to the smooth bedsheets                             途徑

como estandartes claros de azucena   like the bright flags of the lily                     彷如百合花耀目的笙旗

por donde resbalamos                        where we slip                                             在哪我們

al enlace.                                            entwined.                                                   纏綿。

Luego                                                Then                                                          然後

viene a la cama                                  comes to the bed                                         死亡與其氧化之手

la muerte con sus manos oxidadas     death with its oxidized hands                       和碘般之舌頭

y su lengua de yodo                          and its tongue of iodine                               到來

y levanta su dedo                              and your finger rises                                    舉指

largo como un camino                      long as a path                                              長若小徑

mostrándonos la arena,                     showing us the sand,                                    向我們展示

la puerta de los ultimos dolores.       the door of final pains.                                  那極痛之門與沙粒.


In this little poem about the bed, Neruda wrote not really about the bed but what may go on within that bed. He turns the image of the bed from one of objectivity to one of subjectivity, from a static image to that of a dynamic image, from a noun to a verb. To him the bed is the symbol of life and also a symbol of joy but also a symbol of pain. What passes between joy and pain and our dream is our life before our death. He links up everything through the familiar image of the journey.  The journey of life is reduced to a journey as he says, "from bed to bed". As I stated before I read the poem, the bed is a place of rest. But it is also the scene of the most vigorous activity possible between a man and a woman. In that love act, we experience within a particularly brief period both death and life after which we hanker for the next time when we shall experience more of  what we have experienced a hundred times before, according to Neruda in another bed.  Again as in so many Spanish poetry, there is this constant contrast of polar pairs, pairs of opposites, of contrasts, of antithesis, of contradiction, of diversity, of reversals etc: of coming and going, of you and we, of top and bottom, of high and low, of exterior and interior, of long and short, of big and small, of construction and destruction,of night and day  and finally of life and death.  But the opposites are paradoxically united by Neruda's image of the bed! When Neruda's "sand" and and "door of final pain" are of course, euphemisms for the products of male love making and the seat of man's joy. I like his imagery for the male organ: the "estantartes claros de azucenas": the stamens of the lily! And he describes the incesant dreams of men as "tálamos" which in Spanish carries a number of possible meaning like bridal chamber, or bridal bed or the more neutral botanical "thalamus" but in Spanish, it is also the first person plural form of the verb "telar" which means to "cut down" or to "fell".  I do not have to state what is intended to be felled or cut down in the context! Hence multiple interpretations are possible and his real intention finds an excellent place of concealment in the conservative Chile of his days. This is the beauty of poetry: the poet can say what he wants to say "without" having to say it at all!!

2010年5月24日 星期一

Ghosts and Spirits

Upon the "very strong recommendation" of a recent acquaintance at the UUHK, I attended a gathering of a group which meets regularly at a vegetarian restaurant somewhere in Mongkok. That was  yesterday afternoon. Before the meeting, my acquaintance told me that that would be a talk by a retired doctor on "homeopathy". I have heard about the word and also some hazy notion about it but do not know what it is precisely. It sounds interesting. So I went. 


When I arrived at shortly after 3 p.m. I found a group of about 10 were already seated around a table. It appeared I was the last. I got one character of the Chinese name of the buillding wrong and paid the penalty of a 10-block walk before I got to the right one! My friend was already there. There were  5 familiar faces. They belonged to people who attended some the functions of the HKSHP or the UUHK. There was only one seat left, the one next to the speaker, Dr. X, the retired medical specialist who had emigrated to Australia. So I sat down. It appeared that most of the group already knew each other. But apparently a few faces were new to the speaker. So Dr. X asked that we introduce each other and to explain a little why we came. She pointed her finger at a giggling young man sitting some 5 seats away from her left. She obviously knew him and was just asking him for the benefit of the newcomers. He just mentioned his first name sheepishly and didn't explain why he came. The next two, who also appeared to be familiar with Dr. X, followed suit.


Then we came to the fourth, apparently a newcomer, a girl with an oval face, small eyes, white skin, medium length straight hair neatly combed back and in her late 20s. She identified herself as Maggie. She explained that she came because she had been told she could meet some interesting people in this group and that her curiosity was piqued because she had been told a lot about Dr. X and therefore decided to come. Then without rhyme or reason, she suddenly said she just had a dream and could not understand it. Upon hearing that, Dr. X appeared very excited and immediately said, "Tell us about it. Tell us about it. I love to hear dreams." The girl said that ever since a child, she had a dream that she was being chased by someone whom she could not see but felt to be merely a certain presence, ( about which more later) up a flight of steps and could not understand what it meant. Then Dr. X said that she had a book on dreams but at that moment she could not remember what "going up a flight of steps" meant.  A thought occurred to me immediately: she was perhaps being pushed to study, work hard and make it in the rat race by her family. She was not alone. However, I did not tell her that. I thought that since I was not asked, I better shut up. Anyway, the girl said that that did not matter but then she got another dream and would like to find out what it meant. Then Dr. X said, perhaps unconsciously, "Me too, I also have many dreams. One of the dreams was that I was sitting for an examination which I had already passed. And later I thought that it was impossible. I already passed it! That meant I was facing another big challenge at that point in time.".The unconscious really is intelligent. She was, perhaps without being aware of it, already answering the girl's question for her, but indirectly!


Everybody was interested by this talk about dreams. Then my friend chipped in, "Me too. I do not know why. I often dreamt that I could fly, like a bird.", his eyes narrowing a little as if he were making an effort to recall what he previously saw in some of those dreams. Then the young man sitting next to him who is also regular attendee at the talks of the HKSHP, said, "Yes, yes. I also frequently dreamt about flying. It was funny, I could just stretch out my hands and I could fly. My body acted like a ...glider.". Then Dr. X also chimed in, "Yes, me too. I often dreamt about flying. I don't know how but I found that I could somehow simply glide in the air. But I don't know what it meant. But if it's up, then it's good". I too have dreams about flying. I believe I know what they meant and by implication, I believe that had I been given more information, I probably can tell what all those flying across the sky meant. The context of the flight is important: it really depends on the physical environment in which the relevant flight occurs. It is the nature of that environment which gives their dreams meaning at the point in time those dreams occurred. But I did not say so. It was Dr. X's talk, not mine.


Then perhaps prompted by the interest which her talk about her stair-climbing dream aroused, the young lady said she had another dream. She said was being followed from behind by someone. " Although I did not know who it was that was following me and I was running away very hard to escape. I had a feeling that it was my boy friend!". Had she paid attention to the sound of the Chinese word "chase", the meaning of the dream could not have been more obvious! She somehow felt threatened by the hot pursuit. Maybe she was not yet ready. Then she blurted out with another of her dreams. She said she was working at the office. She was opening a file cabinet, and lo and behold, she found a snake, hidden amongst the files!  She said that she did not know what to do. She was shocked. "But I felt that I was being watched from behind. So I turned left and then right and then turned around. There was no one!" To me, the meaning of the dream could not have been more obvious. Then Dr. X interposed at this point. "I don't know what it meant but left is bad, right is good.". She did not explain in what way it was good or bad. The true reason might be that the left indicated her rational mind and her right her holistic and emotional mind and she was somehow fantasizing in her subconscious mind how good it would be if one of her male superiors whose files she was then working on were to become her lover but discovered that she couldn't identify who it might be or if there were any one who would match with her desire! 


After that, perhaps because Maggie remembered all these dreams about being watched from behind, she related another experience about being watched or feeling a certain presence. She turned to one of her "encounters" with ghosts or out of body experiences (ODE)s. She said that she went to her friends house one evening. She was in the verandah, and suddenly saw some green light outside another room next to her friend's room. She looked in that direction. It was the image of her friend! That image was staring at her! For some reason, her friend stayed inside her room, busy with something or other and was not yet ready to see her.Whilst she was pondering over what she saw in that flash, she looked in the direction of the kitchen, which was just next to the bathroom whither she was minded to go and there was that green light again! Again, it looked like her friend standing there staring at her! But her friend was still inside her room. She later asked her friend if she went outside of that second room or into the kitchen at the moment when she herself was in her friend's verandah. She was told that her friend never went outside of the second room nor the kitchen but that her friend had thought of going into the second room. With this, Dr. X could restrain herself no longer. She related how "feng shui" or evil spirits might affect people's fate! To me, what Maggie was "seeing" might be an "illusion". She was standing there all alone in that verandah. It was not a good feeling to be all alone by one self. One felt a sense of pain, a certain sense of failure at not having succeeded in showing sufficient attractiveness in the eyes of her friend to entice or seduce the latter from leaving her room to come out to meet her. When we feel bad, what do we do? We want that kind of situation to come to an end as soon as possible! Besides, what was the purpose of her visit that night? To see her friend! She must have a very strong desire to see her friend!. Yet her friend was otherwise engaged and was not there to see her as she originally expected. So her self-protective instinct literally "created" that image of her friend to prevent her "ego" from being hurt further by an even longer wait! And why green? The factor may be circumstantial. There might be some green light shining into that particular spot from either some light source or other inside her friend's apartment or from outside which might have escaped her attention at that point in time. A full "reading" will definitely require further evidence, which unfortunately is not available in that kind of social situation with a group of people all wanting to express themselves around that table. 


Whatever might have been the true cause of Maggie's "strange" experience, Dr. X told us that it was what she did which might have cured her mother of about 70 who suddenly got sick, was sent to hospital and had all kinds of tests done upon her by all kinds of experts who were not able to tell what it was and suggested that they opened her up to find out but she objected, so they ended up doing an endoscope but still could not find anything. Her symptoms appeared so rare that they had to go back to all kinds of medical literature to flush out the various possibilities. But in the meantime, her mother had become hysterical at night and on many evenings, she would say things to the effect "Don't come near me, Don't come near me." as if she saw someone threatening her when there was no one around! Then one day when it was again raining cats and dogs after maybe nearly the whole week (it being the summer of 2005) whilst her mother was still at the ICU, an idea struck her, as if it were a flash of lightning! There was too much water! She knew that her mother's life is governed by "fire" (one of the quintet of metal, wood, water, fire, earth) calculated according to the traditional "5-element" method using her birth date and Chinese "hours" . So she took the only ruby she had and asked the nurses if they permitted her to tie it somewhere on her mother's body but was denied permission. Then she finally decided to have it placed inside a small cloth bag and tied it to the bedpost at the head of the bed. She said that the very next day, her mother's condition immediately improved and she ceased to have those ravings asking the "spirits" not to approach her! I sugggested to her that sometimes, people can have spontaneous remission, usually when normally tense or nervous people cease to struggle and maybe that by the time she thought of that particular "method", that time had come and her mother's immune system clicked back into action again as a result of the nervous tension upon that natural immunological system having been lifted and the time it had taken for her to arrive at that "desperate" measure seemed to be consistent with my theory: her mother's body  had struggled for such a long time without effect that it simply gave up any further struggle and the apparently "miraculous" cure then occurred all by itself. She said that was possible too.  


She then told us how "feng shui" might have an effect on people's life. She said her parents bought a big flat for which she paid for the mortgage. Since buying that house, her parents had never had good health. They have had all kinds of minor health problems and her mother was always complaining about having headaches and her brother, a returned computer expert from America who came back to Hong Kong to work, lost more than a million HK dollars in one of his investments. So after the her mother nearly lost her life, she had the house looked over by one of her relatives who is a Toaist "feng shui" master. He told her which were the bad positions in that house according to the year and what had to be done each year to avoid the relevant bad consequences. He told her without knowing who slept where that anybody who slept at the place where her mother slept would probably have serious problems with his/her head! Her mother slept there, in that position! And her brother's room was singled out as the second worst room in that house . He said that whoever slept there would meet with all kinds of setbacks! Since something had to be done each year to help avoid the adverse consequences, she felt that  that was far too bothersome and finally decided to sell it but not after she had had a most serious quarrel with both of her parents who thought nothing of of her  "feng shui" reasons and said that they could continue to live there forever! Who is right? Who is wrong?


Whilst Dr. X was recounting how there were ghosts and spirits in various hospitals in Hong Kong, another lady in her late 30s, in a floral pattern black and white shirt and black jeans with a pair of huge sunglasses hanging over her nose arrived. She appeared to be quite familiar with Dr. X and some the other people sitting at that table. I asked the others to move their chairs a little further away so that I could make some space for her to sit beside Dr. X. When she heard Dr. X telling us all these stories about how "feng shui" and ghosts and spirits, she said that she herself had some personal experience and told us how a spirit which affected one of her boyfriends when she was then running a disco in Wanchai was affecting her and how one of her relatives, also a Taoist priest, helped her got rid of the evil spirit after two of his pupils failed to exorcise it. She said she yelled and screamed when the Taoist master was doing the exorcism. She had since become a devout follower of all kinds of fortune telling and is now a Tibetan Buddhist! By the time she finished all her stories, it was already 6.30 p.m. and she had not yet begun her second encounter with such spirit which she promised to tell us after she went to the lady's toilet! Throughout those three and a half hours, there was not single word about "homeopathy" for which I came. It had literally become a "ghost" session about "homeopathy". So I excused myself and left the party to their ghosts and spirits!

2010年5月23日 星期日

Time to Think

Humanity is now at a crossroad. Either we continue to live as a species on earth or we die at our own hands from  a combination of greed, ignorance and short-sightedness. This is the conclusion reached by Robert Jones, the author of a book called God, Galileo and Geering: A Faith for the 21st Century,(2005). Lloyd Geering is a New Zealand theologian, a minister of the New Zealand Presbysterian Church, a professor of Old Tesetament and the head of the Knox Halll Theological College there.


In chapter 14 of the book, Jones says that humanity is in fact at war with itself. The biblical story of Cain and Abel is now being repeated, but on a global scale. Until roughly 5,000 years ago, most human societies were protected against anti-social behavior by the family, the clan or the tribe.Then at the start of the great agricultural civilisations round about 5,000 years ago, conquerers gathered ethnic tribes into huge multi-cultural societies maintained mainly by a combination of force and political ideologies favourable to the continuation of such civilizations. A measure of overall order and stability could still be maintained for a long time. however, but only because at during the period, there was still room for the violence and aggression of those social groups not happy with the contraints and restraints of conventional social mores to vent such tendencie towards violence in colonial conquests of or adventures to hitherto unexplored parts of the globe e.g. first, other parts of Europe, Asia then at the end of the 15th century in South America and in the 17th century the eastern seaboard of America in late 18th until early 20th century Africa and in late 18th and early 19th century, Australia and New Zealnd. But now, such frontiers are closed. There are no more places for nonconformists to move to. The trend has now reversed: people of different languages and cultures are now being forced to live closer and closer together under the advance of globalization. But it is uncertain that the marks of Cain have been overcome.


Besides, Geering thinks that we are becoming a danger to ourselves not only because we are running out of places where the anti-social and disruptive elements of societies may find room for the expression of their aggression and energies, but also because of "our natural capacity to mutliply indefinitely on a finite planet". Scientists estimate that at about the time of Jesus lived, there were about 300 million people on this planet. By 1750, there were about 800 million, the population being kept in check by a high infant mortality rate, diseases and epidemics and wars. Because of improvement in methods of agriculture, better medical and public health control measures like improvements in water supply and sewer systems, the rate of population growth accelerated. By 1800, there were already 1 billion people on earth. This figure took us 500,000 years to achieve. But then the world population doubled to 2 billion in just about 130 years, in 1930! In another 30 years, in 1960, the world population has grown by another billion to 3 billion. In the next 14 years, it increased by another billion to 4 billion, in 1974. By 1990, it was 5 billion and in 1998, it was 6 billion. If the present trend continues, by 2025, we shall have 8 billion people living on this planet! At about 1800, fewer than 3% of the people on earth lived in cities of 20,000 or more. By 1980, the figure has risen to about 40% and by 2000, half the population of the world were living in such cities. Now there are huge megatropolis everywhere, London, Paris, New York, Rio de Janeiro,Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing,  Mombai, Calcutta, New Delhi etc. And they all are served by airlines, trains, mass transit transportation sysems, buses and coaches, hotels, restaurants, telephones and computers and huge housing estates and slums. Harvey Cox, another theologian, said in his book the Secular City (1967),  that urban life makes us anoymous, rootless and restless and leads to all kinds of problems of adjustments. Sam Hutchinson argues in his book The Clash of Civilisation (1996) that globalization is builidng up pressures for eventual disastrous worldwide clashes: the West is declining but Asia and Islam are rising and warned that "Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Chinese assertiveness" are potential threats which may lead to global conflicts. China may join with Islam against the West. What is perceived as universalism in the West may look like economic, and cultural and political imperialism in the East. Our best minds cannot agree on where humanity now stands nor even what the most important issues are, let alone their solutions! Instead of helping to unite peoples of different races and cultures, the differrent great world religions appear to be dividing them further. Christianity nowadays is fragmented and som, like the Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, are advocating a return to the kind of values more appropriate to a time when the world was divided by neatly geographical and cultural boundaries . The more progressive religious voices are too scattered and unorganized to be able to come up with a coherent message. In the meantime, the world is hurtling along like a huge jet airliner without any clear destination.  


Meanwhile, we are facing another threat to our long term future: the continuing depletion of our natural resources, the destruction of our environment and rising pollution because of the needs to fuel mass  consumption of the rapidly increasing world population which in turn require constant searches for and faster and faster commercial exploitation of our natural resources. The proportion of oxygen to nitrogen and hydrogen and other gases must remain within a fairly limited range to enable us to breathe. The ozone layer protects us from too much radiation from the sun. We must have adequate food and drink for our bodies. We depend on the delicate ecological balances between our atmosphere, the amount of ice at the polar ice caps, the proportion of forest, agricultural land and plant and animal population if we expect to survive in the long run.  In 1988, the writer James Lovelock, called our planet Gaia (the name of mother Earth in Greek mythology) and considered the earth as a living biosphere with the surface of the earth compared to the skin of that cell. Since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, half of the food producing top-soil has now been removed due to urbanization and industrialisation. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air is threatening global warming; the destruction of the ozone layer is causing more and more skin cancer and genetic damage; the destruction of the rain forests is threatening the supply of oxygen and the rapid depletion of fossil fuel is threatening us with lack of sources of energy in the future. The unequal distribution of wealth between the rich and poor nations are creating more and more potentially explosive tensions. Worse, the resistance to environment concerns is built into the capitalist system of economy which has only one aim: more and more profit!


What does Geering foresee as the most likely kind of world we may see in the 21st century? He envisages 10 possibilities, 9 of which do not bode well for the future of humanity as a whole:

1. Thermonuclear Holocaust: At present, the global nuclear stockpile is sufficient to destroy this world many times over.  There is always the risk of our political leaders taking a short term point of view and come to rash decisions.

2 World War III. The frictions between the rich and poor nations, the scramble for scarce resources and energy, border disputes, cultural clashes all risk global military crisis from time to time which may turn into another world war. 

3. Rise of Dictatorship. Rising rifts between the rich and poor, between the town and the countryside, racial violence may all disrupt social order. In the 20th century, Russia, Germany, Italy, Chna all experienced dictatorships and now a number of countries in Asia and Africa, Latin America are also ruled this way. In many places, the choice is between disorder or dictatorship.

4. Mass Starvation. Of the 8 to 9 billion people inhabiting this planet, 6.5 billion of them will be  living in regions of poverty. It is estimated that between 500 Million to 1 Billion people are undernourished. As the population continues to grow without increasing arable land, more and more will starve unless the distribution side of our economic system undergoes radical changes. 

5. Pandemic. The black death wiped off about 1/3 the population in many areas of Europe. Today, we are battling all kinds of bird flus, AIDs and other new strains of viruses. In 1981, the AIDs was first diagnosed. By 1996, the number of identified AIDs cases has risen to 8 million and 6 million of them died. Coupled with environmental pollution of our water, our air,widespread malnutrition, breakdown of sanitation in urban slums and the abuse of anti-biotics, new viruses are appearing daily. No one knows when another uncontrollable epidemic may occur.

6. Destruction of Ecological Balance. The UN has repeated warned that if we continue to denude our forest, pollute our air, water and land, and allow the destruction of many plant and animal species, do nothing to slow global warming, we will have to face the prospects of economic decline such as the world has never seen. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen 25% since mid-19th century. A small increase in the earth's average temperature may cause our polar ice-cap to melt, raise the sea level, cause dramatic changes in the earth-climate and bring catastrophic floods to Holland, the Nile Delta and many Pacific Islands, and many of the coastal cities of the world. If we do not take active steps to manage our environment, it will be too late.

7. Collapse of the Global Economy. Not only have the sizes and complexity of the world economy render it susceptible to repeated financial crises from time to time, many people will be forced to compete relentlessly for the bare means of subsistence. Even in wealthy nations, education, medical services, public housing and children's services are underfunded. George Soros has predicted that sooner or later we shall enter into a global depression likely to be much worse than the Great Depressionof the 1930s. The dominant capitalist system fails to feed the hungry,clothes the the poor and provide the able-bodied with sufficient employment and will lead to disaster sooner or later.

8. The global spread of terrorism. When frustration turn into desperation, people are likely to

want to resort to violence whether or not the victms are or are not innocent. There will be

random violence and  massacres. We have already seen the collapse of the World Trade

Towers in 911.When will be there be another such attacks will be uncertain. And becasuse

the media is bound to want to report such violence, this may in fact induce terrrorists to want to

engage more and more such violent tactics to get media attention to the kind of issues close to

their hearts. Their motive may be political or religious or partly both.

9. Sliding into Chaos. Less dramatic than terrorism, the trend towards relativism, the questioning

of authority in general may blur the lines of what is right and what is wrong and many of the

under-privileged may resort to more and more violence to resolve their grievances, justified or

not and there may be a gradual slide toward the break down of social order . 

10 Conscious Attempt at saving ourselves and our Planet. We now know the causes of many

physical processes and diseases: they are not the work of evil gods or devils or an angry God.

Humanity may continue to devise ingenious technical methods of dealing with their problems    through advances in technology, continuing liberation of women, renaissance of the arts etc and

actively work towards global co-operation and promotion of world peace and protection

of our environment. We may even develop a new universal or world  religion based on

knowledge and humanity.


What shall our future be? It is anybody's guess. But no matter what it may be, one thing is certain: we can all contribute towards a better future by working with what we have from where we are; starting with the renewal of ourselves, through knowledge, patience and a respect for ourselves, other people and of Nature. Each of us may consider ourselves a tiny candle and shed whatever light and warmth we are capable of emitting so that this world may become that much brighter and we may bring into this world before we leave it forever, such joy and reduce such suffering as are within our own powers to contribute, each according to our own unique personality, our talents, our education and our experience  That we can certainly do. To me, we owe it to ourselve to do so, if we wish to claim the dignity of being a "human" being and not a mere beast.  

2010年5月21日 星期五

Another Surprise from the HKPO

I have always loved Beethoven. Together with Mozart, he is one of my two musical heroes.  Strong, irascible, uncompromising, a bit uncouth but full of vitality and musical creativity and because of the defect in his personality and in his social graces, or the lack thereof, so human. I believe he lacked social graces not because he did not know how to behave properly in genteel society but because the creative fire inside him was burning with such intensity and he was in such a hurry to pour out his raging passions into compositions and performance that he simply did not have time for the niceties of "normal" social etiquette. Unlike Mozart, his creations did not come easily to him. He had to work day and night and endlessly write and rewrite, fine tune and polish them over and over again until they became presentable and acceptable to himself. And he was not easily satisfied. And it tells in his symphonies. How hard the timpanist of his symphonies had to work. His music would suddenly stop. An uncertain silence would hang in the air. And suddenly, the timpani strikes. And the music could continue. He uses this technique over and over again. If one should be forced to summarize his musical contribution to the symphony in one word, that word would the "timpani". It might even be argued that at his climaxes and mini-climaxes, he turrned the entire orchestra into one giant multi-shaped and multi-toned timpani! That might be why in his time, his work was criticized as barbaric. He had exceeded all bounds of social and musical propriety. With his timpanis, he heralded in a new era; the era of romanticism. But not only did he break with tradition in the frequent resort to the timpani to express the force of his emotions, he also broke with the conventional musical form. He gave the sonata form a completely new face and some completely new uses: in his symphonies.On Wednesday evening, I had the chance to hear him again. I was not sorry. The programme of the HKPO that evening was a bit unusual: two of Beethoven's symphonies, his first and his last: a veritable mini Beethoven feast. . And in his last symphony, Beethoven felt that the normal range of musical instruments of the "normal" orchestra would not be sufficient to express the full range of his emotions. He resorted to one final instrument, an instrument which in fact had been the very first musical instrument and the prototype of all other musical sound: the human voice. And what use did he put it to! It was another first and Mahler, was perhaps the last to follow in his footsteps?


Beethoven was just 14 years Mozart's junior. Yet they could not have been more different. To me, Mozart is bit like the Chinese poet Li Bai (李白) and Beethoven a bit like Du Fu (杜甫). Mozart still belonged to what has been called the classical age, with counterpoints, balance, restraints etc. But he introduced a lyrical quality into the music: a kind of innocent and undiluted delight which he somehow intuitively managed to find in life and which he celebrated with his music: as a kind of non-human (but in his operas, also totally human) song. There was a lightness, an almost  dancing quality in his music which one seldom finds in Beethoven. With Beethoven, you find seriousness of purpose, a kind of earnestness which you don't find in Mozart. To me, Beethoven's music is literally "massive". He would use so many instruments together to express his emotions and sometimes, I find that Beethoven treats the strings not as smooth sliding, gliding, silvery and velvelty  sounds but almost as if they were percussive instruments which the players would need to hit, to strike. And you hear this trade-marked massiveness of Beethoven's sound even in his first symphony in C  major (the royal note to which almost all sound must return) . You never hear that kind of sound in any of Mozart's symphonies. There are such contrasts in Beethoven's symphonies. He would make use of the flute, the oboe, clarinet, the horn, and some strings and sometimes even the cello to start a theme or a motif which the whole orchestra would respond to sometimes playing along with and sometimes playing against it but always with a massiveness of sound which often ends with a definitive "chopping off " as if it had been cut by some huge sonic "axe". The No. 1, which was written when Beethoven was 29(!)  was scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns , 2 bassons, 2 trumpets and 5 string sections and of course, the ubiquitous timpani. And right from the fall of the baton, Beethoven stated his main theme in three massive chops. And then the themes are developed, repeated in codas and on and on until it ends,  always with a "bang". In this symphony, Beethoven used the sonata form in the lst, 2nd and 4th movement and used a Menuet for the 3rd movement. There is almost no prelude/introduction  leading in to the developing theme. I do not know why, somehow, I felt that the HKPO was not entirely in form when they started playing this piece ( or was it me?) but it got better and better as it developed. I felt that some of the passages of the first movement could certainly have been played with a less forceful sound. As it was, it felt extremely macho!


The highlight of the evening was of course, the 4th movement of Beethoven's No.9. in D minor, scored for 2 flutes, two obes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cor anglais, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 timpanis, drum cymbal and tubular bell, 2 harps and 5 string sections with 24 violins, 10 violas and 12 cellos and double basses (in Presto and Allegro Assai and 4/4 rhythm. ). I don't think that it is possible that anybody would not have heard of Beethoven's musical rendition of Schiller's Ode to Joy. Beethoven's No. 9 really does not need much introduction. It is famous not without good reason. It is simply magnificent. But I don't think it would have been so magnificent if the HKPO under de Waart (welcome back!) but for the help the HKPO got from that wonderful wonderful Shanghai Opera House Choir under Martin Wright, which I heard for the very first time the night before last. My friend Mr Chu, the boss of Pro Sound in Central said to me after the concert, whilst we were having our usual "after dinner snack" that even if we did not hear anything else that night, hearing that Beethoven's No. 9's fourth movement alone would have been sufficient to make our evening. I can't agree with him more. I do not know whether those who appeared in their very smart uniforms that evening comprised their full number but whether or not it was, they were perfect despite their number. The sound they produced were so synchronized and so vibrant. And they sang with their heart. I could not believe my ears. They were so powerful. And not mechanically so too. I'm so grateful to them. I haven't heard such a good choir for a long time, except on DVD of course. But when you hear it live, it's a completely different story. Not even the best hi fi in the world can ever hope to match a live perfomance, when you can see the choristers, their faces and other details of their body language as they sang right there in front of you. The only thing which separated you from their magnificent sound was the intervening space which was vibrating at that very moment with the sound of their voices, along with those coming from the orchestra. The solos were sung by Susan Bullock  (soprano), Simon O'Neill (tenor) Ning Liang (mezzo-soprano) and Eike Wilm Schulte (bass) excellent singers all. You can hear the earnestness and the eagerness of their joy and their desire for the eternal, in the splendour of unity between Nature and man. It became so palpable, so real, so true. It was glorious. Even now as I write, the sound I heard two nights ago is still reverberating or vibrating inside my brain and I feel I am so fortunate to be able to relive a little, albeit with less intensity, the emotions they evoked in me that evening. Beethoven is simply magnificent. So was the Shanghai Opera House Choir. So was Edo de Warrt.   Thank you all.