Classics Triumph

For five days, classical music connoisseurs in Johor Baru were taken on a musical journey by world-class musicians in the JB Classical Music Festival.

The Sutera Ensemble performing Camera Sutera, an
Evening of Musical Snapshots
Organised by the Johor Society for the Performing Arts (JSPA) under the Johor Baru International Festival City initiative, the festival from June 15 to 19 was held in four venues in and around the city for performances, talks, competitions and masterclasses.  The festival aimed to introduce world-class talents to JB and introduce JB’s aspiring musicians to the world.

Main sponsor, R & F Princess Cove, hosted the first show in its elegant sales gallery at Tanjung Puteri. 

My Ladye Loves, a musical narrative commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, was presented by Charivari Agreable with Professor Datuk Dr Ng Kah-Ming on harpsichord, songs and recitals by Isobel Collyer and Layil Barr on recorder and viola. 

D'Addario artist Sara Guerrero performing
passionately on her Spanish guitar
This elegant evening was graced by Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah and the festival’s royal patron, the Johor princess, Tunku Tun Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Ibrahim.

“People always say that classical music is old and outdated, but good music doesn’t have an expiration date,” said the festival’s content curator, Jonathan Oh.  The performances and events over the next three days were held at the auditorium of Afiniti Medini and the Mall of Medini at Iskandar Puteri.

Oh, who plays the cello, is a member of the Sutera Ensemble, with violinist Angel Lee, pianist Loo Bang Hean and Dr Andrew Filmer on viola.  This group of musicians set themselves apart not only as performers but also as educators and communicators. 

Their presentation of Camera Sutera – an Evening of Musical Snapshots, was particularly enjoyable as they connected with the audience with an interesting, informative and often hilarious, commentary by Filmer.

Duo Aliada presented New Colours of the Past
Fans of the Spanish guitar were serenaded by Sara Guerrero with a repertoire of seven pieces in Saudades Y Danzas.  She captivated the audience with her renditions of pieces by Roland Dyens, Manuel Maria Ponce, Jose Luis Merlin and Joaquin Rodrigo.  Her set ended with clean, beautiful tones and colours in Joaquin Malats’ Serenata Espanola – a rich, powerful composition with anger, sadness and impotence as well as celebration.

The audience was moved by the music by Vienna-based Duo Aliada, which displayed great potential in the unique combination of two somewhat neglected instruments – the saxophone with the accordion. 

Malaysian musicians in Ensemble Virama with soprano,
Tan Sin Sim (centre) singing the solo part of Mahler's
heart-breaking Songs of a Wayfarer
In New Colours of the Past, Michal Knot on saxophone and Bogdan Laketic on accordion, presented a new approach to classical music in a risky but exciting show.  Knot clarified that he was playing the soprano sax, an instrument that was often mistaken for a clarinet, and explained the similarities of the saxophone and accordion, which produced sound using the same principle, that was via air.

On the fourth night of the festival, Ensemble Virama presented Vienna, Vienna, Vienna – Arnold Schoenberg’s Vienna, with Lim Soon Heng as narrator. 

The theme of love was effectively portrayed in each piece: Love of friendship in Strauss, loss of love in Mahler and love as forgiveness in Schoenberg.   After soprano, Tan Sin Sim, sang the solo part of G. Mahler’s heart-breaking Songs of a Wayfarer with passion, the ensemble concluded their performance with a soaring interpretation of Johann Strauss’ beautiful Kaiser Walzer or Emperor Waltz.

Conductor Ciaran McAuley led the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra while guest soloist, Florent Audibert,
performed Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B.191
On the final night of the festival held at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) made its long-awaited return to JB and played to a full house graced by royal patron, Tunku Tun Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Ibrahim

Conductor, Ciaran McAuley, led the MPO in a repertoire of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov and closed the festival on a high note with guest soloist, Florent Audibert, who performed Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B.191.

“The strong support from fans of classical music is very encouraging and I’m sure we will have another classical music festival,” said JSPA founder, Yap Siong Cheng, after the show.  

Meanwhile, the next arts festival in JB is the Indigenous Festival in August which promises an exciting array of performances, exhibitions and workshops.

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 13 July 2016

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