Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sleep is for the Weak (Warning: Potentially Disturbing)

If death is an eternal sleep, then is suicide for the eternally weak?

As it is, synchronicity is a b@*#(, and a friend and Teamliquid conspired in my finding of this site.

I could say more, but that would just be preemptively putting my other foot in my mouth

 

Here are some quotes that I found particularly poignant:

 

From the above site’s author’s list of suicide notes

Widowed female, age 52 (Her husband died three months before.)

Please tell Ron’s folks I love them very much but my heart breaks when I see or hear from them. Also all our friends especially Irene and Charles and Ella I love them also. Forgive me for not seeing them.

Everyone seems so happy and I am so alone. Amy. I wanted to visit you but I am going around in a dream. Alice I wanted to help you paint but how could I with a broken heart. And my head aches so much any more my nerves are ready to break and what would happen if they did.

You will say I am crazy and I can’t go on this way just half living.

I loved this house once but now it is so full of memories I can’t stay here. I have tried to think of some way to go on but can’t. Am so nervous all the time — I loved Ron too much but is that a sin, with him gone I have nothing. Oh I have the girls and family but they don’t fill the vacant spot left in my heart …

Xmas is coming I can’t go on I’m afraid I would break down. I’ve thought of this so many times. I love every one but I can’t be one of you any more. Please think kindly of me and forgive me. I only hope this is fatal then I can rest and no more trouble to any one. Do with Lisa whats best I know she has been a lot of worry to mama and I’m sorry. I tried to keep the yard up that seemed to be the only comfort I had. I loved it but that wasn’t anything. I’ve lost every thing so why go on. I worshipped Ron and when he went I lost my whole world and everything.

I’m so tired and lonely.

There goes a siren. Oh how can I stand being left. I need to go to a Dr. but I am afraid. I’m so cold.

Mother Love, Louise

Married male, age 45

Dear Claudia,

You win, I can’t take it any longer, I know you have been waiting for this to happen. I hope it makes you very happy, this is not an easy thing to do, but I’ve got to the point where there is nothing to live for, a little bit of kindness from you would of made everything so different, but all that ever interested you was the dollar.

It is pretty hard for me to do anything when you are so greedy even with this house you couldn’t even be fair with that, well it’s all yours now and you won’t have to see the Lawyer anymore.

I wish you would you give my personal things to Danny, you couldn’t get much from selling them anyway, you still have my insurance, it isn’t much but it will be enough to take care of my debts and still have a few bucks left.

You always told me that I was the one that made Sharon take her life, in fact you said I killed her, but you know down deep in your heart it was you that made her do what she did, and now you have two deaths to your credit, it should make you feel very proud.

Good By Kid

P.S. Disregard all the mean things I’ve said in this letter, I have said a lot of things to you I didn’t really mean and I hope you get well and wish you the best of everything.

Cathy — don’t come in.

Call your mother, she will know what to do.

Love

Daddy

Cathy don’t go in the bedroom.

From the 1st page of the website

Some of the stories are tragic. A friend of a friend jumped from a high building and hit a parked car several stories below. She broke most of her bones and punctured several of her inner organs, but didn’t die. Instead she was wheeled, conscious, to the local emergency rom, her most privately conceived act announced to the world by the ambulance siren. She spent the next year in bed, much of it in a hospital ward allocated to critically ill victims of violence, her still suicidal mind the only functioning part of her body.

From the last page of the website

“Anyway, I suspect suicidal people are automatically rescued not for their own sakes, but for the rest of us. A suicide death, unless it is rationally prepared for, devastates. The message of a suicide attempt is often: Death is better than the pain you’ve caused me. And the message doesn’t have to come from someone you know. David Gruder, who directed crisis hotlines, told me about a woman who called up and raved: “I’ve had it. I’m pissed off. I’m killing myself and damned if I’m not to take someone else with me and you, you bastard, are coming. BANG!” She shot herself. And, as it happened, it was the hotline worker’s first call. She went right into a nervous breakdown.

But I believe the main reason a suicide attempt devastates and fascinates us is it reminds us how fragile our own hold on life is. “Here I am struggling along with my problems,” Michael Simpson said, “and here’s a guy who’s given up. Is it possible I’m wrong in bothering so hard to try to live? Once you start discussing suicide you’re asking what the grounds are for killing ourselves. The other side of that question is, ‘What am I living for?’ That’s an ugly question for most of us because we don’t usually know.””

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From Light to Darkness

Scottish Light and Russian Darkness
Dmitri Shostakovich – Festive Overture Op. 96
Max Bruch – Scottish Fantasy Op. 46
Piotr Iylich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’

YST Conservatory Orchestra
Dirigent: Mark Wigglesworth
Soloist: Zuo Jun
Dmitri Shostakovich – Festive Overture Op. 96

The hastily written Festive Overture begot an equally hasty interpretation, with an crystal clear
fanfare setting the stage for a heady race that never looked back. The gamble paid off,
with the winds impressively keeping pace with an enthused string section. Contrasts between the jubilant first theme (lead in by the solo winds) and the passionate second theme (lead in by the cellos) came out clear and intuitive.

Apart from the speed, or perhaps even despite that, the ensemble held mostly true, which probably boosted the irony that Shostakovich probably intended in this extremely joyful sounding work.

Perhaps this author is assuming too much and Shostakovich was simply writing a suitable overture simply for the sake of it, although “some commentators have suggested that the work secretly celebrates the death of Stalin the year before (1953).” (Source: Wikipedia). The programme notes also suggested that Shostakovich had treated the work not as light music, but as serious music, as evidenced by a personal account.

Trivia: The Festive Overture is “apparently based on Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla overture” and was written, by different accounts (or legends), within “three days” to a single night.
(Author’s Note: Yes NUSSO, the resemblance is uncanny =P)

Max Bruch – Scottish Fantasy Op. 46

A very clean and polished rendition by Zuo Jun followed. The clarity came through with the Camillo Camilli from the Rin collection, but was somewhat compromised by its lack in unabashed sonority in the large Esplanade Concert Hall.

The immense difficulty of coordination with a front-placed harp was made apparent in the opening movement, although this improved and by the last movement, ensemble was more or less spot on. The orchestra was generally sensitive and realised the strong folk character of the work, whilst maintaining a good degree of ensemble with the violin-and-harp duo.

This small hiccup (accompanied by a slight untuning of the instrument between the middle movements which precipitated some out-of-tune double stops) did little to the stylistically rich lines and daredevil runs, which carried across the hall with unmuted precision.

The audience could barely wait to leap at the first opportunity for applause.

For dessert, Zuo Jun played “Bach” (as described in his words), the Sicillienne from the 1st Solo Sonata in G Minor. It was a more space-y and articulated interpretation than this author usually assumes it to sound, but lent authenticity and nostalgia and fit the sound profile of the Italian instrument.

Trivia: Camilli’s design of instruments was influenced by Pietro Guarneri.

Piotr Iylich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’

One of Tchaikovsky’s darkest (if not the darkest of his) works, the 6th stands in sharp contrast to the triumphant 5th (that NUSSO recently attempted last month). If the 5th is a progression from darkness into light, then the 6th probably outlines the hopelessness of life, approximating the reverse progression.

The stuttering, wailing 1st movement was brought to life, the seasickness-inducing hairpins doing their very best to unsettle and tug at invisible heartstrings. Some awkward moments ensued during the accompanying rubato but the raw sound and overall direction prevailed in this extremely long (almost 20-minute long) instalment. The pain portrayed was palpable, with an incessantly gripping intensity, without being too emotionally loaded at points, punctuating and lending more momentum to the appassionato outbursts whenever they happened. Sometimes, well-placed subtlety can be more powerful as a tear-jerker.

The lovely 2nd movement seems to reflect the teenager’s youthful enthusiasm and infatuation with potential lovers and life itself. From first-person accounts, Wigglesworth apparently emphasised extremes (in dynamics), which manifested beautifully in this heavily voiced and contoured movement. His embracing strokes during the second surging-and-ebbing theme seemed to play out as the Liebeslied part of love, against the Liebesfreud-esque opening theme.

The unstoppable momentum seen in the Festive Overture returned with a vengeance, setting the musicians once again on the adrenaline-tipped edge of a seemingly victorious march. All’s well ends well, however, with the rushed tempo seeming to strengthen the suggestion that this movement was but an elaborate, albeit grandiose, joke, that also garnered a rousing bout of applause in its “false ending”. Perhaps reflective of one who has attained success, the Scherzo-ish beginning and March-like triumphant ending might be telling of the frivolity humans usually assume when deciding and declaring the success of others. A couple of small slips by the brasses did nothing to the unstoppable juggernaut that was the 3rd, penultimate movement.

My current favourite movement, if only because of a masochistic streak, comes in the form of alternating cries of lamentation and brooding emo-ness (as modern terminology would have it). The “resolving” theme in major mode also seemed to be more of a eulogy than an expression of happiness. The considerable, and unrestrained, musicality of the strings (some of whom I heard in quartet and chamber settings) brought out the struggle and suffering already inherent in the harmonies and lines to the limelight. The final vestiges of the growls of the bass instruments faded to silence, and it was an almost breathless wait for the first signs of applause to emanate from the enthralled audience.

Trivia: Tchaikovsky wrote a failed 6th that was posthumously named the 7th Symphony. Themes and movements were reworked into other pieces by Bogatyryov and Taneyev.

P.S. Only one clip embedded for the sake of brevity – one of Heifetz’s 招牌曲 (trademarks) was the Scottish Fantasy.

Useful for those who know of Heifetz as a “cold” and infallible musician, although his mistakes made here are probably more attributable to age than anything else.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIGZtQpBkOQ]

Extra Note on Concert Etiquette

‎”Had part of the hall been enveloped in that damp, choking sea mist, known as the Haar, which affects the eastern fringes of Scotland? Or was the coughing the audience’s way of expressing their contempt for the scandalous omission from the programme book of a single mention of one of the brightest stars of the performance, harpist Bryan Lee?”

– Marc Rochester

Indeed, the audience was downright atrocious that day, and that was not limited to the dozens of secondary-school and younger students in the hall (or might I say, crowd). I heard accounts from friends that adults were sleeping, while a few to my right were chatting animatedly in their native tongue, amongst joke-mongering by youthful students on my left, in-between-movement clapping and forced expirations by their compatriots behind them, and their amused schoolmates hitting their heads on the wood tips of the chairs when they threw their heads back in laughter.

I was only tickled by the very last occurrence.

Trio: Finale

25 March 2012

Take 5
Piano Quintet Series Concert VIII 

Ottorino Respighi – Piano Quintet in F minor (1902)
Allegro
Andantino (attaca)
Vivacissimo

Bela Bartok – Piano Quintet in C Major (1904)
Andante – Allegro molto
Vivace (Scherzando)
Adagio molto
Vivace 

Ottorino Respighi – Piano Quintet in F minor

The eclectic mix of Piano Quintets drew this author to this concert despite it being in close proximity on the calendar to the due date to his (as of then yet unfinished) set of 6 lab reports. Respighi (famed for Pines of Rome – see previous post) and Bartok (known for his Concerto for Strings, as well as Viola and Violin Concertos) seldom come first to mind when Piano Quintets are discussed, especially when compared to staples e.g. Brahms, Schumann, Dvorak.

(Note: Please forgive the author if mistakes were made – this was his first impression of both pieces)

Lim Shue Churn

Opening with a string tutti, Respighi minces no words in entering the first theme, made all the more fiery by the sheer composition of the Take Five. Tightly following the wave of sound is the pianoforte, threading in the next theme. The theme returns in the middle, perhaps slightly subdued, before the ~10 minute long interplay. A short, sweet, afterthought of a second movement gave way to a lively Vivaccisimo helmed by an undulating piano line. Foo Say Ming’s trademark detache and exuberant character was infectious, and a short harkening back to the slow movement did little to break the momentum leading up to a highly strung finish.

Foo Say Ming

The distilled intensity and unerring holding of the melodic lines did Respighi’s lyricism more than justice, combined with a widely varied dynamic range and tonal palette. Dialogue was almost candid (which may not be untrue to real life), with Lim Yan’s gentlemanly cues and the near-electric eye contact among the strings.

Lim Yan

-I-N-T-E-R-M-I-S-S-I-O-N-

Bela Bartok – Piano Quintet in C Major 

Despite being described (anecdotally) as “almost like a concerto”, presumably in difficulty and relentlessness (of the Violin 1 part), the resultant full-bodied high notes and general unwavering endurance imbued the late romanticism of Bartok with contained fervour that drove it through it’s 40 minute course. Bartok’s signature style did not feature prominently in this rather Romantic work, with the only hint of what was to follow in the strained harmonic relationship between C Major and F# Minor. The expansive first movement, kitchsy waltz-march schizo-scherzo, tense adagio, and relentlessly labourious-but-boisterous finale was pleasantly balanced with (or in fact weighted towards) familiar consonance towards which dissonance resolved. Despite signs of tiring in the (almost 9-minute long) last movement, the quintet redoubled their efforts towards the final resounding restatement in a triumphant C Major chord.

(Note: the C-F# relationship brought to mind Petrushka, which has CM-F#M chords played simultaneously)

Chan Yoong Han

From the moment pianist Lim Yan strode onstage with two scordatura-ed violins (played during the slow 3rdmovement) till the final chords, Bartok did not, indeed, fail to impress.

Chan Wei Shing

The quintet intensely adhered to an ensemble born of years of collaboration and dedication to chamber music and classical music in general. An individually stellar group, Take Five put in far more than what was expected, and reaped the golden aural rewards for their physical, temporal and emotional input.

Photographs Courtesy of Andrew Bi Qiang

P.S. I had to consult the recordings extensively to write the descriptive parts of this little article. They are shown below. It is unfortunate that these recordings one of the only (if not the only) ones available to the public.

Respighi:

Bartok:

Trio: Encore

30 March 2012

Russian Extravaganza
Alexander Glazunov – Les Ruses d’amour (Ballet)
Dmitri Shostakovich – Cello Concert No.1 in E-flat major Op.107
Sergei Prokofiev – Scythian Suite

Dirigent: Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Soloist: Jan Vogler

So this author went for his 2nd dose of Rozhdestvensky + SSO virtually on impulse, deciding immediately after watching the first one. Due to a very interesting “feature”, Sistic disallowed booking of 2 adjacent seats when there were 3 available, and thus we ended up a AA 92 – the right-front-most region of Circle 2. Whatever concerns over neck craning and sound imbalance were dispelled when we realised that it was prime position, providing a view from right above Rozhdestvensky.

 

Alexander Glazunov – Les Ruses d’amour (Ballet)

In an approximate inverse of the Overture-Concerto-Symphony template, the ballet took off with little pomp. Its length did little to the rich texture and range of expression, such that this author, who was certain of falling asleep somewhere in the middle of the concert, had little to worry about in that aspect. The SSO sounded that much more organic, and, driven by the slick strokes of the conductor, maintained an airtight ensemble that did nothing to downplay the incredible tone palette displayed on this night. The Farandole helped to liven up the mood just in time for the aptly named Grande Valse, “in which Damis expresses his true love for Isabella whatever her station in life” (in Marc Rochester’s Words). After that “dramatic highlight” came the musical and emotional climax – the violin and cello duet, featuring Ng Pei Sian and Alexander Souptel in an intense dialogue worthy of new lovers in their honeymoon phase. A rousing but apt finale rounded up the 50 minute musical high tea buffet.

On a lighter note, in the middle of one of the movements, perhaps the Farandole, Rozhdestvensky’s baton flew (rather gracefully might I add) out of his grasp, to which he did nothing more than continue for two beats without a baton, and in one smooth motion worthy of a master-level sleight-of-hand, produced another (shorter) baton and proceeded with the upbeat to the next measure.

It seems that “Love’s Trickery” did not fail to please both musically and magically.

Looks like no one decided to upload even an excerpt of this rather brilliant specimen of a ballet, so here’s a filler depicting my thoughts on that unfortunate omission.

 

Dmitri Shostakovich – Cello Concert No.1 in E-flat major Op.107

The cello concerto brought mixed reactions, especially among the cellists. I, for one, had little if no conception of it. Vogler gave a direct, almost no-frills interpretation that was characterised by short choppy strokes on the repeated notes. The slow movement was much more lush and heartfelt, and, allowing me wide berth for assumptions, given the nature of his instrument the tone suited it readily. 7 minutes of a distilled, extended cadenza followed, and delivered with nail-biting intensity. A combination of the sheer technical demands, the nature of his instrument, and possibly the weight of Rostropovich’s legacy (the piece was dedicated to him) caused a few slips, and noticeable disappointment towards the end of the titanic cadenza. The final movement went ahead with full velocity, but robbed of some momentum over the previous one, and despite the solo instrument being nearly drowned out towards the end, the giant of entire cello repertoire was brought to a relentless finish.

Vogler gave an encore of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G major.


“Shostakovich should have marked the score ‘for Slava (Rostropovich) only.” – Citation needed.

Vogler with SSO:

P.S. Just for fun – can’t believe this is available on youtube:

 

Sergei Prokofiev – Scythian Suite

Originally designed to recreate (or better) the riot caused by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite was a veritable 20 minute long roller coaster in a concert hall (or as some would put it, canned whoopass).  The orchestra enters in a fast and furious explosion – at this time the author is has just listened to Respighi’s Pines of Rome and is currently listening to this piece, and notices with some irony how similar both works’ opening salvoes are. The wonderful cacophony (or, technically, dissonances) and dialogue lucidly materialised, with Rozhdestvensky giving his trademark hand signals as though he was part of the main orchestra. After an eerie third movement, the raucous finale offered only a brief respite, before mounting into an epic anticlimax consisting of an over-laboured final “chord”.


 

Addendum: This concert may be Alexander Souptel’s last as concertmaster of SSO, if his contract is not renewed.