Classical music meets classical architecture – Violinist Vadim Tchijik performs a Beethoven at Suffolk House.

Justine must have had an epiphany when she chose Suffolk House as the venue for the classical music concert. Alliance Francaise de Penang under her supervision as director was bringing French violin vituoso Vadim Tchijik to play in Prince of Wales Island, now Penang. He is scheduled to play works from German composer Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, Zoltan Kodaly and Johann Sebastian Bach. The selection of the 19th century Georgian mansion as the venue was brilliant.

Vadim Tchijik obtained his music education at the Tchaikovsky Central Music School in Moscow, National Superior Conservatory of Music in Lyon and the High Consevatory of Music in Cologne.

He was always among the top of his class at each institution. He started learning the violin at the age of 6 and by the time he was 8, gave his first concert. He was a prize winner at the Niccolo Paganini Violin Competition in Genoa and P.I Tchaikovsky in Moscow.

Accompanying Vadim is cellist Fabrice Loyal, an award winner of the Virtuosity Prize from the Geneva Haute Ecole de Musique. He first dabbled in music by playing the piano when he was 5, but discovered his true calling playing the cello. He went on to refine his technique at the Marseille Conservatoire.

Wanting to get the best possible seat and not miss the good stuff when the cocktails were served I showed up an hour early. To pass the time I strolled the compounds of the building. While admiring its colonial architecture I bumped into Justine and His Excellency Marc Barety, Ambassador of France to Malaysia. She was giving a tour of the mansion and briefing the ambassador on its history.

Suffolk House is named after the county in which Captain Francis Light was born – Suffolk, England. A former member of the Royal Navy he came to the Malay Archipelago looking to make a fortune for himself.

In 1786, he succeeded in winning control of an island off the coast of Kedah from her Sultan to start a pepper plantation and take advantage of the lucrative spice trade in Europe. He named the island Prince of Wales Island and the pepper plantation Suffolk Estate.

Japanese soprano Ranko Kurano opened the concert. Having sang with the opera in Europe, Japan and Asia her voice had no problem hitting the high notes with intensity. She skillfully maintained perfect tonal control to create a balanced and sweet singing voice.

The string duet began with a piece by composer Beethoven, 'Duet for violin and cello No.1’. The grand ballroom of Suffolk House with its two-tiered chandelier was packed to the brim with over a hundred guests, all were silenced by the echanting music created by Vadim and Fabrice.

“It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself,” – Johann Sebastian Bach. That was on the concert program book.

On the island, Francis Light did not just find fortune he also found love - from a princess no less. Not wanting to upset the British East India Company, he never declared his marriage to Kedah princess Martina Rozells.

They had 6 children together. One of them a son named William who was born in Kedah and grew up in Suffolk Estate, would one day become a British Army officer fighting Napoleon Bonaparte and later founded Adelaide, Australia.

“Are you learning French?”A lady sitting next to me asked, during intermission.

“No, I am a piano student”

“Oh, all the more reason to be here”she quipped.

We continued to have a wonderful conversation throughout the evening, her name was Leslie James, she was there with her husband, a former Canadian diplomat. They have been avid classical music lovers for years. She even learned the piano for 2 years while they were posted in India.

Looking forward to May, when Alliance Francaise again will be organizing a whole week of musical events during French Music Festival.

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