An Afternoon of Classical Piano Songs by Composers Haydn, Schubert and Lizst

About 3 months ago, a primetime news programme on a local television network ran a story about a music academy in Surrey, England. Twenty piano students from Malaysia some as young as 12, were attending a special piano course.

They were chosen to participate after going through a rigourous and competitive selection process.

The man who made it all possible was Malaysian born concert pianist Bobby Chen. Wanting to help in the development of talented young Malaysians, he is leading a project called the Overseas Piano Academy for Malaysian Musical Proteges.

Bobby, Me and a Borsendorfer Grand Piano

At the academy, those lucky few who were chosen will be able to enrich their musical training and tap into the roots of their own culture by using ethnic sounds to create new music.

Last week while surfing the web, I found out that Bobby was going to be in town for a lecture recital. Tickets were only for about 17 dollars. Fortunately classical music is still an under appreciated art in Penang so it was easy to get them.

I still think the organizers could have done a better job to promote the event to the public, like advertising it in the newspaper or something, the only reason I learned about it was because I was researching material on the internet for an article.

On a warm Sunday afternoon, in my hometown there he was in the flesh, sitting in front of a Borsendorfer grand piano.

Bobby began to work his magic with a composition from Haydn, ‘Sonata Hob XVI: 50 in C Major’.

As the music flooded the expansive space of the auditorium hall, it was clear we were about to witness something special. The heightened suspense from the anticipation caused a shiver to race down my spine, the effect was also apparent on the rest of the crowd as they listened intently, eyes closed - the seduction was complete. He had us.

The next work on the programme was from Schubert. Before he began performing, Bobby talked about how Schubert was such a prolific composer. All he did was wrote music.

Schubert wrote almost 1000 compositions. These include seven symphonies, 21 sonatas and short dances. He did not limit his work to just writing piano solos either, he left behind a rich treasure trove of compositions for piano duet as well. Additionally, 30 chamber works and five operas survived to this day and are performed frequently by pianists worldwide.

A fine example is ‘Sonata D. 537, Op. 164 in A Minor’. The passion for piano music one should feel is on display through Bobby’s facial expressions and body language as he tickled those ivories on the Borsendorfer openly from the heart.

I wanted to get a photo of him in deep concentration while playing so I moved to the front row with camera in hand. Just as I was about to press the shutter, I felt a tap on my shoulder from behind. A man with a rather angry face gestured to me with his hand, shook his head and said “ No photos while playing !.” I had to walk sheepishly back to my seat.

Despite the minor setback my spirits were about to be lifted up again with Lizst’s ‘Ballade No.2 in B Minor S.171’ and ‘Deux Legendes S.175’. Dex Legendes or 2 Legends in English tells the stories of two Christian saints, St. François d'Assise who preached to the birds, and St. François de Paule who walked on water.

Franz Lizst was emotionally devastated after the death of his daughter Blandine in 1862. He turned to God to sooth his pain and was inspired by the legend of the saints resulting in his creation of the solemn chorale melody of ‘Deux Legendes’.

As it turned out if you keep applauding, the pianist will come out again to play a few more songs. Bobby came out again twice. Generous and modest, he was more than happy to please our insatiable yearning for more.

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