Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra Rocks

Last week a student of mine invited me to go with him and his “uncle” to see a concert at Mahidol University (“mah-hee-don”), a relatively recently established place, the arts university of Thailand. I thought that it was to be a student presentation, but it turned out to be the very Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra itself. And they were very, very good.

Not that I am a connoisseur or anything, but I like classical music and I’ve heard a certain amount of it, good, bad and indifferent. I know a little bit about the composers, and the various periods of time. The orchestra numbered a little over fifty musicians all together, with a couple of Japanese women playing violin, a couple of Chinese in there somewhere, a couple of Farang sprinkled around, and the remainder being Thai men and women. The conductor on this occasion was a Polish dude, and I say dude advisedly, he was a thirty-seven year old guy with long, flowing hair that he flipped around artfully. He wore a black peasant shirt, maybe because the major piece was Beethoven’s Sixth, “Pastorale,” and his whole look was very Rasputin.

They played a couple of light things to warm up, and then moved into two piano concertos featuring a guest soloist. (One Beethoven, one Chopin.) The piano soloist was an impossibly short, scrawny, twelve-year-old Malaysian kid with hands the size of a Barbie doll’s. Man, was he good. He hit the Beethoven right over the fence, and it was a tough one, Beethoven was quite the show-off, he was, after all, the Jimi Hendrix/John Coltrane of his day. No sheet music either, all memorized. The Chopin piece was also very impressive, but I did get the impression a couple of times that his left hand wasn’t one hundred percent sure what his right hand was doing at that moment. I don’t know if the problem was his or mine, like I said, I’m no expert.

His name was Tongku Ahmed Isfan, you can catch him on You-Tube. His sister and his father were in attendance. His dad looked like a really nice guy, proud as punch.

The First Violinist was a Thai man, not overly young. (The Thai members of the orchestra were generally young, twenties maybe.) His habit was to sometimes check the line of his bow, the same way a pool player might check the line of his cue. I wondered if he really thought that it would suddenly go warped on him, probably it was a nervous habit. He should have been checking his bow-tie, which stood consistently at ten minutes to four o’clock.

My only complaint was the perfume. I’m pretty sure that it was the women in the orchestra, as soon as they came out on stage my nose went on high alert and I got my allergic throat tickle with dry coughing response. We were in the third row, center. I spent the rest of the concert with my handkerchief pressed against my nose and mouth. But one cannot expect the entire world to cooperate with one’s own requirements, so this is not a complaint, not exactly.

The “uncle,” by the way, turned out to be a very nice woman of a certain age. The vocabulary of family relationships can be tough to master. Maybe my student was trying to set me up, he brought a date along for himself. The “uncle” drove us part way, and afterward she took us to her brother’s Vietnamese restaurant.

I’d recommend the orchestra to anybody who likes this kind of thing. I’d recommend the restaurant too, everything was delicious and inexpensive, but I couldn’t tell you the name or exactly where it was. I do remember the “uncle’s” name, but I did not ask for her phone number. I just gave my card, that’s my smooth move. So far it has never come to anything, but one can dream.

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