[music/quasi-review] Andras Schiff in Beijing’s NCPA, his Bösendorfer, and impressions of a Beijing audience

I had the opportunity of seeing the great Andras Schiff at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing on Saturday, 8 June 2013. To know of Mr. Schiff is to know of his prowess in playing and interpreting Bach and Beethoven; in fact, the first recordings of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues I ever listened to were from the magic hands of Mr. Schiff. As officially written in the concert program, Mr. Schiff played Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, Beethoven’s Waldstein, Bartok’s sonata, and Beethoven’s Appassionata. As encores, Mr. Schiff graciously gifted us with five encores: Schumann, Chopin, and Bach.

Mr. Schiff's Bösendorfer.

Mr. Schiff’s Bösendorfer.

Being quite nerdy myself, I prepared all the scores to read along as he played. What staggered me most about Mr. Schiff’s playing was his ability to create melodic lines that sang– especially this one passage in which the melody was played entirely by his right hand’s thumb as his top four fingers played accompaniment. The thumb is the most powerful out of all our fingers, and very often, without sufficiently controlling it, it can produce very heavy-handed sounds. Coupled with this amazing technical ability, Mr. Schiff had the incredible sense of knowing what line to emphasize and what to accent, and what would gently murmur in the background or serve as an answer. His understanding of the music is first-rate, and I very much appreciated the intellectual vigor that he imparted to the performance. Everything was precise and deliberate.

Nonetheless, when Mr. Schiff played the large chordal climaxes, he excitedly stomped his feet on the ground or even more disturbing, on the pedals. Of course, I do like it when pianists show their enthusiasm but then sometimes I felt that the stomp distracted and interfered with the diffusion of the chord. Gould has his humming, I suppose Schiff has his stomping. The other issues I had with the performance may be attributed to the piano itself and perhaps even the construction of the performance hall.

This piano concert was the first one I have ever heard played on a Bösendorfer. Having grown up in the United States, I have played and listened to mostly Steinways, and so I looked forward to hearing a Bösendorfer. I had previously heard that the bass on a Bösendorfer was deep and rich– Mr. Schiff was playing Beethoven, and a grumpy composer always requires that resonant bass. While the bass did thunder, it was not clear, especially when he played in the lower register. It seemed like an endless murmur, growl, or whatever Mr. Schiff intended, but I could never pick up the individual notes very well. In Beethoven, despite a tendency towards the lush colors of Romanticism in his later works, clarity of tone is very much key, however thundering it is. The treble half of the keyboard stood in contrast with the bass, it was bright and clear, but unless coaxed a great deal, without sparkling and warmth. Because of this, Bösendorfers are suited to minutely cut pieces that requires technical precision, dexterity and a sensitive touch– exactly Mozart. Immediately after the concert, I googled Bösendorfers and found that the nearly universal opinion is that they are good for small venues and early composers, up until Mozart. That could explain why some of the Bosendorfer’s sound was so lost upon the large hall; it could not project well and it was frequently muddy.

I refuse to believe that Mr. Schiff cannot play with clarity– his Bach encore proved otherwise– the limitations of the hall and piano must have some part in the explanation. If Mr. Schiff were to return with his Bösendorfer to Alice Tully Hall for a program of Bach, I’d surely be in the front rows. Overall, Mr. Schiff gave a tolerable concert in Beijing, displaying exquisite musicianship despite the challenges of performing under those circumstances.

Besides my first time listening to a Bösendorfer in concert, this was my first concert with a mostly Chinese audience as well. Very often, the audience would not wait for the finishing silence before clapping– this is one of my biggest pet peeves. The brief moment of silence is still part of the piece, and until the artist has taken their hands off their instrument or let out a breath, you should not clap. Moreover, during the last encore, a Prelude and Fugue, someone started awkwardly clapping after the Prelude and abruptly stopped. It was quite a pity, because Mr. Schiff had phrased the cadence so much like a question that even I could not help thinking, “Was that really the end? It can’t be!”

Mr. Schiff heading back to play an encore.

Mr. Schiff heading back to play an encore.

After a brief bout, I did not clap for Waldstein, because some of it got on my nerves. My mother continued to clap along with the enthusiastic audience, and she asked me, “Why aren’t you clapping?” Later reflecting on this seemingly inconspicuous statement, I suspect that the Chinese clap because of his reputation and wanting to appear ‘knowledgeable’ about the music and performance etiquette, for the most part not considering how he had actually played. In the end, the Chinese audience showered him with over seven final rounds of applause. This was quite shocking to me as I have seen so many musicians with stellar performances in which most audiences applauded them for less than five times, sometimes without ovation– Leif Oves Andnes, Yo-yo Ma, the Emerson String Quartet, among a few. Additionally, the Chinese audience was sly; they did not give him a standing ovation for the first two encores. When Mr. Schiff returned for a third encore, I thought to myself, he probably means to keep going until he gets an ovation– which he did achieve. His fourth piece was a Bach, and after that I could have lain prostrate at his feet– I stood and clapped and screamed like a terrible fangirl when he headed to play the last Prelude and Fugue encore.

Mr. Schiff, at 59, is still hale. I hope to see him once again.

[kpop] best rookie groups 2012

This very biased selection is based on quality of members–mostly dance and singing, but looks are considered as well, debut track(s), and live performances.

EXO was easily the most anticipated group to debut this year. Though not of epic proportions, their tracks are slickly produced and the groups are well-balanced with many talented individuals in each. At any rate, their debut was more solid than f(x), Super Junior, and even, SNSD. If SM plays their cards right, 2013 could be a very large year for EXO.

NU-EST played their cards extremely well, despite holding a few weak cards. A well-written debut song, one of the first to capitalize on the ‘new’ europop invasion, and including one very intriguing member, Ren. Dancing and lives are unspectacular though, and the shock of a pretty face will not last forever.

Regarding true singing talent, Lunafly and Busker Busker, in this respect, are both promising.

I hesitate to include BAP, but I see way too many BAP fans around me to think of them as a minor rookie group. They did have a nice, unified concept in debut; but alas, their track to me was stuck in the 2005, way too brassy and heavy, trying out a 2PM concept that barely fit.

A.cian‘s whole debut album is a beautifully crafted imitation of europop. That’s about it. Due to the constantly changing nature of kpop, I doubt they will release a europop album like this next time– if there is a next time.

Like A.cian, Cross Gene delivered an amazingly crafted imitation of europop for their debut. The facts that they have Japanese, Chinese, and Korean members and released simultaneously in Japanese and Korean are very nice bonuses. Another great bonus? Their live singing is A-OK (but please hire another choreographer).

Rounding out the last of the europop imitators, we have A-JAX. Someone fetch them a new stylist.

[kpop/wtf] for an English exam in China, the teacher had students complete a paragraph on SHINee …


The day I need SHINee to motivate my learning will be the day I commit seppuku.

[kpop/rumor] quick SHINee Japan debut update –UPDATED WITH CONCEPT RUMORS & HAIR PICTURES! TAEMIN DOES NOT HAVE MUSHROOM!

If everything’s still on schedule, factoring in the natural disasters and subsequent fallout, SHINee is on track to debut in June (instead of previously slated March). Right now, their tracks are in the middle of being mastered.

I’ve been hearing some rumors of a Japanese Replay. Not cool. New music, please. And what about the fact that all five members studied Chinese before debuting? Where are these Chinese skills now?! Why ignore the one billion people market like so?!

Speaking of which, $125 million in combined earnings from JYP, SM, and YG for 2010 is kind of paltry.. I first thought they had gotten the number wrong, because Britney Spears, just one artist, had gross concert box office receipts of over $130 million in 2010, and makes around $64 million a year total. Therefore, I would think that SM with SNSD, Super Junior, DBSK, BoA–all artists fanatically popular in Asia–would at least match one Britney Spears.

UPDATE: new hairstyles

Jonghyun does not look too different (this was a picture from his surprise birthday party), so I don’t think it’ll be his final hairstyle. However, Onew and Minho have gone back to a somewhat Juliette look. People are saying that it doesn’t suit Minho, but actually, I like Minho as younger. He is always the bastion of SHINee manliness, so I think it’s refreshing, rather than a regression.

Taemin. They gave him a Jonghyun. YES FINALLY NO MORE UGLY MUSHROOM. Now he automatically looks more manly, which I am excited about. As I’ve said in so many fangirl rants, I get frustrated that SHINee always milks such a waifish image. I will have to hold judgment on Key.

I am sort of skeptical that Onew and Minho have their final hairstyles, because generally, SM is very secretive about this. Leading up to Lucifer, all of them were wearing baseball caps, and you can see the Key and Taemin pictures here are very, very blurry.

Apparently the rumored concept is of all the members as different artists– Taemin: dancer, Key: fashion designer, Onew: painter, Jonghyun: singer, Minho: athlete. They all make sense except for Onew. Why is Onew a painter? Er. If anyone’s shown an inclination to that, it would be Key with his art exhibition. Second question, why do they have to be artists? Can’t Onew be that nerd valedictorian in school? Considering how dorky Onew’s personality is already, and Japanese culture, I don’t think it would that much of a leap.. I for one, would probably fangirl Onew even harder.

Rejoice! Taemin may have finally graduated from mushroom/androgynous hair!

[kpop] New Asian girl group, ‘Blush,’ to have Filipino, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese members! FLAGRANT DIVERSITY! YES!

Really, when I read the news, I was excited. Like ^o^ excited. I am never ^o^ excited. I am rarely ^^, so ^o^ is pretty strong!

Diversity is beautiful! ^^

Lowdown:

  1. ‘Blush’ will focus on singing English. This means they definitely are focusing on a global audience.
  2. Even though they will focus on English, each member will get a chance to sing in her native language as the main vocalist. This is so fair! I’m crying of excitement! Though Korean groups are featuring Chinese trainees more and more, they rarely get to sing Chinese. Furthermore, the concept of one group ruling the Philippines, India, China, Korea, and Japan is tantalizing to budding-dictator-Michelle.
  3. They are in L.A. right now, doing collaborations. This definitely definitely means they are shooting for the world; hopefully their talent is up to par. Sorry to break you out of your denial, but all the good music that South Korea copies is being made in the US.
  4. ‘Blush’ will not be using auto-tune. There. They said it upfront. They are not using auto-tune. This is a jibe at the kpop industry, which auto-tunes anything and everything and during live performances, you can never be sure if they aren’t just lip-syncing. Auto-tune is for pretty-face-idols, not for hardcore Pan-Asia superstars! Obviously.
  5. ‘Blush’ will debut in 3-4 months, and before their debut, a reality show will be aired, documenting their progress. I’m very interested in this, because unless they all having a working knowledge of English, how will these girls work together? Live together? How will their cultures collide and collaborate?

FarWest Entertainment has definitely got me interested and excited. However, this company, though sleek, looks somewhat green, and though S.M. Entertainment is a slave plantation (see DBSK), it’s established, and it knows what works. And S.M. works spectacularly. Anyone seen SNSD’s Visual Dreams? I think I’m going to have incubi tonight.

To follow Blush, visit ProjectLotus.tv.

[lifestyle] Amy Chua and my theory on good parenting

If you haven’t been living under a rock buried beneath Jurassic era sediment, you have at least heard of Amy Chua’s controversial book on parenting: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and the infamous excerpt, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” that was published in the Wall Street Journal. In it, she details draconian measures for raising her children: never allowing playdates or allowing them to watch TV, always demanding perfect grades, and dishing out insults—techniques that have both won her praise and criticism.

Personally, I believe Ms. Chua jumped the gun; it’s too early to say that her children are “successful”, because they are still minors, and far too early to say that her parenting is what has effected this success. Since her techniques aren’t exactly abusive (come on, yuppies, you’ve never been insulted once by your parents?), and as the NYTimes article pointed out, her daughters do have social lives replete with sleepovers and boyfriends. Overall, it’s too soon to evaluate Ms. Chua’s parenting techniques.

As a product of the pressure-cooker that is Chinese mothering, I read this excerpt with interest, but my enthusiasm rapidly petered out for two reasons: (1) I resent that she characterized her parenting as “Chinese” (2) the achievement of her daughters seemed centered on a Carnegie Hall debut. Though the sentiments she described—parents demanding perfect grades because they believe their child is capable, that children owe their parents everything, parents know best—are definitely Chinese cultural values, the way in which she applies them is not in a Chinese manner at all. How she uses these values to hardline her parenting are affected by her personal circumstances: her prestigious education, workaholic personality, and her parents’ immigrant status (for further clarification, read on). Furthermore, implying that the Chinese method raises more successful children is ridiculous considering that Chinese college graduates are having more trouble than ever finding white collar jobs. Also, from personal observation, I’ll tell you a secret: for every talented Chinese-American student that gets A’s in everything, there are twenty average Chinese-American students, who take honors classes anyway but get B’s and C’s. For every Chinese-American kid that gets into Columbia, forty Chinese-American kids go to Rutgers. The point is, Chinese parenting is like every other culture’s parenting: mostly average yellows, and a few truly dazzling, Class O, blue-white stars (yes this was an extremely nerdy astronomy reference).

Secondly, I do not mean to look down upon people who debut at Carnegie Hall, but I know several children who have debuted at Carnegie Hall, and at younger ages than Ms. Chua’s daughter. It’s not that I’m friends with an uncommonly large number of prodigies, but the people that I know that have debuted at Carnegie Hall are nothing to make a fuss over. They are not valedictorians, they have lax parents, they are lazy potatoes, and sometimes you think that they could care less about music.

However, there is still an Asian-American Whiz Kid stereotype, and this excerpt got me thinking again why this stereotype persists, because to some extent, it is true, for when Asian-Americans turn out to be prodigies, they fly high—for example, the only graduates from my high school to attend MIT, Harvard, and Princeton have all been Asian. I have been developing an informal theory on good parenting, based on the successful sons and daughters that truly inspire me. I believe good parents are: (1) educated (2) financially stable (3) attentive. Education makes parents aware of the opportunities available for their children, the finances help the children achieve these opportunities, and the attention fosters positive growth because of these opportunities achieved.

Immigrants from Asia tend to be more educated than the average American, because unless you live underneath a rock in Hades, you know that America actually restricts immigration.* Educated Asians have the best chance of gaining permanent residence, because they would be able to contribute greatly to the American economy. Moreover, higher education means higher salaries—my neighborhood is proof of that, where 70% of residents are Asian, it is highly likely that both spouses have Masters or PhDs, and houses cost upwards of $700,000. Moreover, as immigrants with few ties to America, Asian-Americans are more pressured to find their “American Dream” and subsequently may consciously or unconsciously pass this pressure onto their children. This pressure, coupled with the Chinese nosiness and “children-owe-us-everything” notion makes for attentive parents. So there we go, the perfect Asian-American cocktail of good parenting: high education, financial stability, and attentiveness. When just the right amounts are mixed together, they result in something truly spectacular, something that even white people can attest to, like Bill Gates, son of a banker and lawyer; Mark Zuckerberg, the son of a dentist and psychiatrist; Steve Jobs, son of a therapist and political science professor.

Michelle-Asian-Mother-Mode: "You no be like Taemin! Study until you brain fried and tasty for test and SAT!! 2400 2400 2400!!!"

Yet, this Asian-American cocktail often manifests itself into scream fests and thoughts of suicide and shocking (to Western audiences, at least) cases of parenting like Amy Chua. These are the extreme cases, though I know that a majority of Asians who feel they have been scarred by their demanding, relentless, nagging parents. I admit that I felt this way about my mother, who actually threatened to disown me if I supported a free Tibet, or even remained neutral on the subject (Ignorant 10th Grader Michelle: “er.. yay Chinese Tibet.. I guess?”). The other night I asked my mother about Amy Chua, and I was babbling something like,

Michelle: “Thank god you never used those techniques!”

My mother: “I wish I did.”

Michelle: “What?!”

My mother: “She just wants her kids to have a stable life with plenty of money and a good job. What mother doesn’t want that?”

Then my mother went to bed.

That really shut me up. It’s so hard to believe that your parents want the best for you when they’re being so goddarned annoying and intrusive, but beneath all that abrasive Asian pressure, they’re a big pile of squish. This does not marginalize any of the suffering Asian children have gone through, but sometimes, sometimes, it helps to remember that.

——————

*Of course, the US hasn’t been doing well at restricting Latin Americans from jumping the fence. Fun fact: the Border Patrol was established in the 1900s to keep Chinese immigrants from crossing the border, because of the US’s racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Of course it would be the Chinese, and not the Koreans or Japanese. The Chinese.

I would also like to note that my theory on parenting is in no way professional, from any point of view, just personal experience. These are just my own thoughts, and not something empirical. Also, I’m not a parent myself, so I don’t make any claims that my theory is valid.

[kpop] Chinese shawol’s fan account of SHINee post-concert celebration, several disturbing observations

20 July 2011 edit: I’ve been getting a little bit of flack for the OnewAcne/Harvard/Yale joke I made and how condescending I sound in the  comments.. I apologize, but at the same time, I won’t be redacting anything. If it struck you as fobby and nouveau riche, that’s exactly what it is.. Asians in converging countries such as S. Korea place such high value on the prestige of your college (the ultimate holy grail being Harvard). That’s the joke. Also.. I understand how condescending I can seem, that’s just how my writing is.. you can see this throughout this blog. Somehow, I feel if I included a smiley face at the end, we wouldn’t be having this problem. At the same time, I also mentioned I have the same problem. I wouldn’t want you to judge me in my Italian any more than I would judge foreign readers’ English. T___T man, and while I was writing that comment reply to hellahyaa, I was trying to be as passive and respectful as possible, thinking that people would burn me if I tried to be condescending.. sigh.. but it still happened.. I apologize for that miscommunication..

Also, future note, please leave your real e-mail address if you wish to comment. I do respect anonymity, but that’s not how this specific blog is run.

31 October 2011 edit: so someone left a pretty inflammatory comment this night. I got called some very prosaic denigrating names, along with the condescending use of “honey”. Cool. But you know what’s really surprising? That there are a lot of people in the world who have different values! Which lead to different opinions and interpretations! Despite these divergences, there still exists something called manners.. right.. at least I would hope so. Please read this guide I wrote on how to comment respectfully before you go bat-shit crazy (for lack of a better term) and waste a good evening.

In the end, have I concluded SHINee are all bad people? That they are unattractive, don’t deserve to be idols? They should be sent to rehab? Er, no. So, I have not insulted your precious boys at all, nor attacked their characters and who they are overall. If you could not glean this by reading the last paragraph thoroughly, I’m sorry.

Have a good night.

Sorry about the influx of SHINee news, but they just had a few blowout concerts, and my news is flooded with their pictures. Following is a translation of the Chinese fan account that I read yesterday, and was severely disappointed.

Today’s concert ended around KST6.40pm. There were already about 100 Shawols waiting at the carpark, can’t remember the time. About 20 minutes later, Key was the first to come out and went into another car followed by the rest whom took a different car. According to Korean Shawols, Key’s grandmother came to today’s concert so Key has to leave to send his grandmother home. Filial Key!!!!

The 4 of them arrived at a BBQ restaurant around KST7.40pm and went to the 2nd floor with a cake… The 2nd floor was off-limits to Shawols. There were about 20 to 30 Shawols, so the 1st floor was all occupied by Shawols. Everybody ate while waiting. Key clad in a trendy outfit arrived 1 hour later, followed by Krystal whom left 10 minutes later. Then all sort of celebrations can be heard from upstairs!! Key came downstairs around KST10pm, nodded at Shawols and smiled in acknowledgment, followed by Taemin whom was piggy back by a staff, his face was covered by a jacket over his head, guess Taemin must be drunk. Minho then helped Jonghyun down. Jonghyun was staggering and his face was all red, he must have drank a lot and even gave Shawols a flying kiss. Onew then came down and gave a bright smile and waved. On a side note, we were seated in the first row so we were very upclose to them and Key’s skin is really fair and flawless. Onew has quite a number of pimples and it was heartbreaking to see it. Minho and Onew should also had a few drinks but they walked quite normally.

We then made our way to the dormitory and all Shawols rushed towards it but in an orderly manner. Key then alighted from the front seat, came forward and said hello, he also did a “Shh…” hand gesture, asking everyone to lower down their voices. Jonghyun then alighted, staggering, walking and spinning in circle, it was so adorable that I do not know how to put it into words. He even turned back and waved bye bye before entering the dormitory, all the Shawols present were very touched!!! Onew alighted next, eh, he started staggering too but he still gave Shawols a big smile.

Not sure if it was because Taemin was drunk, the car was drove up to the dormitory entrance, this time the manager hyung alighted and started shouting at Shawols and began to be quite rough, so we couldn’t see Minho and Taemin alighting, I think most probably because Taemin is underage and didn’t want to give Shawols a bad impression etc… The cab driver said that the lights at the dormitory entrance wasn’t on and he drove a few rounds near the dormitory but to no avail so we went back….

Source: CON给力 of Baidu
Translation: veyonce/emianjjong of tumblr

First off: Taemin drunk. A lot of fangirls have said that maybe he was just tired, and I disagree. Even though he is a minor, there must have been a lot of pressure for him to drink, and he probably did, and has on numerous occasions. This is not a jab at Taemin’s character, just a practical observation. I dislike this revelation, because I believe at the end of every choice, there is personal will, and despite whatever peer pressure, Taemin did not have to drink.

Second: staggering Jonghyun. As a kindergartener, I can’t hide the fact that I disapprove highly of people who drink until they’re staggering all over the place. I will give Jonghyun the benefit of the doubt, since he is legal in South Korea, and he has girlfriend troubles. Fans are mad that Shin Se Kyung didn’t attend the concert, which is ridiculous since their relationship is none of their business. Though a drunk Jonghyun may be ‘cute,’ he’s still drunk and I don’t think that’s cute. At all.

sigh.

Third: ONEW PIMPLES! I admit, I used to have acne, but now I’ve gone to see a lovely dermatologist from Harvard, and problems are no more. It doesn’t make sense, because in a sense, Onew is an investment, and S.M. would at least get him a Yale dermatologist for this problem.

These three, disturbing observations lead me to this quote from Madame Bovary (which I finally finished): “We must not touch our idols; the gilt sticks to our fingers.” A lot of gilt is sticking to my fingers; I always asserted that they were ordinary people, but it’s sort of unsettling to actually realize that they are really ordinary– that in making life choices, choices of resolution and not of skill, they are just so ordinary. SHINee as artists, and SHINee as people, are diametrically opposite concepts, and I hope that this fan account can help others to realize that.