Friday, 29 July 2016

Jury Still out on King's College Choir

While the citizens of Hong Kong may bemoan the dearth of choral music emanating from England's premier university on the banks of the Isis, compensation of a sort comes in the shape of the flood of choirs making what is now an annual migration from the Cam.

In the three years since I last heard fenland's best known choral brand - the choir of King's College - there have been visits from a clutch of other Cantab colleges, including St John's, Gonville & Caius and Trinity, with Clare due to visit in early September.

And it needs to be said that while King's might be the marquee name with the power to draw the biggest audiences (especially in the Asian market, which is so brand conscious), this is no guarantee that they will continue to occupy that exalted position. As Ever Ready learned in the battery business, there are always a Duracell and an Energizer waiting to knock you off your perch if you scrimp on the quality control. 

Both St John's and in particular Trinity are currently well ahead of King's in the musical pecking order, with Trinity's books-down approach reaping manifest dividends in terms of greater precision and sharper dynamic contrast.

In favour of King's performance at Hong Kong University on Wednesday evening, one might say that there was a clear improvement in terms of discipline and deportment on their 2013 appearance at Sha Tin City Hall. Additionally, choral basics such as entries and cut-offs were typically crisp and contributed to a decent ensemble.

Against this, it must be said that the balance of the 28-strong group was not right, with the treble and tenor sections under-strength and under-powered. This imbalance became more pronounced in the second half, when Brahms's German Requiem was performed in its piano with four hands arrangement, when two of the basses dropped out of the ensemble, one to sing a solo, the other to take his place at the piano.

Towards the end of the 65-minute masterpiece (well, the orchestral version is a masterpiece - I'm not convinced about the Requiem-lite version, despite the excellence of the playing: the magic of the mesmeric opening for cellos and basses is totally lost in translation, as too by definition is the marvellously rich instrumentation of which Brahms was a master), the boys were running out of energy and not sustaining all their long notes, while their adult counterparts in the tenor section (all four of them) were straining for their high notes and struggling to stay together. The altos (an eight strong blend of adult and child voices) were the pick of the sections.
Mention should be made of the two soloists, soprano Louise Kwong and baritone Hugo Herman-Wilson. While Hong Kong educated and Dutch trained Kwong had a little too much vibrato for my taste, her interpretation of the fifth movement ("You now have sadness but I will comfort you") was impressive for its intonation and shading, if a little harsh to some ears. Though putatively a bass, Herman-Wilson coped well with the high notes of the baritone solos in movements 3 and 6, singing with commendable lyricism and a relaxed style that is well suited to this most human - though not secular - of requiems.

The first half of the concert had been characterised as much as anything else by the the fact that it was almost exactly the same length as the interval (20 minutes), leaving the audience feeling a little short changed. After hitting their straps with Tallis's "Loquebantur variis linguis" - featuring not only nice polyphony but first-rate unison singing by their tenors and basses - the choir delivered what was for me the highlight of the evening, a shaded and moving rendition of Britten's Hymn to Saint Cecilia. 

Even though it was a little undercooked in places - especially in the treble and tenor voices - the accuracy and ensemble of the singing were matched by the diction, which allowed Auden's magnificent words full rein:

"I am defeat
When it knows it
Can now do nothing
By suffering."

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Thomas Kwok Reveals Plans for Next 10 Months

I will be busy investing - either in a dozen jars of hair dye or a pair of white frames

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Xi Jinping Moves to Centralise Authority

                      Hands up who votes for the cult of personality

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Moral Outrage Grips Britain as Septuagenarian Attempts to Deal with Brats

      In my day, it were listen to yer elders or face consequences

Friday, 22 July 2016

Books are Back!

        Photo accompanying article called "Read online, feel offline"

Call me an old cynic but any time I read an article telling me that Hong Kong people are reading more books (or any at all, for that matter), I check the small print. It's probably because I'm British and inherited a healthy dollop of scepticism along with my dose of Humean empiricism.  

So when the weekly newspaper hk01 landed on my desk this morning, I was intrigued by an article with a large photograph of a Hong Kong person on the upper deck of a bus reading a book. 

The extremely rare nature of such a sighting, taken together with the fact that he was holding the hardback in a most unnatural way - possibly even upside down - prompted me to make a call to an old friend in the newspaper business. My suspicions that something was afoot were confirmed when Charles told me that the photo was in fact of a hk01 reporter posing for the hk01 photographer. He couldn't be sure but he thought the book was one of those ex-library ones you can pick up for two dollars in a second-hand shop.    

I did a quick check on hk01 - an organ which I am ashamed to say had until this morning been used only to provide drainage for my pot plants when they are taking their weekly dose of sun on the office roof-top - and found a gem of an article about the new publication (it was only launched in March this year). 

It was founded by a fellow with a few bob to chuck around on hacks and jobbing photographers (the company claims to have 380 employees - that's a hell of a lot of bus rides), former Ming Pao chairman Yu Pun Hoi (于品海). According to Pun's PR machinery, his paper's mission is "to drive social change (which sounds like a cliché), restructure social values (which sounds a bit scary) and drive media reform (which sounds like a pork pie)".

Pun's right-hand woman, one Angela Ahmed, HR and Admin director, has clearly been channeling some of this scariness (repeating mantras such as "the most important thing is to maintain focus on issues instead of personalities" as if under the spell of a very wealthy but self-deluded tycoon), but a spark of independence - nay, searing honesty -  may be still be found under the layers of accumulated detritus.  

No longer channeling her boss, but rather channeling the darling of wannabe radical hacks everywhere, George Orwell, who once said "All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news", she is quite open about the cosy relationship between the two industries.

Reflecting on the careful thought that goes into the layout of the paper, she makes the brave (but still scary) admission that the "editorial content echoes the advertising".   

An employee sat "reading" a book on the top of a bus turns out to be merely the thin edge of the wedge.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Sweet FA to be Next England Manager

Ladies and gentlemen, after conducting an intensive worldwide search, we would like to present to you the next England manager...Sam F***ing Allardyce!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Trump Breaks Silence on Plagiarismgate

It is absurd to suggest that my team were responsible for my wife's speech. Obama's people wrote it for Pete's sakes.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Here and There in the West Country

View from Branscombe Bay

I don't know if it was coincidence or not but my return to the mother country coincided with the decision of Wales, Cornwall and most parts east to tell Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Poland, "Look, we've got enough of your hard-working people building and decorating our homes and serving our coffees at Starbucks, thanks - we don't need any more", while London said, "Well, actually, yah, we could do with some more Slovakian nannies for Rupert and Jemima" and Scotland burped, "F*ck it, Jimmie, we'll ally ourselves with the Froggies again like we did in 1295."

To celebrate my return to Hong Kong and England's decision to stop playing the drunk uncle at the European wedding who embarrasses and amuses by turn, I thought I'd share a few piccies, starting (above) with this very evocative - and rather arty, I think - View from Branscombe Bay. (To be more precise, it's actually a View Taken while Standing on a Table in the Garden of the Sea Shanty Tea Rooms and Being Shouted at by the Proprietor, but that doesn't have quite the same award-winning ring.)           

View of Hooken Cliff towards Branscombe

This next snap is of the peregrine falcon paradise that is Hooken Cliff, a rather spectacular miniature rift valley formed more than 200 years ago when the chalk cliffs were cleft in two by a landslide which shoved the pinnacles you can see below about 100 yards away from the rest of the coastline, leaving a copse for the birdies and walkers to enjoy.

Hooken Cliff Pinnacles

I know how boring it can be to endure other people's holiday snaps, so I will leave you (for now, anyway - I have a couple of cathedrals up my sleeve) with photos of Mevagissie near St Austell in Cornwall, which features a picturesque harbour and a very good seafood restaurant.

Mevagissie Harbour

Salamander Restaurant, Mevagissie

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Trinity College Sets Bar for Cantab Choirs Abroad

It may not have the glorious Henry VI chapel beside the Cam possessed of King's College, but the Trinity College Choir makes up for what it might lack in architecture (it does have England's largest quadrangle, if memory serves), not to mention a marquee name, with professionalism and artistry. 

No fidgety kids here, no adults with heads in scores sight-reading new pieces, what the audience got at the Cultural Centre yesterday was a delightful tour of world music, ancient and modern, in a programme of rare innovation. If this means fewer bums on seats (the place was scarcely a quarter full), then perhaps this is the price one must pay in the world of inane Twitter feeds for the chance to hear talented people doing what they love doing, and doing it superlatively well - with every single piece sung from memory.      

I urge anyone who enjoys more contemporary music to go along this evening to the City Hall Concert Hall in Central, where at 8pm Trinity will be giving a concert featuring songs from the classical age of swing and jazz by such luminaries as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington - with a bit of Orlando Gibbons, Lennon and McCartney and Bob Gaudio thrown in for good measure.

But back to last night's concert and the highlights for me came either side of the interval with two pieces that showcased especially effectively the group's strengths (and the nice thing about this choir is that they come across as a team - egos, yes, we want that, but all pulling together for the common good) and underscored what they are about.

First, we were treated to a piece composed by the organ scholar, Owain Park, called "The wings of the wind", based on words from the Psalms, which showed astonishing maturity for such a young person (Park is still, I believe, an undergraduate), and which stood comparison with core pieces of the repertory performed by the choir such as Tallis's "Salvator mundi" and Purcell's "Remember not, Lord, our offences".

Then, after the interval - we had already travelled from Estonia to Finland by way of Latvia - we were treated to the overseas premiere of an extraordinary piece called "Hymn of ancient lands" by 34-year-old Joseph Twist, the text for which is an intertwining of a poem written in the eighth century by an illiterate farmer called Caedmon together with a Latin translation of the same by the Venerable Bede. As the female parts sang the Anglo-Saxon text, the tenors and basses provided the Latin rendition in a fittingly ethereal tribute to the One who "established the beginning of wonders" upon earth.

For me the only weak point of the concert is a piece that is a particular favourite of the music director, Stephen Layton - indeed, he has built this touring programme around it - the Messe by Swiss composer Frank Martin. However, this might be more of a personal preference than anything else, and Layton made sure we were sent off on a high note by Herbert Howells's "Te Deum (Collegium Regale)".

With tours from Cambridge choirs coming along with all the regularity of an Australian election - King's are back later this month, followed by Clare and St John's before the end of the year - one wonders when we will finally get the opportunity to hear a choir from God's own university. New College, are you listening?

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Pistorius to Serve Three Years for Murdering Reeva Steenkamp

                                          A dark day for justice

Hillary Responds to Trump over Emailgate

I may endanger the odd life and the rule of law, but your odd life endangers world peace and hibi-jabi wearers

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

CY Leung Becomes Emotional as He Urges Improved Communication with PRC

We would be very grateful if Beijing could notify us when it abducts a Hong Kong citizen from our streets. Two weeks later would do.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Living in Luxulyan

I am currently slumming it in Cornwall, prior to stop-offs in Ottery and Weston on the way to a week in the Great Wen.

Normal service will be resumed when I return to Hong Kong in time to celebrate the Fourth of July with my American friends.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

But Do they Provide an Ice Machine?

Following up on the story of the new value-added buses that ferry you to the airport less frequently than their predecessors did, an alert reader has sent me a photo of an "enhancement" which I heartily approve of. 

It seems that all those alcohol-fuelled games of dodgems they've been playing in their depots has got those busmen thinking out of the box. Well, more accurately thinking themselves right into a box!

For besides coming with USB chargers and "ergonomic" seats, Long Win's new buses are equipped with an ice box. I called the company to see if they will also be installing an ice machine, and was told that they were "monitoring the performance and uptake usage of the new facility with an eye to further enhancing the capability in phases".

To help you work out what the hell that means, I suggest you get the beers in and settle down for the ride of your life. Just don't offer the driver one!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

New Airbus Set to, Well, Travel to the Airport, Like Before

You know what they say about buses? You wait an eternity for one and then two come along at the same time. Well, Hong Kong is developing its own variation on this theme quicker than you can say “Bus TVs are an abomination.”

Yesterday was a day of two firsts for Long Win Bus Company, KMB’s step-sister and arguably the least favoured step-child of the heartless parent that goes by the name of Sun Hung Kai  Properties.

For, while The Standard and assorted Chinese-language newspapers were announcing the launch of new “luxury airbuses” for Fanling residents, Long Win bus drivers were subjecting the new additions to their depot to the sort of initiation rites usually reserved for freshman dorms across America.

Taking the launch first, the thing you can’t help noticing about the inside of the bus is that it looks like the abortive offspring of a Mainlander with lots of money and no taste who drives a particularly garish Mercedes SL and a committee of consultants.

                                     Long Win Airbus

                                     Garish Merc Interior

Reading the small print, things get even more interesting. Long Win proudly tells us that the frequency of route A43 from Luen Wo Hui in Fanling will be between 20 and 30 minutes with a journey time of around an hour. This sounds pretty impressive – especially if you are easily impressed – until you go to KMB’s website and read that A43 is currently operating at a typical frequency of 15-20 minutes, with a journey time of 78 minutes.

I’m not sure what is more interesting: just how reducing the frequency represents an “enhanced” service, or just how those 18 minutes are going to be shaved off the journey time, starting from this Saturday. I’d imagine all those folks up there in Fanling will be up in arms if the A43 no longer stops at their regular bus stop.

Besides cutting bus stops, there is always the alternative of instructing the drivers to go above the 70km/h limit which the bus company instructs its drivers to observe. But that’s the last thing you’d think was in anyone’s interest with all these high-profile, high-speed accidents taking place around the territory.  

Talking of accidents brings me – after the sort of detour you get when taking KMB route 2C – to my long-promised second point, and a report in that haven for whistleblowers, Apple Daily. There we read that one of these spanking new airbuses was taken for a joyride at Long Win’s depot in Siu Ho Wan on Lantau Island and crashed into another bus, breaking its windscreen in the process.

This is the second time in a little over a month that bus company staff have enjoyed a spot of joyriding. You have to say, though, that when it comes to “getting on down” in the depot, KMB staff know how to throw a much cooler party than their colleagues at Long Win.

At Lai Chi Kok depot, just a stone’s throw from company HQ, one bus maintenance man, after getting tanked on alcohol, decided he perhaps wasn’t quite up to driving a bus to its nighttime space so asked an equally sloshed mate to take the keys instead. Only problem was, this bloke didn’t have a driving licence and ploughed his precious cargo into not one, not two, but three other buses.    

And there you were, thinking it’s only the roads and the pavements that aren’t safe.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Nearly Half of Hong Kong's Bus Drivers Feel Sleepy While Driving

It seems that the problem of tired drivers of double-deck buses – which can carry up to 150 passengers – just won’t go away.

A recent survey reports a staggering 45% of the drivers sampled (who work for Citybus and New World First Bus) feel sleepy when driving.

Now, whether this is because, as the pressure group organising the survey would have us believe, drivers should only be working 44 hours a day rather than the 50-60 that some are said to be working, or whether it is because the companies turn a blind eye to safety and do not run fatigue management training courses of the type that are common in countries such as Australia, it is assuredly a worrying statistic.

If I were running a bus company in Hong Kong, a place notorious for the late habits of its populace and for the cramped and noisy conditions of its public housing estates – conditions that are not conducive to a good night’s sleep – one of my first priorities would be to constantly alert drivers to the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel.

It happened to me when I began a repping job many years ago, as I struggled to adjust to the transition from part-time to full-time driver. I was lucky that I was driving on a country road in Kent and ended up ploughing through a hedge and stopping 18 inches from an apple tree.

In Hong Kong’s crowded urban environment, driving off the road and mounting the pavement is unlikely to result merely in damage to the vegetation. Human life is at stake.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Six Degrees of Separation?

Then again, how about four degrees of conjunction, as the bus at the back ploughs into the one in front and so on...

Friday, 3 June 2016

Tarantino Classic to be Remade in Wake of Ken Tsang Assault

I’m Nice Guy Eddie and these are Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Blue, Mr Blonde, Mr Brown and Mr Pink – just call us “Pumping Station Pigs”

                                Actors playing criminals circa 1992