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Blog // Sounds
November 4, 2009

John Williams In Concert

There was a moment, in last night’s concert, which really summed up the evening. John Williams, one of my childhood musical heroes was in town for a one off performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was a sellout show featuring a musician who has many fans in this city. Williams did, after all, […]

There was a moment, in last night’s concert, which really summed up the evening. John Williams, one of my childhood musical heroes was in town for a one off performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was a sellout show featuring a musician who has many fans in this city. Williams did, after all, play 20 years ago at the opening of the Cultural Centre and has been back a number of times since.

Playing solo guitar is extremely demanding, even in front of a warm and responsive crowd and Williams had chosen some challenging pieces for last night’s performance. Like a number of accomplished soloists, Williams often pauses before starting a piece and scans the audience, asking them to join his focus on the coming piece of music. Crowd noise is always an issue during a concert, but with a solo performer who needs the spaces in the music to be quiet, it becomes critical.

Last night, before one particularly tough piece, Torre Bermeja, by Isaac Albeniz, Williams paused, let the silence fall over the crowd, then launched into the music.

Barely into the second bar it happened – the loud, unrestrained cough. To be honest I don’t remember the next few bars of music and I am still in awe that it didn’t break Williams concentration. Then again, he was probably used to it by now, since the whole night must have made him wonder if Hong Kong had not caught a collective bought of bronchitis in the recent cold snap. Every piece was interrupted by loud and frequent coughing and for added percussive effect, the sound of programmes, bags (or maybe industrial equipment), being dropped onto the floor.

Actually, Williams was good humoured about the crowd noise. Partway through the post-interval set, he asked the crowd “…is someone dying out there,” and even pointed out that merely covering one’s mouth while coughing can dramatically reduce how far the noise carries. Williams entreaty to the crowd was met with round and solid applause. Clearly the cough at everyone else’s expense group were a loud minority.

Lack of crowd self-control aside, it was an extraordinary concert. Williams is really the elder statesman of classical guitar now and in a position to draw from a rich and varied repertoire, from Vivaldi to African folk. Some of my favourites are his interpretations of Latin American composers, so it was a real delight to hear him perform Mangore’s La Catedral and the old standard, Como Llora Una Estrella.

Williams continues to be an amazing guitarist, with a beautiful touch and sense of the guitar’s tonal possibilities. He is, also, a wonderful ambassador for the music he loves and performs. My hope is that the next time he comes to Hong Kong he will be met with the same kind of warm reception and maybe a little more respect and quiet from the whole audience, not just the silent majority.

Responses
Sunne 13 years ago

I’ve was there last night. A true artist who had tackled all dilemmas in performing arts.

I am a local music student studying Chinese GuQin. Besides concentration, his ?? and rich human touches in the interpretation are way beyond a professional. I feel lucky at his live playing.

Thanks his sharing the 4-piece composition, especially “Open End”, brought me in-depth into his unique space of arts, both musically and thoughtfully.

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