27 April 2012

End of an Era

This weekend marks the end of an era.  Not a big one concerning large swathes of the population but a tiny, personal one which will pass unnoticed by most.  Which does not for a single moment lessen its impact on those involved and, for once, I am indulging in personal matters in this blog, knowing full well that for most of the time I swim against the tide of bloggers in avoiding mention of family, food or fun activities in which nobody can be the least bit interested but which most bloggers seem to feel sufficiently important to publish on the web.

The first change is the location of this very blog.  It will continue as before but on http://drmarcsblog.marcrochester.com.  The old address should automatically redirect you here, but if not, you now know where to find it.  On top of that readers of the blog keen to contact me privately can now do so on drmarc@marcrochester.com; that's not my private email, and I only check it intermittently.  Friends and colleagues already know how to contact me directly.

On Monday we move out of what has been our wonderful home for the past four-and-a-bit years.  It will be a wrench to move and leave behind a wonderful house, a wonderful garden, a wonderful neighbourhood and such easy access to the beach that Prisca has come to regard it almost as her personal domain.  That, though, is not worthy of mention in any blog in the normal course of events.

A Fourth birthday celebrated in February

But on this occasion we are not moving anywhere else.  Magdelene and Prisca (above) will be staying at the in-laws in Kuching while I am working in the Middle East on a short-term contract.  Sometime in July we will know where we are going to be in the future; it may be Singapore or it may be the UK, but all depends on what work can be found for a writer and broadcaster on music who turns 58 on Saturday.  Possibly the scrap heap calls, but I suspect not! 

What is era-changing about this move is not the personal upset and inconvenience it causes, but the fact that it may well mark the end of an almost 30-year relationship with south east Asia.  From my first visits to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong as an ABRSM examiner, my involvement with the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, my work with the Sarawak Government in recording the ethnic music of Borneo, my short-lived involvement in the "academic" life of Malaysia in Univesiti Putra Malaysia, my long-term involvement in the creation, setting up, management and presentation of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS, right through to my continuing literary work with the Singapore Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic orchestras and my involvement in the musical life of Singapore through my work as critic and lecturer at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory (a nice completion of the circle since I examined Yong Siew Toh's personal students during one of my first ABRSM tours to Malaysia in the mid-1980s), I have come to know and understand what is happening to classical music in the region.

The first ever perforamcne at the Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS in
Kuala Lumpur was given by the St Petersburg Philharmonic
under Yuri Temirkanov on 19th June 1998. 
It has long been my intention to prepare a history of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra once I am finally out of the region.  I hold back, though as they have already shown how long and poisonous the tentacles of the MPO paymasters are; this blog, for example, started at their request was dramatically shut down when a number of correspondents submitted comments mildly critical of the administration - the young man administering the blog from the MPO office was threatened unless he divulged the confidential credentials by which I accessed the blog and, having done that, was forced to block my access to it and report any incoming adverse comments from members of the MPO itself.  You can still access the original blog up to the point it was summarily stopped on www.drmarcrochester.wordpress.com. All that will wait, but part of the move will entail my throwing away the complete MPO programme books from 1998 through to July 2011, which will be a sad thing, but an inevitable downside of a move which may involve extended periods of materials being kept in store.

I would love, too, to put forward my arguments for the direction Singapore musical life should be taking.  It troubles me that, despite the enormous range and amount of musical performances here, Singapore still has about it an atmosphere of provincial amateurism.  Comment adversely on a local orchestra, violinist or pianist, not to mention the teaching community, and you will ignite no end of comments about "you should have heard it as it was a decade ago".  Musical life here is in danger of stagnating because it is too self-congratulatory and not sufficiently self-critical.  Ironically, of the two groups who seem destined to put Singaporean classical musicians on the international map (excluding, of course, the phenomenal Singapore National Youth Orchestra) - the T'ang Quartet and the Orchestra of the Music Makers - the latter is an entirely amateur group, but with a far more professional attitude than those who guide the progress of the professional groups.  But that's for another time.

Hong Kong, alone, seems to be heading in the right direction with a thoroughly rich, diverse and coherent musical life, even if the provision of a decent concert hall is still a dream.  I put that down, as much as anything, to the existence of a professional and credible classical music broadcaster as well as such organisations as Parsons and Tom Lee, whose all-encompassing involvement in music, from early education to professional concert-promoting, has, in recent years, shown real intelligence.  Neither Malaysia nor Singapore boast anything vaguely matching that.

For all the west likes to regard China as the Great Yellow Hope of the future of music, from where I sit, it is not.  The one or two Chinese superstar musicians are already fading - and they are barely into their 30s - and the Chinese tradition of cheap copies rather than solidly prepared originals will kill their musicians just as it killed their manufacturing industry back in the 1960s and 1970s.  If China emerges as a major player on the music stage, that will be long after I am dead.

Funnily enough, it is in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and, possibly, Burma, that I think the greatest excitement will be generated in classical musical circles in the coming years.  I've seen some amazing things there, and while the picture is clouded by poor communications and a perception in the west that these are "primitive" countries, I think we are all in for a surprise.

In the last decades I've seen some amazing things happening in this region and been privileged to comment on them - even play my small part in them.  Whether I continue to do so from the inside, or from the vantage point of a distant observer, remains to be seen.  It is through such periods of personal uncertainty that life remains deeply interesting and absorbing, even at the age of 58.

To paraphrase one great wireless voice from my youth; "If you have been, thanks for reading".

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dr Marc,
    I think your departure from Singapore is a loss to the musical scene here, just as much as it is a personal loss and disappointment for you and your family. I will miss your keen observations, provocative commentaries, controversial opinions and well expressed views. They bring colour and humour to the music scene here, which at times is, as you point out, just a little too pompous and self-congratulatory. Your blog has been a pleasure to read, and a source of stimulation - including on occasions when I could not agree with (or perhaps fully understand) your conclusion. Thank you for all the effort you have put into writing, for a readership who are largely nameless, faceless, unknown and silent. If you ever do publish a compilation of the contents of this blog, or other writings that you have suggested over the years, I for one would order a copy. 

    I am using the past tense, when I should not. I hope to read more of your observations on the music you encounter, where-ever you are next.
    I wish you and your family the best of luck with whatever the future holds.

    And a very happy birthday !

    Dr Peter.