Instead of taking center stage, violinist Yap Ling and British oboist Mark Radcliffe, pianist Grace Lee literally took center stage at last Wednesday night’s concert at Kian Kok High School Hall.
Stage design in the style of a Greek amphitheater
The organisation’s chairman’s architect, Cheong Kok Ann, admitted that he is a secret admirer of the ancient Greco-Roman amphitheater design, known for its “mysterious acoustics” attributed to what is said to be a “stunning example of ancient Greek sound engineering”.
Indeed, it looks like Kok Ann’s epic experiment with Greek stage sets in Sabah has validated his daring, judging by the highly positively charged comments of Datuk Adeline Leong – founder and former President of SPArKS (Society of Performing Arts Kota Kinabalu Sabah) – judges.
Ruins of a Greek amphitheater.
The historic circular stage layout is inspired by the Greek amphitheater.
High visual quality of the sound display affects the audience
“I am so thrilled to be able to hear such good music and you can see that they played with passion,” Adeline emphasized both the high sound quality and the high visual quality that she was able to experience up close immediately after the show !
“This is the first time in Sabah that we’re calling it the Ring of Music because the performers are in the center and we can surround the performers and because I’m sitting so close to them I can see they’re playing with passion, I could see Grace’s (Lee) fingers flying across the piano.
“I could see Yap Ling’s music so passionate, so emotional and so very loving, it poured through his hands and into us, and I could see the expressions on their faces when they played, especially the oboist (Mark Radcliffe) on the oboe, one of the most difficult wind instruments to play (flute, clarinet, saxophone etc) and here we were hearing an oboist who had come all the way from the UK to play so close to us was really a Joy and I’m so happy that we can bring so many people to Kota Kinabalu,” a spirited Adeline told the Daily Express.
Oboist feels cared for
However, the vibrant “Ring of Music” up close not only hit the audience, but also ignited the feeling of the musicians themselves.
Oboist Mark Radcliffe noted the positive effect it had on him.
“Tonight it was really nice to play in a circle like this, with the audience close by. I felt the audience exuded a good feeling and it’s nice to be up close with my friends Yap Ling and Grace, it was a nice atmosphere. Actually it was so nice because when we were on a stage you just feel more distanced, more formal, that feels more like less formal,” Mark shared of the benefit to him.
When asked if he agreed with Datuk Adeline Leong that the oboe is one of the most difficult wind instruments to play, Mark said:
“Yes, it’s very difficult to get it to work, partly because the ring (mouthpiece) is so small and changes all the time, and also quite a bit of pressure from the mouth and very small movements make a big difference.
“But it’s very good to play in an orchestra because it has a very clear sound, very pure sounds, so it carries very well and you can play very, very long phrases, but the breath can go on, you just don’t breathe that often and it can play loud and soft,” explained Mark, who has toured extensively with orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, America, South America and Brazil, given recitals worldwide and been principal oboe with English Touring Opera, both modern and also in the Historical Opera Oboe, plays oboe from Handel to Janacek – a Czech composer.
“Yap Ling and myself studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London 30 years ago, I’m visiting a very old friend here in Malaysia and it’s lovely.”
A combination of violin and oboe. At the far left of the audience are Datuk Yee Moh Chai and Datuk Clement Yeh.
The three top musicians in action: pianist Grace Lee, violinist Yap Ling and oboist Mark Radcliffe.
Star pianist: “I really love it”
The star pianist of the evening was certainly Grace Lee, wife of Yap Ling.
“I really like the concert tonight,” she said.
“I love the audience, I love everyone coming back (i.e. after two years of pandemic lockdown) and enjoying music again.”
“It’s very good that SPARKS was willing to take on this challenge to organize this type of classical concert and then after the pandemic everyone was sleeping at home, but now we’re coming alive again,” Grace commented.
When asked if that would set the stage for the Jesselton Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) to return to perform in public, Grace said, “Yes.”
How about performing together with the oboe or the oboist?
“Fantastic, we did this a long time ago, maybe 25 years ago. Oboe is not an easy instrument to play, it is a very difficult instrument. Producing a beautiful sound also depends on the technique and the love of playing the instrument,” Grace Mark acknowledged.
Sound carried well by circular formation: Yap Ling
What about violinist maestro Yap Ling himself, founder and conductor of the JPO, who has conducted orchestras in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, China, Singapore, Penang and Sarawak?
“Tonight’s event is quite refreshing, our setting with a circular seating arrangement with an unprecedented ring formation, I think the sound caught on pretty well,” he said.
“We could really feel the audience’s response. In the field of health, we have heard a lot about physical health, but what is sorely lacking is mental health or mental health, which must go through culture, music and arts,” Yap Ling said.
So does the successful Ring of Music signal JPO’s public return to the stage post-pandemic?
“Yes, we had it online during the pandemic, but online performance is different, it’s not the same, of course, a live concert is always different,” Yap Ling said.
Interesting British Chinese person in the audience
By the way, there was an interesting British-Chinese – Joanna Funk, born in London to Sabahan parents Bill Funk and his wife.
Her father, Sandakan, known as William Funk, died in London in 1984 at the age of 64 when Joanna was 21.
A classical pianist herself, Joanna began her career as a bond trader in London.
Five years later she moved to financial news where she stayed for 16 years making her an accomplished writer and effective journalist.
In her 40s, she left London for her parents’ birthplace, ie Sabah, and began blogging about Sabah musicians, which later became a book called SabahSongs.
She said the experience made her realize that there are so many “unsung” heroes in Sabah.
In Sabah she became a pianist in a hotel lobby before moving to Queensland, Australia with her family.
She is now semi-retired but does some writing and teaches piano online.
British-Chinese Joanna Funk: Author of the book SabahSongs.
“A rich and wonderful experience”: Joanna Funk
Introduced by Datuk Adeline, I asked Joanna: What do you think of the concert tonight?
“I think it’s wonderful to have someone from overseas, an international artist and also a great variety of music, nice to hear some French composers performed, you know, Saint-Saens (Oboe Sonata by Saint Saens – a well-known piano virtuoso) . is very nice. It’s always wonderful to hear Yap Ling play – a wonderful artist of the highest caliber and hearing them all together was a rich and wonderful experience,” said Joanna.
“And yes, the audience seemed to really love it too, nice to see so many young children interested in classical music and a very well attended event. I understand this is SParks’ first event in a long time post-Covid, it’s great that it’s so well attended – good crowd,” she added.
Positive compliments, Joanna had a surprise in store – autographed a copy of SabahSongs for this author.
“Everyone who performed is there, it’s very fun because you recognize a lot of people, characters from 10 years ago,” she said, citing Roger Wong, a Hakka singer named Tian Long, Sophie Van Aerde, the violinist who was with her, children from Kudat who were brought (to KK), a Chinese heavy metal band in KK, etc.
Ring of Music repertoire
The historic Ring of Music program includes a variety of music, from Gabriel’s oboe; Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin on Traditional Espagnole in the following order: ( Gabriel’s Oboe – Ennio Morricone; Oboe Sonata by Saint – Saens; Someone is Praying for you; Ladies in Lavender; JS Bach – Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV1060 (2 movements) ; Chinese Number; Amazing Grace; Poulenc – Sonata for Oboe and Piano; Danse Espagnole by Manuel de Falla arr. Fritz Kreisler; Chi Mai – Enrico Morricone; JS Bach – Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV1060 (1st movement); plus encore.
Audience exceeded target: SParks President
Credit goes to the organizer of the event – SPArKS, whose stated aim is to bring the world of music, dance and theater to KK and to support and encourage our young artists in Sabah to excel in the performing arts.
It was marketed as “a concert not to be missed, especially since there hasn’t been a concert in quite some time due to the pandemic”.
Current President of SParks May Ng said: “I am very grateful that it was successfully organised, I am pleased that the turnout was very good with over 200 spectators targeting just 150.
“I am so glad that so many people came and enjoyed such a nice evening with good music. I’ve been president since last term, so this is my second term as president.”
When told that running a volunteer organization like this is not easy, she said, “I have very capable committee members, they can always stand on their own two feet,” May Ng remarked.
All put together in four days: Adeline
Adeline thanked May Ng and Cheong Kok Ann and the team “for their great work in organizing a successful classical concert with over 200 participants in one week – an amazing record for SPArKS,” she said.
“It took us only four days to organize this concert and out of the four days only two working days Friday and Monday and we had to sell the tickets during the working days and we really have to thank organizations that supported us, like Suria, IDS and also Sabah Ports who bought many tickets from us. Otherwise it is not possible to sell so many tickets in such a short time.
“So we invited VIPs like Datuk Yee Moh Chai, Datuk Clement Yeh, Datin Vicky (wife of Yee) and we also managed to get very good cooperation with JPO and about 20 students who are interned at JPO and us the seats helped with the organization,” said Adeline.
UMS Prof. Amde Sidik congratulates Mark while Adeline looks on.
SParks organizing committee with the top three performers. Also pictured is organization chair Cheong Kok Ann (fourth from left).