THE SIAM SOCIETY TRANSFORMING ITSELF INTO A SOCIETY FOR MUSIC LOVERS

by Chetana Nagavajara

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I hope it is not sacrilegious to speak of the Siam Society as if it were a musical institution of the rank of the time-honoured “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” of Vienna. But the chamber concert in the evening of March 27, 2013, was overflowing with music lovers, an experience that was absolutely unique for Bangkok, which is not particularly receptive to Western chamber music. If you don’t believe me, do please show up at any chamber concert at the Four Seasons Hotel.

The programme consisted of the 2 Piano Quartets by Mozart, the one in G. minor (K 478) and the other in E-flat major (K 493). The 4 musicians teach at Silpakorn University, Pornphan Banternnghansa (Piano), Leo Phillips (Violin), Tasana Nagavajara (Viola) and Kittikhun Sodprasert (Cello). Once you have seen their names, you will understand why I am reluctant to write a full review describing the quality of playing of all the 4 colleagues! But I shall not refrain from saying a few things which cannot be taken as a promotion of my own clan.

If you have time (I am speaking to parents of young musicians), drop in to see the premises of their Faculty of Music. Sheer determination on the part of the then President of Silpakorn University, Prof. Trungchai Buranasomphop, made it possible to launch a new faculty of music, conceived bySilpakorn’s Rector, Mom Luang Pin Malakul, 30 years earlier. She is an architect, so resourceful as to be able to carve the initial new premises out of an existing car park, so that the new institution was dubbed “The Car Park Conservatory”. A wafer-like building was added later, which very soon proved to be inadequate. They have had to resort to renting a row house on Baromrachachonnani Road to accommodate the String Department. How could these musical slum dwellers manage to convince the audience at the prestigious Siam Society that they were up to the heavenly Mozart?

The Thai have an answer for everything: “Physical discomfort is no impediment to happy life; it’s the narrowness of the mind that makes life unbearable.” By saying this, I might be falling into a trap set by myself: those lousy Silpakorn administrators can smugly continue to let Mozart live or rot in the “Hong Thaew Conservatory”.

Let’s get back to the music. The ensemble playing was superb, and the music really sounded Mozartian. It was a spirited performance on the whole, and that was why it could captivate the audience the way it did. I found the performance of second Quartet more satisfying. The slow movement of the first Quartet could have been more inspired. But it was the last movement of the E-flat major Quartet that overwhelmed the audience. Especially the pianist distinguished herself in every way. The music was so difficult, more demanding perhaps than some of the piano concerti by Mozart, yet she played it with such sensitivity, vivacity and above all musicality. Pornphan is the youngest of the 4 musicians. I don’t want to talk in superlatives, but the Hong Thaew Conservatory might have accidentally recruited Thailand’s best pianist as one of its faculty members.

We shall have to watch how this young pianist matures in the years to come. A fair number of her elder colleagues had shown great promise, but could not sustain the quality of performance shown in their early years. Most have lapsed into routine private teaching, earning extremely lucrative fees, and remain content with just that. Some can no longer perform in public. If ever Pornphan may have any doubt as to how a female professional can be a good wife, a good mother and a great artist at the same time, do invoke the following magic name: Clara Schumann!

I started off with the Siam Society and ended with Clara Schumann. I can assure you that an invisible thread is really there.

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