THE SCHOOL OF NOPANAND: AN ACADEMY OUTSIDE ACADEMIA?

THE SCHOOL OF NOPANAND: AN ACADEMY OUTSIDE ACADEMIA?

by  CHETANA NAGAVAJARA

piano

If you have been following the development of classical music in Thailand for the past few decades, you would have to admit that the technical level of piano playing that was exhibited on June 28th, 2013, at the Stock Exchange of Thailand was unthinkable 20 years ago. And these were young pianists, some of them very young, still in their early teens. The title of the event, “Piano Concerto Extravaganza Concert II”, was no exaggeration. All the performers were pupils of Nophanand Chanorathaikul. How did they do it – and how did she do it? (I mean, Nopanand as their teacher.)

I heard Nopanand play Chopin with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra when she too was still in her teens over 20 years ago, and I said to myself this is the kind of stuff that a concert pianist is made of. The brilliant academic career both at home and in the US produced more than a highly respectable certification: she could have developed into a concert pianist of international stature, had she decided to stay on in the West. (Why Thailand is not a place that can propel artists of great potential to international heights is a matter that I shall not discuss here.) But Nopanand wanted to come home, and what a boon to the world of classical music in this country! An inspiring teacher is here among us.

And after two (not altogether counterproductive stints) at Salaya and Samyan, she decided she had had enough with Thai “academia”. She would build up an “academy” of her own in Soi Kengchuan. Some people just are blessed with the ability to make right decisions.

It was again the right decision to organize a concert of piano concerti with one soloist playing just one movement, so that all who deserved to go on stage had a chance to shine out. Forget about a cohesive “interpretation” of a concerto by one single pianist; the event was to be an “extravaganza”. Another important decision was the right one too: to give the students a chance to play with an orchestra. If you couldn’t afford a full symphony orchestra, cut it down to a manageable (or rather affordable) size. And that orchestra was on hand, “The Salaya Modern Ensemble”, with roughly 20 members. But how could you play Shostakovich II and Rachmaninoff II with a 20-piece chamber ensemble? Well, it could be done: just transcribe the scores – without having to bother about asking for the permission of the respective composers! And a very able musician offered his good services to do that fiendishly difficult job – and to conduct with professionalism the ensemble too. How lucky you were, Nopanand, to have a great ally in the person of PARINYA CHUCHERDWATANASAK!

If the “extranvaganza” was conceived as a proper public concert, it had to be structured as such, starting with an overture, in this case, that from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It was obvious that the orchestra was under-rehearsed, and I started to get worried what was to happen next. I had sympathy with the 3 young soloists who had to tackle the A Major Piano Concerto by Mozart. Though still very young, they had the finesse and the elegance demanded by the work, and their performance was to be admired. The orchestral playing was, to be frank, inadequate, and I was expecting worse things to come.

Then came Shostakovich, and I am sure every member of the audience must have woken up to find a different orchestra, quite in its element, propelling the soloists to great heights. The conductor too was revelling in this new world of sound (that he had helped to create with the re-orchestration). If I had closed my eyes, I would not have realized that this was an amateur orchestra playing a newly revised score. Things seemed to fall perfectly into place. It was a really professional performance, and the soloists played with verve and confidence: they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The Rachmaninoff was a little problematic, especially with the re-orchestration. Here was a late Romantic work, more Romantic than the Romantic, demanding expansive and lush sound which the very much reduced orchestra could no produce. But the soloists were undeterred: they were in high spirits and intent on giving their very best. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and they in turn managed to enthuse the conductor and the orchestra. The result was mutual musical enrichment of a singular kind. It was more than just youthful fervour.

Although I have not been able to mention the names of all the soloists, I must at least single out the last soloist who played the last movement of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto. Thaya Kongpakpaisarn was trying to go beyond the general ambience of “extravaganza” in order to probe the contemplative depths of Rachmaninoff. He only succeeded partially. But the intimation of greater interpretative depths was hinted at. He should be given a chance to play the entire concerto with a full symphony orchestra. But who’s going to pay for it?

Before concluding, I am faced with a question that I shall have to answer, willy-nilly perhaps. What has Nopanand succeeded in instilling in her pupils? Let’s not talk about technique. The dexterity and the fluency were there, which pupils of (some) other teachers also possess. Perhaps musicality is something which is not necessarily inborn, and can be taught. And Nopanand knows how to teach it. I would venture a little further. There is no word that can translate the German term “musizieren” (both as a verb and a noun), which is normally rendered as “to make music” or “music-making”. Nopanand’s pupils know the bliss of music-making, and that much is already a lot.

So, what next? We have not yet heard these youngsters explore other repertoire, say, Brahms perhaps? How would they tackle this enigmatic North German who went South and gave life to Europe’s capital of music? And when talking about Brahms, other questions arise, which are not directly related to music. The parents of the young genius were so poor that they could not even afford to buy him a used piano, but one neighbour was so kind as to ask the boy to practise in his home. He never had to pay a fee to study with the very best teachers in Hamburg. Without such generosity, Brahms would not have risen to become a great pianist and one of the greatest composers that the West has ever contributed to the world of music.

If a genius like Brahms were to be born in Klong Toey in the 21st century, would he be given a chance to study with Dr. Nopanand Chanorathaikul?

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