Singapore International Piano Festival


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by Samantha Lee

Last Saturday, 27th June 2015, the 22nd Singapore International Piano Festival opened for its third night at the Victoria Concert Hall. In conjunction with SG50, the theme for this year was Romantics and Nationalists. Notable European pianists graced the festival with numerous 19th-century works that were heavily influenced by the political upheavals and strong national and ethnic identity of the time, prompting us to recall our own struggle for an independent national identity.

Hailing from Germany – the land of poets and thinkers – Lars Vogt treated the crowd to an enlivening performance that night with pieces by Schubert, Schoenberg and Beethoven. Described as “one of the most extraordinary musician of any age group” by Sir Simon Rattles, Vogt first rose to prominence when he came in as runner-up for the 1990 Leeds International Piano Competition. Since then, he enjoyed a varied career for over twenty years.

The night kicked off with Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.19 which bore a resonance tainted by turbulence, tragedy and emotional intensity. Bearing in mind that this was a piece composed during the composer’s final stages of a long and dreadful illness, it was said that the powerful chords and torrents of scales were representative of Schubert’s anger in face of his own mortality.

Schoenberg had initially intended for the Six Little Piano Pieces to comprise of only the first five pieces which he wrote in a day’s work. However, deeply moved by Gustav Mahler’s death, he was inspired to pen the sixth piece. Its imperious bell-like chords illustrated the stark and somber mood that differ it from the former five.

As the night drew to a close, Vogt revisited his roots with a piece by fellow German musician Beethoven. The Piano Sonata No. 32 is the last of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Initially planned to be a three-movement piece, the idea of a third movement was given up when the second movement took form.

Deafening applause filled the concert hall shortly after the last note was delivered. As a gesture of appreciation towards the endearing crowd, Vogt played Chopin’s Nocturne as an encore which I have to admit was liquid gold to the ears. Throughout the night, Vogt exuded passion in his impressive finger work. Accompanied by his bodily expression, the audiences were able to gain deeper appreciation for the history behind each piece.