A ‘Ring of Music’ to remember
Published on: Sunday, September 18, 2022
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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The three star performers Grace Lee, Yap Ling and Mark Radcliffe with SPArKS founder and Past President Datuk Adeline Leong, Current President May Ng (right) and Zara.
‘RING of Music’ is not likely to ring a bell – unlike Lord of Rings’ epic high fantasy adventures. But to literally put three top musicians in the ring surrounded by 200 zealous music buffs drew applause after applause!      

Instead of stage upfront, violinist Yap Ling, British oboist Mark Radcliffe pianist Grace Lee, literally took centre stage at the Kian Kok High School Hall concert last Wednesday night.     

Greek amphitheatre style stage setting 

Organising Chairman architect, Cheong Kok Ann, conceded that he is a secret admirer of the ancient Greek / Roman amphitheatre design, known for its ‘mystery acoustics’ attributed to a purported ‘stunning example of ancient Greek sound engineering’.

Indeed, it looks like Kok Ann’s epic experiment with the Greek performing stage design in Sabah vindicated his dare, judging from the highly positive charged comments from Datuk Adeline Leong – founder and Past President of SPArKS (Society of Performing Arts Kota Kinabalu Sabah).

Ruins of a Greek amphitheatre. 

The historic circular stage arrangement inspired by the Greek amphitheatre. 

High sonic ad visual quality impact on audience  

“I am so thrilled to be able to listen to such good music and you can see that they played with passion,” Adeline zoomed in on both the high sonic quality and the high visual quality she was able to experience from close range immediately after the show! 

“This is the first time in Sabah we call it Ring of Music because the performers are in the centre and we can surround the performers and because I am sitting so close to them, I can see that they played with passion, I could see Grace’s (Lee) fingers flying over the piano.

“I could see Yap Ling so passionate, so emotional and loving music so much that it comes flowing through his hands and coursed into us, and I could see the expressions on their faces when they played, especially the oboist (Mark Radcliffe) on the oboe which is one of the most difficult to play among the wind instruments  (citing flute, clarinet, saxophone etc) and here we were, to hear an oboist who had come all the way from the UK to play so near to us was really a joy and I am so happy that we can bring in so many people in Kota Kinabalu,” a spirited Adeline told Daily Express.

Oboist feels lifted

But the vibrant ‘Ring of Music’ up close hit not just the audience, it similarly set fire to the feeling of the musicians themselves. 

Oboist Mark Radcliffe noted the positive impact on him. 

“Tonight it was really nice playing in a circle like this having the audience close around, I felt it was a good feeling coming from the audience and it’s nice with my friends Yap Ling and Grace all quite close, it was a nice atmosphere. Actually it was so nice because if we were up in a stage, you just feel more distant, more formal, this feels more like less formal,” Mark reported the benefit on him.      

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 is very tricky to get it to work, partly because the ring (mouth piece) is so small and it changes the whole time and also it’s quite a lot of pressure from the mouth and very small movements makes a big difference.

“But it’s very good at playing in an orchestra because it has got a very clear sound, very pure sounds, so it carries very well and you can play very, very long phrases, yet the breath can keep going, you only breathe not that often and it can play loud and soft,” explained Mark who has toured quite a lot with orchestras around Europe, Asia, America, South America, Brazil, given recitals worldwide and was principal oboist with the English Touring Opera, on both modern and period oboe, playing 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 am just visiting a very old friend here in Malaysia and so it’s nice.”

A violin and oboe combination. At far left among 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’

 Star Pianist of the night was certainly Grace Lee, wife of Yap Ling.

“I really like tonight’s concert,” she said.

“I love the audience, I love everybody coming back (ie after two years of pandemic lock down) and enjoy music again.”

“It’s very good that SPArKS was willing to take this challenge to organise this kind of classical concert and then after the pandemic during which everybody was sleeping at home but now we start to come alive again,” Grace commented.

Asked whether this would set the stage for the Jesselton Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) to return to public performance, Grace said: “Yes.”

What about performing together with the oboe or oboist?

“Fantastic, we did this a long time ago, maybe 25 years ago. Oboe is not an easy instrument to play, a very hard instrument. To produce a beautiful sound also depends on the technique and love of playing the instrument,” Grace paid tribute to Mark.

Sound carried through circular formation well: 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 of using a circular seating arrangement with a never done before ring formation I think the sound carried through quite well,” he said.

“We could feel the response of the audience very well. In the area of health, we have heard a lot about physical health but what is very lacking is health of the mind or mental health which has to go through culture, music and the arts,” Yap Ling opined.

So, does the successful Ring of Music signal the public return of JPO to stage after the Pandemic?

“Yes we had it online during the pandemic but online performance is different, it’s not the same, of course live concert is always different,” Yap Ling said.   

Interesting British-Chinese person in audience  

By the way, there was an interesting British-Chinese – Joanna Funk, born in London to Sabahan parents Bill Funk and wife.

Her father, Sandakan hailed William Funk, died in London in 1984 aged 64, when Joanna was 21.

A classical pianist herself, Joanna began her career as a bond dealer in London.

Five years later, she moved to financial news where she stayed for 16 years and so is an accomplished writer and effectively a journalist. 

In her 40s she left London for her parents’ birth place, meaning Sabah and started blogging about musicians of Sabah which was later turned into a book entitled SabahSongs.

She said the experience made her realised there were so many “unsung” heroes in Sabah. 

While in Sabah she became a pianist in a hotel lobby, before she moved with her family to Queensland, Australia.

She is now semi-retired but doing some writing and teaching playing piano online.

British-Chinese Joanna Funk: Author of ‘SabahSongs’ book. 

‘A rich and wonderful experience’: Joanna Funk 

Introduced to me by Datuk Adeline, I asked Joanna: What do you think of the concert tonight? 

“I think it was wonderful to have somebody from overseas, an international artiste and also a wide variety of music, nice to hear some French composers being performed you know, Saint-Saens (Oboe Sonata by Saint Saens- a  known piano virtuoso) which is very nice.  It is always wonderful to hear Yap Ling playing – a wonderful performer of the highest calibre and to hear them altogether was a rich and wonderful experience,” Joanna said.

“And ya, the audience seemed to really loved it as well, lovely to see lots of young children being interested to classical music and a very well attended event. I understand this is SPArKSs’ the first event in a long time after Covid, so great to have it so well attended -good crowd,” she added. 

Positive compliments, Joanna pulled off a surprise – autographed a copy of SabahSongs to this writer.

“Everybody who had performed is in it, it’s very fun because you will recognise 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, kids from Kudat who were brought down (to KK), a Chinese heavy metal band in KK etc.

Ring of Music repertoire 

The historic Ring of Music programme includes a wide variety of music pieces ranging from Gabriel’s Oboe; Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin to Traditional Espagnole in the sequence as follows: ( Gabriel’s Oboe- Ennio Morricone; Oboe Sonata by Saint – Saens; Someone is Praying for you; Ladies in Lavender; J.S. Bach – Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV1060 (2nd Movement); Chinese number; Amazing Grace; Poulenc- Sonata Oboe and Piano; Danse Espagnole by Manuel de Falla arr. Fritz Kreisler; Chi Mai – Enrico Morricone; J.S. Bach- Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV1060 (1st Movement); plus encore .  

Crowd exceeded target: SPArKS President 

Credit goes to the event’s organiser – SPArKS, whose stated objective is to bring the world of music, dance and theatre to KK as well as supporting and encouraging our young artistes in Sabah to excel in the performing arts. 

It was marketed as a “concert not to be misses especially because there has not been a concert for quite a while because of the pandemic.”   

SPArKS’ current President, May Ng, said: “I am very grateful that it was successfully organised, I am glad that the turnout was very good with over 200 audience which was only targeted 150. 

“I am so glad that so many people came and enjoyed such a beautiful night with good music. I have been President since the last term so this is my second term as President.”

When put to her it is not easy to run a voluntary organisation like this, she said: “I have very capable Committee members, they can always stand on their own,” noted May Ng. 

Everything put together in four days: Adeline 

Adeline thanked May Ng and Cheong Kok Ann and the team “for a great job done in organising a successful classical concert with over 200 in attendance, within a week – an amazing record for SPArKS,” she asserted.

“It only took us four days to organise this concert and out of the four days, only two working days Friday and Monday and we had to sell the tickets during working days and we really have to thank organisations who supported us, like Suria, IDS and also Sabah Ports who bought a lot of tickets from us. Otherwise, it is not possible to sell so many tickets in such a short time. 

“Therefore, we invited the VIPs like Datuk Yee Moh Chai, Datuk Clement Yeh, Datin Vicky (wife of Yee) and also we managed to get very good cooperation from JPO and from about 20 students who are interned with the JPO who helped us arranged the seats,” Adeline said.

UMS Prof Amde Sidik congratulating Mark while Adeline looks on. 

SPArKS organising committee with the three top performers. Also in pic is organising Chairman Cheong Kok Ann (fourth from left). 

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December 20, 2014