Top pianist, flutist share their magic moment
Published on: Sunday, March 05, 2023
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Kenneth Chia and Dr Joanne Chang.
THE following is an interview Daily Express had with Kenneth and Dr Joanne after Saturday night’s recital. 

Daily Express (DE): What’s your comment about your first performance in Sabah, in KK?

Dr. Joanne Chang:
I feel great, it’s like born in Malaysia (Ipoh) but never been to East Malaysia so this is a delight coming here to explore, thanks to Kenneth, Daphne (Ken’s wife) and SPArKS, enjoying the mountains and the waterfront that the hotel has graciously provided with a good view and taking my mother as she has not been to East Malaysia as well. So it’s an eye-opening trip. Usually I travel for work, she doesn’t get to see what my life is. So it’s nice to be able to come with her to KK and spend some time during the short trip. 

DE: Are you happy with the turnout tonight? 

Dr Joanne:
I am very happy with the turnout, I think we didn’t have much time to prepare for this (recital). This is the idea that sort of came out when I was telling Kenneth that I was coming home (from USA) for work because I have a trip in Hong Kong coming, he said yeah, I’ll look into it, I’ll talk to SPArKS and all this popped up in a month or less than a month and so it has been great.

Kenneth: Yeah, we always kind of have an idea, you (Joanne) and me have talked about it but this is the first time we were able to like, really put on paper. 

Dr Joanne: Yes, it’s interesting we met through a mutual friend that was also teaching somewhere at the time when you (Kenneth) were teaching that course during the Zoom period and I was invited as guest speaker on Career Building which I am very interested in because as an artist, you also have to be an advocate of what you do, not just depend on like practising and hopefully getting a gig somewhere, so the topic was pretty relevant for students in college and transitioning to perhaps a career path in  music. So coming to talk to Malaysian youths is always my passion because I didn’t necessarily have the opportunity back in Ipoh, I didn’t know that I was going to become a musician and yes, that’s great.

DE: Tell us something about the repertoire tonight because the language is very foreign to us.

The central theme around it is the concept of romance era of music. That means music pretty much in the 19th century throughout the 19th century.

Dr Joanne; From the 19th century to the early 20th century, that’s why the title ‘Romantic Impression’, because impression was also a big movement in Europe during early 20th century and a lot of flute repertoire actually came out during that period because the flute of today is very different from the baroque flute back then. 

Kenneth: Even the Romantic era flute is different, previously made of wood, the dawn of the 20th century in Impressionism actually brought in the metal flute. 

Dr Joanne: So all these pieces that we chose tonight all of them are actually staple flute repertoire, I mean some were definitely arranged from another instrument (violin) but the flute is capable of doing so many of these and it matches well with the piano and the space that we had tonight is great. 

(The first half started with an introductory piece, followed by three Romantic pieces before the two ballerinas dances to a melodious piece Always With Me composed by a Japanese before intermission. The second half featured the marathon Suite de Trois by Benjamin Godard, Joe Hisaishi’s Path of the Wind for the dancers, followed by Dr Joanne’s introduction of woman composer Clara Schuman’s three Romances for piano and violin but Ken showed the flute can play a violin piece. Guest artiste Jennifer Hsu then came on to join Ken on the flute for the finale. For the encore, Dr Joanne did a solo, climaxing in Ken’s haunting ‘Dying Swan’ encore.)

DE: Both of you were fantastic but how do you rate each other in this particular show? 

Dr Joanne:
Oh, actually it’s a joy working with Kenneth, I mean we graduated from the same school (University of Indiana), 16 years apart, like we know people that we come across in our industry and when I was there, he was known to be very disciplined and I really like how Kenneth alters tone colours in his frame a lot, as the flute sometimes can sound very homogenous because of how it’s made up and he makes his tone colours like throughout a wide range and it’s just so easy to work with, good listener as well.

Kenneth: Yes, on that note, she’s extremely easy to play. There are two main types of piano school. There’s the solo concert pianist who plays all by themselves in front of maybe an orchestra or simply by themselves, and then there is collaborative piano and that is almost exclusively on team music, music with a small number of players and what she has is just like an infinite adaptability. For this concert actually we have done very little rehearsal – a little less rehearsal as we would like because of the compressed schedule but it was so easy to put together.

Dr Joanne: Yes, I think (there is a case) to leave it up to chance and spontaneity, I think that’s the beautiful thing about music.

Kenneth: Romantic music opens up to that possibility, it is permissible to be free – pull, push, rise up or down and as long as we do it, sometimes together with each other, sometimes opposite to each other, music dictates it all. 

DE: It’s been a long time since we had public concerts because of Covid shut down and lock down. So does it feel like a newfound freedom for you now to perform live once again? 

Dr Joanne:
I think for me it was very interesting because even during Covid I was actually quite active performing like in the States generally so we started out of course in Zoom-type concert settings, it’s was really different because with online technology back then it was hard to synchronise everything together but now it’s like coming back to the halls and having audiences, it’s always a different feeling because you feel like you connect with them in a musical way, artistic way, showing them you are also human as well, like expressing yourself, that’s great.

Kenneth: The Covid era was basically a lot of times people thought it was going to be the death of everybody, the death of live music you know but it was really a hibernation and it’s really thanks to the resourcefulness of a lot of musicians who had to fight very hard to try to keep their incomes stable, keep their students engaged and come up with many imaginative things so I am definitely glad that we are back to normalcy but I think after Covid we all come across very much changes and perhaps a little bit more in touch with our ingenuity side.

Dr Joanne: Yes, and I think we also want to be in touch with the audience, like sometimes we feel we are just on stage doing our art but coming out of Covid and really connecting with the audience nowadays, like playing music that is also familiar to them, it’s like even though we are vastly trained and we have all these knowledge or terminology about classical music we are still part of this ecosystem, this community that we live in, we drink the same coffee, we eat the same noodles.

Kenneth: Community is the word, music is a community-based thing and you know when that community is taken away by Covid, I think a lot of people realised they had taken something for granted and this was a wake-up call and now that it’s back, I am hoping that everybody has a much more firmer appreciation of what was once lost and now regained.           

DE: It’s also the first time this State Library is used to stage a concert in its atrium, where one can hear everything far, far away at the back. What do you think?  

Dr Joanne:
Good, that’s good. I am a big fan of unconventional concert settings or concert venues and programmes and all that, so like exploring different venues like libraries, I have done concerts in basketball courts or even places I won’t mention right now, it’s also a sense of engaging community because a library is a place where the public can come in whereas concert halls you have to dress up and all that sort and you know in terms of concert hall architecture Malaysia needs some help and advancement but it will take time.    

Kenneth: Yes, it will take time but in the States, it’s quite common for members of the music community playing in the library but somewhat uncommon too because you always think of the library where it’s hush-hush pin drop silence, there’s settings for that and there’s still much to learn from it all so it’s a beautiful space and it has its benefits and its challenges.

Dr Joanne: It’s all about adaptability, again same with Covid.

Kenneth: Agreed, so we had to optimise our playing for the space.

Dr Joanne: And this is a great space, the people here have been very helpful to assist us so very thankful for all these people like and at least we can show them a little bit about our art as well. 


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December 20, 2014