It has been nine years since Bangkok took its first steps towards establishing itself as a Southeast Asian cultural hub. Its been nine years since Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance & Music set the ball rolling. Today the festival has garnered a reputation for excellence presenting only the best from around the world to discerning audiences in Bangkok. In keeping with this tradition the ninth edition (Sept 9-11 Oct) of the festival has in store acts that will find favour even with the most demanding of patrons.
As Thailand celebrates His Majesty the King’s 80th Birthday this year, the festival in effect is dedicated to Him and opens with a spectacular performance paying homage to the musician in His Majesty. During his reign His Majesty has penned some 48 compositions, many in the blues style and the opening act, ‘His Majesty’s Blues Concert’, has 25 of Thailand’s leading singers giving voice to some of these compositions. Accompanied by an orchestra, singers like Ford Sobchai Kraiyurasen, Jennifer Kim, Radklao Amaradit, Ta Surachai Wongbuakao and Ben Chalatit Tantiwut among others, will more than do justice to the compositions. Pongprom Sanitwong Na Ayuthaya, producer, composer and musician is the man behind this amazing project. It was in 2006 that over a 100 Thai artists, cutting across label lines came together in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of His Majesty’s Accession to the Throne. A four set CD album was also released which soon became a collector’s item. This blues concert is another opportunity to hear rare compositions in concert and makes for a fitting opening to a spectacular festival.
More in Music
Music has been central to the festival through the years and this edition too has a lot to offer: a percussion ensemble from India, a symphony concert and an evening devoted to jazz. On Sept 12, an all-female percussion ensemble, Stree Shakti will take the stage. Led by Anuradha Pal it is one of India’s leading percussion ensembles and Anuradha Pal is arguably one of the sub-continents best percussionists. Using traditional percussion instruments like tabla, ghatam, kanjira, pakhawaj and mridangam the ensemble churns out powerful beats. The music finds its basis in the classical traditions of India but is in no way out of context in the modern era.
Moving to another classical tradition, Sept 23 sees a symphony concert by the Ekaterinburg Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra dates back to 1912 and is one of the best operatic and Ballet orchestras in Russia. In honour of His Majesty (Rama IX)’s Birthday the orchestra will tackle Symphony No. IX in D minor, Op. 125 by Ludwig Van Beethoven. This symphony by Beethoven was a landmark event, for the first time a composer used the human voice like he would an instrument. So expect a full chorus with four soloist singers. Also on the programme is Scheherazade Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Conductor Mikahil Granovsky from the Bolshoi Theatre, one of the most looked-forward to conductors in Russia will take the baton.
On 8th October jazz and popular music fans will hear all permutations and combinations possible, First on is Coda Jazz Group from Australia which effortlessly blends classical, rock, electronic, operatic with jazz, creating a rich tapestry of music, With three albums to their credit the group popular on the Australian festival circuit, will delight with its heady mix.The same evening Saskia Laroo band from The Netherlands takes the stage next. Saskia Laroo has been hailed by the American press as ‘Lady Miles’. A trumpet stylist, Saskia’s multi-national unit pulsates with contemporary sounds, groovy rhythms, exciting solos, and rap vocals. Saskia has performed with the likes of George Benson and is a name well received all over the world including at festivals like Montreux. The last act of the evening is Monsieur Camembert which has been at the forefront of ‘Gyprock’ explosion in Australia for the past eight years. A triple Aria Award winning ensemble, with Yaron Hallis leading from the front the group promises the ultimate in music.
The Opera Quotient
When it comes to music Operas are the ultimate expression and this festival sees two: Eugene Onegin (Sept 22) and La Traviata (Sept 24) both staged by Ekaterinburg Opera Theatre, Russia, one of the oldest and most respected companies in Russia. The staging of Eugene Onegin is a remarkable event; it is the first Russian opera to be staged in Bangkok ever. An opera in three parts the story centres around a selfish hero who lives to regret his blasé rejection of a young woman's love and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend. It is the perfect example of a lyric opera and closely follows Pushkin’s original work. Around 180 artists (cast and orchestra) will bring to stage this, Tchaiovsky masterpiece.
The second opera of the season is a Verdi favourite: La Traviata. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ play La dame aux Cameilas it is an intimate work dealing with the conflict between the ‘real’ world of love and the ‘false’ world of societal expectations. The hero is tricked into giving up his love because she is well below his ‘station’. Playing Violetta is soprano Natalia Margrit, Italy’s most well-known soprano and a regular performer at La Scala and the Paris Opera House (she has also performed with Jose Carreras), while Alfredo is tackled by Dmytro Kuzmin, a soloist with the Kiev Opera House.