The Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and soloists give thrilling performances in Japan
Last month, the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra returned to Tokyo after a warmly-received performance two years ago. Better known as TPO, the orchestra first performed at Tokyo's 1,800-seat Sumida Triphony Hall in May to commemorate 125 years of Thailand-Japan diplomatic relations, and to show appreciation for the people of Japan who supported Thailand during the floods last year. Two days later, the TPO contributed to the outdoor merriment at the Thai Festival in Tokyo's landmark Yoyogi Park.
At the Sumida Triphony, the Thai orchestra enjoyed the level of enthusiasm that it deserves to have at home, garnering great responses from the packed Japanese audience.
Under the baton of award-winning conductor Major Prateep Suphanrojn, the TPO opened the act with a traditional Thai number, Kwan Muang Overture, giving the hall a taste of Siamese music from classical instruments. Traditionally, Kwan Muang Overture is among the old songs believed to be played to invite the holy spirits to give performers their blessings and a successful show. It was a fitting opener, and the Japanese seemed to happily take it in.
From then until the end of the first half, Eri Nakagawa gave a masterful rendition of Rachmaninoff's famous Concerto No.3, a mesmerising piano solo. The performance was an exciting blend of cultures and influences. A native of Osaka, Nakagawa completed her master's and doctoral degrees in the US, but has lived in Thailand for 16 years. Nakagawa is currently an assistant professor at Mahidol University's College of Music _ the home of TPO. This was her first solo performance in her home country.
After the intermission, the concert served up a mix of highlights that emphasised the cultural borderlessness of music. The TPO began with a contemporary Thai piece, Lai Lumsing, a melodically colourful East-meets-West showcase where the khaen, a traditional windpipe instrument from Thailand's northeast, fronted the orchestra.
The khaen soloist was 24-year-old Chaiwat Gopolrat, who appeared on stage in a black tuxedo.
"I am very excited and nervous, but it is truly an honour to show Japanese audiences the sound of Isaan music," the native of Nakhon Panom said later.
During the solo, international artist Suchart Vongthong was invited onstage to create a painting. At the end of the song, Suchart showed the artwork of an elephant holding Japanese and Thai flags with its trunk.
Next came another Isaan showcase _ the xylophone-like ponglang. Totrakul Kaewyong received loud applause from the crowd as he walked onstage in his bright blue Thai silk shirt, with a traditional sash wrapped around his waist.
For his ponglang solo, Tontrakul played Lai Ka Ten Korn.
Last year, he won first prize for his ponglang performance at the 12th Osaka International Music Competition. Both the khaen and ponglang performances were arranged by conductor Prateep for this occasion.
The zenith of the night was a saxophone solo by young Wisuwat Pruksavanich in the world premiere of a contemporary classical number, The Dawn Of Darkness, composed by Dr Narong Prangcharoen, a well-known Thai composer currently living in the US.
"The composition of this piece allows me to bring out new techniques," said award-winning musician Wisuwat. "The saxophone is a pretty new instrument. There are new techniques, which people don't usually know.
"We [the composer and myself] added a Thai sound, which foreigners may be unfamiliar with."
When Wisuwat hit the last note, he became the man of the night. He received the longest applause from the crowd and he had to walk back and forwards to centre stage several times to acknowledge the audience's appreciation.
Surprisingly, after the show, some of the Thai officials present criticised the song based on their limited knowledge of contemporary music, calling it "strange" and "confusing".
Such reaction reflects the state of the music scene in Thailand, which leaves much to be desired.
"It is sad to hear some people who are in the position of supporting art and culture rather have poor knowledge about the subjects, but believe they do," said Suchart. The night was capped off with Keep The Sakura Blossoming, a popular Japanese tune which was rearranged by the TPO into a classical rendition, while Suchart painted his second image of the night _ Mt Fuji and pink Sakura trees.
The TPO is fast becoming a respected fixture in the Thai classical music scene, and their international experience will only strengthen this young band.
The TPO was founded by Sugree Charoensuk of Mahidol University's College of Music, and he's steadfastly pushing the development of the discipline. "Last time, when we first performed in Japan, we were only five years old. This time, we're seven. We are like a teenager. We are more energetic, but we still have a long way to go," he said.
By Yanapon Musiket
14 June 2012
Saxophonist Wisuwat Pruksavanich and the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra during an unconventional number, The Dawn Of Darkness .