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Life in Chiang Mai

Life in Chiang Mai

Mark Whitman
A London based friend of mine commented that my choice of places I considered liveable in (last week’s column) did not include any great cities. In selecting Copenhagen, Vancouver and Wellington (30 or so years ago I would have added San Francisco) I had left out – for example London, Paris and New York let alone more adventurous choices. And by finally opting for Chiang Mai I had gone too far down the possible list in terms of scale and the opportunities which that offers.
Well to coin a cliché, size isn’t everything. No one disputes that there is a wow factor in sheer size, but energy and vitality can offer great consolation. Of course New York and the others offer both, but – and I guess this has a lot to do with age – I have come to appreciate altogether subtler, smaller scale pleasures and a city like Chiang Mai therefore has a special appeal. Rather as with people it is a lack of flamboyance and that shouty ‘in your face’ directness which lends charm.
At the moment in Britain there is a great buzz among the musical fraternity because the new ‘Prom’ programme has just been announced. This mammoth festival of music spans some nine weeks throughout the summer, with a major concert each evening and many daytime and late evening events. The friend I mentioned in the opening paragraph buys a season ticket and attends virtually every love in. The concerts, supported by the BBC and broadcast live on radio and television, are without doubt a major cultural event. For me the self important inflated nature of these Promenade Concerts has become an anathema and the knowing (but often ignorant) audience with their self congratulatory manner unpleasant. The music itself may often be fine but the event itself an indigestible bore.
All of which brings me to saying that just before I left Chiang Mai (and many times before that) I had great pleasure in attending so-called small scale happenings of which some big city dwellers would be dismissive. Don’t get me wrong. Hearing Pierre Boulez conducting the Vienna Philharmonic beats most experiences on earth let alone a student recital at Payap University. I am simply saying that majestic size and talent may simply be overwhelming and something one recounts ever after, intimate pleasure are equally – well – pleasurable.
A couple of weeks before I left the indefatigable Bennett Lerner delighted a small invited audience at the AUA recital room with a run through of his projected CD mainly devoted to Debussy – a sort of coda to his splendid Debussy Festival which has been running sporadically over the past two years. A few days later I went along to the Santi Music School to hear a few of the students. Some had a very long way to go, but at six or seven they can make the journey. Others – a fine guitarist and a super counter tenor had arrived and the evening was one of enthusiasms and pleasure. Just before I left Alessio Monti gave another recital at the AUA in his occasional series Sounds of the World. This brilliant guitarist (like Bennett a teacher at Payap) is very adventurous in his programme and concentrates on his own compositions and other modern music and included a work, Holocaust, which has socio/political overtones.
Each of these events was a pleasure and helps prove that the music scene is alive – if not buoyant – in our city. The problem is that one has to work hard to find out about these and other events. As I said last week let’s hope that people who plan or know of such happenings will send the Chiang Mai Mail advance notice of all and any cultural happenings.
The bad news is that we do not have any concerts and other events at the Gong Dee Gallery in soi one off Nimenhamen Road. Why this has been ‘dark’ for over a year I don’t know. Fortunately the various venues at Payap University and the AUA are some compensation and special events such as the April Arts Festival at the Three King’s Monument have also been worth attending. No doubt there are other things of interest going on at present. In the meantime I shall be content with listening to a few of the Proms and counting the days until I am back in Chiang Mai.