Vol. VIII No. 27 - Tuesday
July 7 - July 13, 2009



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Art, Music & Culture • Entertainment • Lifestyles
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Lanna puppet duo lose Walking Street pitch after international triumph

Engineers warn newly restored Doi Suthep pagoda still in danger

Music by Living Composers - a memorable concert at the Kad Theatre

A Farewell Recital from Jonas Dept

 

Lanna puppet duo lose Walking Street pitch after international triumph

Elena Edwards
For Thais, resident expats and visitors alike, the traditional shadow or string puppet show must be one of the best- loved performance traditions in Thailand. Steeped in history, and relating ancient tales and legends, puppet shows transcended all levels of Thai society, from the Royal court to the poorest village. For hundreds of years, travelling troupes visited every part of the kingdom, creating their own puppets and passing down through the generations the skills and traditions of their craft – skills and traditions which are still alive in the 21st century, here in Lanna.

Hoong Chang Fon, pictured at a performance given at the Chiang Mai Friends’ group’s first anniversary party held at JJ Markets.

Chiang Mai puppeteers Pasakorn Sunthornmongkol and his wife, the ‘Hoon Chang Fon’ puppet duo, will have been well known to those of us who enjoy an evening’s stroll in the Sunday Walking Street, and have been mentioned and pictured in this newspaper as performers at events several times. What we may not have known, as we watched their show, is that, earlier this year, they were struggling to raise funds to attend, as competitors, the 13th World Festival of Puppet Art, held recently in the Czech capital, Prague, together with a Bangkok troupe, Sema Thai Marionettes, who were also having problems funding their trip.
Happily, in spite of very little government assistance, both troupes made it to Prague, with stunning results! For Sema Thai, this was their second visit to the festival; they had won an award in 2008 for their performance of Chao Ngoh, an adaptation of a famous folk tale. This year, to their delight and the honour of Thailand, they were awarded the prize for Best Traditional Original Performance with a contemporary version of the traditional Ramayana epic, the Battle of Prommas. A very apposite victory, as their funding crisis had been made worse by official refusal to support non- traditional puppet performances! For Hoon Chang Fon, their first visit to the competition proved a triumph; their performance of ‘Ma Miah’, the tragic love story of a northern prince and a Burmese commoner, brought them the World Festival of Puppet Art’s special Award for Poetic Interpretation. For both troupes, their awards led to extensive media publicity, both in print and online. Another honour for Thailand, its traditions and its culture…or so one would have thought.
However, when Hoong Chang Fon arrived back in Chiang Mai, they found, to their horror, that their pitch in the Sunday Walking Street which they had shared with a Mae Rim school’s dance troupe, had been given away to yet more vendors of tourist goods. Mediation from Chiang Mai Municipality eventually resulted in an offer of another pitch, but it was made clear that the dance troupe would no longer be able to share the space. In a generous gesture, Pasakorn gave up the offered area to the dance troupe, leaving the internationally awarded Hoong Chang Fon nowhere to perform. At present, Pasakorn has no future plans as to when or where Hoong Chang Fon will be able to show, and is now concentrating on improving the duo’s work. His only concern is that an opportunity to promote and continue the traditions of Lanna art has been lost due to bureaucratic insensibility. Strange that the recent focus on Lanna art and traditions, and the threat to their survival perceived by some, did not manage to include the protection of performances by this now internationally famous Chiang Mai puppet duo.

 

Engineers warn newly restored Doi Suthep pagoda still in danger

Only a short time after the restoration of the famous Yod Chat grand pagoda in Wat Phra Thart Doi Suthep was finally completed and the protective scaffolding removed, an inspection by engineers from Chiang Mai University and the Asian Institute of Technology has found cracks to the pagoda itself and to the surrounding terrace.

The famed Yod Chat pagoda, believed to contain a relic of the Lord Buddha, shown surrounded by worshippers during the recent Visakha Bucha festival.
Sahawat Naenna, director of the Fine Arts Office in Chiang Mai, said in a statement that the cracks, first thought to be merely faults in cement, had been caused by structural subsidence during recent heavy rains. The engineers’ report had confirmed that the pagoda is situated on unstable ground, and that a rise in underground water levels combined with a moderate earthquake, (a not unusual occurrence), could result in its collapse.
An emergency appeal is being made to the Thai government to provide funds to enable reinforcement of the soil on which the pagoda stands, and to install ground water measuring devices in order to protect the 14th century structure.
The recently completed restoration was funded by a government grant of approximately 6.6 million baht, and was supervised by experts from CMU’s Fine Arts Department, led by Rung Juntabun, a renowned Lanna style architect.


Music by Living Composers - a memorable concert at the Kad Theatre

CMM reporters
The re-formation of the Chiang Mai Youth Philharmonic Band and Symphony Orchestra was – at best – considered an optimistic leap of faith. Could a large scale undertaking involving scores of performers be viable in a small city, where both farangs and Thais seem reluctant to attend concerts unless they are free? Happily the skeptics have been proved wrong and the ambitious concert on Saturday evening June 27 was their most intriguing, best organized and best played so far. The optimism shared by generous sponsors and planners has proved justified.
The evening was a triumph for the composers represented, the energetic young performers who responded so vibrantly to the new music and the conductors, guest Daniel Pittman and the orchestra’s musical director, Chaipruk Mekara, whose Farang Rum Thoa opened the evening. Special mention must be paid to the soloist, Tanate Wongsing, who ‘electrified’ the listeners and the band with his playing!
The concert began, (exactly on time!), with a short piece for Thai Traditional Orchestra – the ensemble of some 25 players was soon outnumbered by the members of the Symphonic Band for Mekara’s ambitious work. This used both groups, first in alternating sections with the Thai instrumentalists sounding the more ‘discordant’ and the Western band used in sometimes modest groupings. The development was gradual until the eagerly awaited – and inevitable – meeting, (or clashing), of the two in an outpouring of almost Ivesian complexity. How that great and once neglected American composer, Charles Ives, would have relished the piece and its ‘indebtedness’ to his works of nearly a hundred years ago which were inspired by the marching bands he heard at county fairs.
The other important work was rather dauntingly called Chaos Theory and was composed by the American Jim Bonney, who is also a guitarist and has recorded the piece in the U.S.A. Those put off by modern music and such titles need not have worried. True, it was heavy on percussion and brass and the brilliant solo part for electric guitar was a far cry from the over familiar works for classical guitar, (Rodrigo for example), with which we are familiar. But this was an accessible and exhilarating concerto, big, brassy and vital. The young players gave it their all, under Pittman, and this was communicated to the audience.
The second half of the evening was somewhat tamer and included several shorter works, influenced by Ravel, plus John Williams and other movie masters. It ended with a suite derived from the music of Abba which proved that ‘lollipops’ are universally popular. This was altogether a grand evening, briskly presented and wonderfully played, though sadly under-attended. Let’s hope that the more conventional fare on Saturday July 11, (again at the Kad, Kad Suan Kaew, beginning at 7.30), attracts an audience; music by Rachmaninoff, (the popular Piano Concerto No. 2), and Handel among others. These players deserve your support.


A Farewell Recital from Jonas Dept

Jai-Pee
Pianist and teacher Jonas Dept, of Belgian origin, gave a farewell recital on Sunday June 28th in the delightfully charming and beautiful grounds of the Ratilanna Resort alongside the river Mae Ping. Jonas is to return to his native country shortly after a two-year stay here. He chose to open his recital with the notoriously difficult and challenging Mendelssohn composition, Variations Serieuses. He did not cope well in this long piece which was an uphill struggle for him, and it might have been more prudent to have saved this work for later in the programme.
The performance lacked colour, tone and drive despite some of the gentler passages which Jonas played with feeling and some conviction. However, the fault was not entirely his, since some of the otherwise helpful resort staff were still wandering around within his line of sight rearranging furniture for latecomers as he began playing; and further, a set of wind chimes hung a few metres above his head and were a constant intrusion throughout the whole concert as the breeze caused them to tinkle endlessly. What a pity also that some members of the audience do not respect the fact that their constant movement around the piano taking photographs with the occasional flash are all dreadful and ill-considered distractions.
Jonas was far more at ease with his next piece, Ravel’s Mouvement de Menuet where he relaxed and was able to capture the colours and tones of this evocative composition with grace and elegance. This well-balanced playing continued into the Liszt Concert-etude which he interpreted ideally with a good sense of proportion and balance and very good fingering. 
In the second half, the opening Brahms Rhapsody in B minor, opus 73 was again a challenging and difficult work, and Jonas rose to the occasion playing with determination and allowing the strident tones and melodies to radiate through this magnificent piece when Brahms was at the height of his creative powers. He followed with a somewhat lackluster performance of Faure’s late Nocturne, No.13 opus 119 which came across as rather stiff and mechanical. Not so, however, was his final offering, the delightfully tuneful and melodic Danza de la Moza Donosa by the Argentinian composer, Ginastera, which was delicately and tenderly interpreted. And after the thanks and presentation, Jonas delighted us with a performance of Debussy’s impressionist masterpiece, La Cathedrale Engloutie, which he had performed masterfully at the Shangri-La a year ago – this was a most welcome and fitting composition with which to end Jonas’s short career here. He is returning to follow a master’s degree course in composition and we all wish him well in his future adventures and studies and hope to welcome him back to Chiang Mai when he is older and wiser!



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